LAROUCHE'S YOUTH Working Westlake Park Curt Doughty
They're everywhere--at folding tables on Broadway Avenue, downtown, at Sea-Tac--screaming nonsense and accosting us with their impenetrable publications. After the election, presumably, they'll crawl back into whatever hole they came out of. But how did so many young people fall under the spell of Lyndon LaRouche--perennial candidate for U.S. president, convicted felon, notorious crackpot--in the first place? Why would they devote their lives to his clearly insane, pointless campaign? What the hell's wrong with these kids?

The only way to find out is to get on the wrong side of one of those folding tables. When I call the Seattle chapter of the LaRouche Youth Movement, the woman who answers seems shocked to hear from a potential volunteer. I assure her that I've checked out, that the mainstream presidential candidates don't, like, really represent my viewpoint (true, though I am firmly in the lesser-of-two-evils camp), and that I, like, want to know more.

I am told that this is awesome. My courtship has begun; my new friend proceeds to call me approximately every other day to talk about Lyndon and invite me to various goings-on. Some things don't come up in our conversations: that LaRouche served five years of a 15-year sentence for conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax evasion in the late '80s; that he's been accused of anti-Semitism; that, at 82, he's practically dead; that he's variously described as a fascist demagogue, a cult leader, eccentric, a nutball.

Wanting to know more about LaRouche's young volunteers, I attend an evening "drama workshop" at a house rented for the Youth in Lake Forest Park. Driving deep into suburbia, I see two young men with that timeless hippie look--fuzzy hair and fuzzy sweaters, shapeless shoes--standing by a mailbox in the gloaming. They welcome me into a ranch-style house that, incongruously, seems to have had the entirety of its contents transplanted directly from the U-District--the convivial squalor, the icky mismatched couches, the mountain bikes resting against walls, the several dozen kids hanging out. LaRouche rails in his literature against the "inhuman, madly rutting 'rock-drug-sex youth-counterculture' of the middle through late 1960s," but this looks like a setting for exactly that.

Milling around ensues. I begin talking to a female Youth who identifies me as new; she relates that she was in college in the Southwest when one of her friends was "recruited." She then drove to Seattle and had four days to decide whether to drop out of school and work full-time for the cause, which remunerates in the form of food, housing in the Lake Forest Park digs, and "sometimes some money for personal stuff."

"I realized that everything they teach you in school is total brainwashing," she says.

We move out to the deck with its view of nighttime north Lake Washington; she lectures me about how it was LaRouche who actually put an end to the Cold War, how he predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall, something about Mozart's Figaro. My mind, inexorably, wanders. Her eyes shine and I nod, assembling a thoughtful expression as best I can.

The group gathers in the living room, filling every available seat; they're memorizing scenes from Julius Caesar to learn how to "convey an idea," and "think about empire." A Youth individuated by brooding good looks and a motorcycle jacket does a creditable performance of Brutus' soliloquy in the orchard. He is then critiqued and does it again--and again, and again. I keep smelling chocolate syrup and begin to wonder if this is one of those little-known signs of an imminent stroke or sudden death by boredom. I finally locate an abandoned Tupperware container containing a half-inch of it on a table nearby.

Finally I excuse myself, and flee. Try as I might to convince myself to return for further undercover investigations, I cannot. Life is too short.

One thing the college dropout said stayed with me: The LaRouchies are throwing their support behind Kerry. The website, naturally, fails to say this outright, but fish around and you'll find quotes from Lyndon such as this, from July of this year: "Now, obviously, we have a situation in which the nominee, Kerry, must occupy the White House by election in November.... We've got to get him elected. Because the alternative is unthinkable."

To my mind, this makes LaRouche, improbably, a less dangerous lunatic than Nader. As for the Youth, one hopes they are now at the high-water mark of their own absurdity--a good thing to get out of the way when young. And at least they're reading Shakespeare and voting Kerry.