G. Gordon Liddy is vibrating with rage. “Environmentalism is a form of pagan fundamentalism. These green wackos are fanatics like al-Quaida. Just like them,” he quivers. “Osama believes there are 72 virgins waiting for him. The environmentalist believes human beings cause global warming. They both want to wreck havoc because of their mad beliefs. What’s the difference?”
Except that we really are causing global warming, but go on:
And suddenly I am lifting the bag of G. Gordon Liddy – Nixon’s rent-a-thug, the Watergate burglar, the far-right shock jock extraordinaire – into the boot of a taxi and reeling at his smallness. We are heading for Penn Station so Liddy can return to Washington DC; I am going to sit with him while he waits for his train. He turns to me and smiles. “So – where do we begin?” he says. I try to smile back and say as sweetly as I can, “How about with Adolf Hitler?”
The Fuhrer was G Gordon Liddy’s first political hero. Liddy was a sickly, asthmatic child when he grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the 1930s. The town was full of ethnic Germans who idolized Hitler. Liddy was made to salute the Stars and Stripes Nazi-style by the nuns at his school; even now, he admits, “at assemblies where the national anthem is played, I must suppress the urge to snap out my right arm.” His beloved German nanny taught him that Hitler had – through sheer will-power – “dragged Germany from weakness to strength.”
This gave Liddy hope “for the first time in my life” that he too could overcome weakness. When he listened to Hitler on the radio, it “made me feel a strength inside I had never known before,” he explains. “Hitler’s sheer animal confidence and power of will [entranced me]. He sent an electric current through my body.” He describes seeing the Nazis’ doomed technological marvel the Hindenberg flying over New Jersey as an almost religious experience. “Ecstatic, I drank in its colossal power and felt myself grow. Fear evaporated and in its place came a sense of personal might and power.”
A-ha. So, Mr Liddy, do you feel that your early, formative love for Hitler shaped your political behavior later in life? “Oh, no,” he says somberly. He renounces Hitler’s war against the Jews as “evil” and flaunts his support for Israel’s hard right as evidence he is not an anti-Semite. “It was part of my childhood, that’s all,” he says.
Really? That doesn’t seem to match the historical record. In his autobiography, Liddy admits that, after reading the writings of the notorious anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh, Liddy decided to pick his wife on eugenic grounds. He held out for “a tall, fair, powerfully built Teuton.” Isn’t that behavior at the very least in the shadow of Hitler? “Of course not. Genetics is accepted by everyone.” But a Teuton? My dictionary defines it as “descended from an ancient Germanic tribe. Often synonymous with Aryan.” He waves his hand and says, “That’s how we spoke then. This is political correctness.”
Okay, so how about your fanatical Nietzschean emphasis on Will-power? He has written, “If any one component of man ought to be exercised, cultivated and strengthened above all others, it is the will; and that must have one objective – to win.” He used to take his kids to see Leni Reifenstahl’s Nazi propaganda movie ‘The Triumph of the Will.’ When he was a kid himself, he went to insane ends to test his will-power. He stood in front of approaching trains, telling himself he would not die because “I am a machine too.” During lightning storms, in order to demonstrate to himself to power of his will, he would climb onto tall trees and yell, “Kill me! Kill me!” He even trained himself to kill animals in anticipation of becoming a brutal soldier. He describes beheading chickens with glee: “I killed and killed and killed, and finally I could kill efficiently and without emotion or thought. I was satisfied; when it came my turn to go to war, I would be ready. I could kill as I could run – like a machine.”
It gets worse:
While the Nixon administration was spraying tonnes of napalm and poison over Vietnam, he complained the policy was “too soft.” He says now, “I wanted to bomb the Red River dykes. It would have drowned half the country and starved the other half. There would have been no way the Viet Cong could have operated if we had the will-power to do that.”
But what about the millions of innocent people who would have been murdered? “Look at Dresden. Millions of people died there too.” And it hits me: he just can’t see them. They are un-people, specks of red dust on a distant map, obstacles to his Will. Their suffering is as irrelevant as that of the chickens he decapitated with such glee sixty years ago in New Jersey. “Once you start a war, you have to win,” he continues. “Look at the time some of Julius Ceasar’s emissaries were sent into Gaul, and they were killed by bandits. Caesar sent Roman troops to slaughter all the men who were left alive in Gaul. He sold all the women and children into slavery. From that point on, nobody touched a single one of Caesar’s emissaries.” I pause. Let me get this straight – you are advocating the selling of women and children into slavery as US policy?
“No. What I’m saying is we had better embrace the horror of war. If you aren’t tough, if you don’t pull out all the stops, you lose.” So all of the conventions created in the wake of the Second World War – the Geneva Conventions, the very concept of war crimes – these are all just polite fictions to be crumpled? “Of course. The Seventh Infantry Division in 1945 used to drive their tanks around with the heads of defeated Japanese solders displayed proudly on the front. That’s what we need to train our present-day soldiers to be.” Returning to Vietnam, he adds that the French – the colonial power preceding the Americans – succeeded in Vietnam because “they were using the Foreign Legion, then manned almost completely by veterans from the most disciplined, ruthlessly efficient practitioners of all-out warfare in history: the Waffen SS.”
And so we are back to Him, the dictator who hangs over Liddy’s life like an old, angry ghost. Liddy’s seems to believe – as his childhood icon did – that life is an eternal war against Absolute Enemies. There are no rules. There can be no restraint. Kill them or they kill you. This mindset is revealed neatly in the advice he gave to his children from the time they were toddlers. He told them to start fights or they would be beaten. When the kids’ school explained that they had a strict non-violence policy, Liddy replied, “In the late 1930s French children were taught that philosophy while German kids were taught to be fierce in battle. Given the destruction of the numerically superior French armies by the Wehrmacht in about thirty days, I prefer the German approach. The school will just have to live with it.”
This approach wasn’t only for the Vietnamese and kids. Liddy extended it to Nixon’s domestic political opponents too. He is famous in the US as the most fiercely loyal of Richard Nixon’s “plumbers”, one of the agents sent to illegally burgle, drug and libel the President’s internal opponents. “The war in Vietnam was fought on the streets of America too,” he says. “It was lost here at home, by people who didn’t have the Will to win. We had to get the people who wanted America to lose.” Including killing columnists? “If they were traitors as Jack Andersen was, directly helping the enemy, then yes.”
This contempt for democracy and law led Liddy to the Watergate Hotel – and it changed the world. I received a second e-mail from his publicist that contained one line: “NO WATERGATE!!!!” I decide to plunge in anyway. Does he regret burgling the offices of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and setting in chain the resignation of a President?
A vein twitches angrily on one of his scales, but he replies in a level voice, “No.” He has a bizarre revisionist take on Watergate that places the blame for the disaster entirely on another Nixon henchman called John Dean. “The official version of Watergate is as wrong as a Flat Earth Society pamphlet,” Liddy says, referring me to a conspiracy-theory book called ‘Silent Coup: Removal of a President’ by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin. Its thesis is stark. The Watergate burglars – including Liddy – believed they were breaking into the offices of the DNC to plant a bug so the Republicans could hear the election plans of George McGovern. They were duped. The book’s authors claimed John Dean – Liddy’s immediate superior and the man who gave the orders to commit the burglary – ordered the burglary for his own reasons, nothing to do with Nixon. The DNC had evidence that linked Dean’s then-fiancee with a prostitution ring – and Dean wanted it back. So – hey presto! – Nixon was innocent, and the victim of a wicked coup d’etat. Liddy has convinced himself he served five years in jail for nothing.
Before too long, I’m going to start quoting the entire interview, so just read it. You will tremble in fear of this man, if we can really call him that.