Year of birth: 1926
Headquarters: Washington, D.C. (Carto's home is in Escondido, California)
Ideology: Anti-Semitism, racial determinism, conspiratorial
anti-government, Holocaust denial
Background: Carto has founded and been involved with dozens of far-right
organizations and front groups. These include: Congress of
Freedom, Liberty and Property, Liberty Lobby, John Birch
Society, National Youth Alliance, Institute for Historical Review,
Publications Defunct: Right, Western Destiny, Liberty Letter, Washington
Observer, American Mercury, The Spotlight, IHR Newsletter,
Journal for Historical Review.
Current: American Free Press, The Barnes Review.
Other media: Noontide Press, talk radio programs "Radio Free America" and "Editor's Roundtable"
Influences: Francis Parker Yockey
Quote: "If Satan himself, with all of his super-human genius and
diabolical ingenuity at his command, had tried to create a
permanent disintegration and force for the destruction of the
nations, he could have done no better than to invent the Jews."
Willis Carto has been one of the most influential American anti-Semitic propagandists of the past 50 years. Since emerging as a right-wing organizer in San Francisco in the early 1950s, he has been associated with nearly every significant far-right movement in the country, from neo-Nazism to militias, segregationism to Holocaust denial. Known for his reclusiveness, he has founded and overseen from behind the scenes an intricate network of bigotry whose outlets have included Liberty and Property, Western Destiny, the Noontide Press, American Mercury, National Youth Alliance, the Institute for Historical Review, the Populist Party and, most notably, Liberty Lobby. In 2001, both Carto and Liberty Lobby were bankrupted after Carto lost a long court battle with the Institute for Historical Review (which broke with him in 1993). His editorial staff at Liberty Lobby's now-defunct Spotlight, the most widely read publication on the fringe right, resumed publication under the title American Free Press in August 2001, however. And while Carto is in his 70s and financially constrained, his energy for purveying paranoia and hatred appears to be undiminished.
Utopia and Its Discontents
Willis Alison Carto was born in 1926 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and grew up in Mansfield, Ohio. After serving in the Army during World War II, he attended Dennison University in Granville, Ohio, and enrolled for a semester as a law student at the University of Cincinnati. In the early 1950s, he moved to San Francisco, where he worked as an account collector for the Household Finance Corporation and became involved in political activity. He served as director of the Congress of Freedom, which sought to build coalitions between racists and hard-right libertarians, and as executive secretary of Liberty and Property (which he founded). He was also editor of the Liberty and Property journal, Right, an information clearinghouse for racist and anti-Semitic activities.
In this first phase of his career he encountered, and was deeply influenced by, the life and work of Francis Parker Yockey. Yockey, a lawyer by training, had been medically discharged from the United States Army during World War II -- he was diagnosed with "dementia praecox, paranoid type." In 1946, he became an assistant to the prosecution at the War Crimes Tribunal in Wiesbaden but quit in less than a year because he believed that Nazi defendants were being unfairly treated. In 1948, writing under the name Ulick Varange,1 he completed what has since become, in far-right circles, a legendary if seldom read 600-page racist and fascistic treatise, Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics.2 While the book was nearly unintelligible, Carto considered Yockey not merely a genius but a "great force" of "atomic power." Carto later reprinted Imperium under his Noontide Press imprint and in 1962 added a 35-page introduction that effectively summarized his own views and sensibility as well as his adulation of Yockey.3 "Dimly I could make out the form of the man -- this strange and lonely man -- through the thick wire netting," Carto wrote, describing a June 1960 visit to the San Francisco jail where Yockey was being held on passport fraud charges (and where, a week later, at the age of 43, Yockey killed himself by swallowing cyanide).
Inwardly, I cursed these heavy screens that prevented our confrontation....
[E]ven though the man upon whom I was calling was locked in equality with petty thieves and criminals, I knew that I was in the presence of a great force, and I could feel History standing aside me....I know now that the only real crime of Francis Parker Yockey was to write a book, and for this he had to die.4
Carto argued that "no intelligent man will ignore Imperium" and its central message. As Yockey put it, "the Jew is spiritually worn out....He lives solely with the idea of revenge on the nations of the white European-American race." Indeed, Yockey considered Jews to be synonymous with evil and weakness and denounced "the Church-State-Nation-People-Race of the Jew" as the "distorter of culture": non-Jews around them can no longer see reality properly.
Yockey's ideas resonated with Carto. "In one respect, Imperium is akin to Das Kapital," Carto said. He continued:
For Karl Marx gave to the conspiratorial Culture Distorter the necessary ideological mask to hide its mission of ruthless total destruction....Francis Parker Yockey has done the same thing for those who are constructive-minded and who have the...courage to face reality and speak truth.
Early in Carto's career, then, Yockey galvanized the younger man's sense of mission and his conviction that race is destiny; Carto literally demonized the "distorters," as newspaper columnist Drew Pearson revealed in October 1966, publishing a letter written by Carto:
Hitler's defeat was the defeat of Europe. And of America. How could we have been so blind? The blame, it seems, must be laid at the door of the international Jews. It was their propaganda, lies and demands which blinded the West to what Germany was doing....If Satan himself, with all of his super-human genius and diabolical ingenuity at his command, had tried to create a permanent disintegration and force for the destruction of the nations, he could have done no better than to invent the Jews.
Throughout Carto's history -- for as long as he has tried to organize the disillusioned and angry into an anti-democratic social and political power -- he has never strayed far from the notion that the secret plots of evil Jews threaten the world.
Carto first decided to organize "a lobby for patriotism" -- to influence both current legislation and long-term policy -- in 1955. Liberty Lobby first came to public attention in 1957 when Right reported that a right-wing political pressure group was being organized in Washington, D.C. Carto officially founded the group in 1958, but it had little effect until 1961, when he hired a professional staff and the group announced its first $35,000 in earnings. (During that time, Carto also organized briefly for the John Birch Society.) Within two years, Liberty Lobby boasted the support and cooperation of at least a dozen members of Congress. By 1968, the group's annual income reached more than half a million dollars.
For several years, Curtis B. Dall, a retired Air Force Reserve Colonel and ex-son-in-law of Franklin Roosevelt, served as chairman of the organization's Board of Policy. And while Dall identified Carto as "chief executive officer of Liberty Lobby and the main motivating individual in it," the founder had an almost Howard Hughes-like passion for anonymity. Known for his authoritarianism and self-aggrandizement behind office doors (among the qualities that alienated his allies throughout his career), he rarely appeared in public, refused to be photographed and usually refused to be interviewed. For the most part, he even kept his name off the masthead of Liberty Lobby publications. Many years later, in a 1993 letter to The Washington Post -- itself a rare instance of Carto appearing in a non-Liberty Lobby forum -- he described himself as "an officer and (low-paid) employee" of the organization he had created. His official title of "Treasurer" greatly understated the scope of his authority.
But even as he gained a reputation as a recluse and sought to cover Liberty Lobby with a mantle of conservative respectability, Carto established a wide network of extremist publications and organizations. In 1966, he acquired control of the magazine American Mercury, originally associated with H.L. Mencken, and transformed it into a quarterly journal of anti-Semitic propaganda. He issued it in tandem with the bimonthly Washington Observer Newsletter, similarly laced with anti-Semitism. Both are now defunct. He had previously founded Western Destiny, a magazine that produced racist, neo-Nazi articles during the 1960s; and Noontide Press, which continues to publish and sell anti-Jewish and pro-Nazi books.
Carto also organized in support of George Wallace's 1968 presidential bid, helping to produce a pamphlet -- "Stand Up for America: The Story of George C. Wallace" -- that emphasized Wallace's opposition to integration and "the liberal-Communist conspiracy which had seized control of the federal government."5 According to historian Dan Carter, Wallace "routinely" distributed the pamphlet, calling it an "accurate expression of my thinking on these matters." Following the campaign and a period of bitter infighting, defections and purges -- all typical of Carto's operations -- he reorganized his Youth for Wallace movement into the National Youth Alliance, which attempted to recruit college students to "smash" liberal causes on campus. Leaders at its conferences celebrated Yockey's fascist reveries and adorned themselves with Nazi regalia. In the early 1970s, amid continued palace intrigue, the group split into factions, one supporting former American Nazi Party propagandist William Pierce. By 1974, Pierce's faction became known as National Alliance, which, under his leadership, has become the most active neo-Nazi organization in the country.
Carto's chief aim was always to mobilize opinion against Jews. Liberty Lobby was his chief instrument to bridge right-wing constituencies -- hard-right or paramilitary libertarians, conspiratorial anticommunists, racists -- by inflaming their anti-government and nativist fears and identifying Jews as the country's chief threat. "Zionists," in the group's disingenuous rhetoric, and the "Zionist lobby," were the driving forces behind integration; Communism; the United Nations and internationalism; the moral decline accompanying liberalism; and, obviously, Israel. These sentiments were widely conveyed by Liberty Lobby's weekly tabloid, The Spotlight, which debuted in September 1975. Written and edited by the organization's staff (including, occasionally, Carto himself),7 the flagship publication reflected Carto's conspiracy theory of history, a nightmare vision in which hidden forces -- including elite policy groups like the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations -- manipulated governments and media around the world. Jews continually turn up, not just as Zionists but in other coded forms, including "Israel's American supporters," "dual loyalists," "cultural Marxists" and "international bankers."
The Spotlight was immediately successful, increasing in circulation annually until it peaked in 1981 at an average paid run of more than 300,000 per week (circulation declined to slightly under 100,000 by the end of the decade and leveled off thereafter). Much of its success, especially evident when compared to other anti-Semitic periodicals, stemmed from its ability to portray itself as legitimately populist and patriotic. It crusaded against tax increases, trade agreements with the former Soviet Union, gun control, gay rights, pornography and the welfare system -- all issues with mainstream appeal. Its preoccupation with the secret machinations of government and the falsifications of the media resonated with those who did not necessarily share the intensity of its conspiracy-mongering, let alone share its bigotry. The focus of its marketing materials was the promise that Spotlight readers would get "behind the scenes" to "the real story."
The Spotlight became the premiere publication of the far right and proved to be a crucial venue for the conspiratorial claims of both the Holocaust-denial and militia movements. It wrote respectfully of David Duke and of skinheads ("They're Young, They're Wild and Standing Up for America").8 In addition to its editorial content, many of its advertisements reflected Carto's agenda as well as the paper's constituency: anti-Jewish and racist figures and groups like Ben Klassen, founder of the World Church of the Creator; the now-defunct National States Rights Party of Georgia; James K. Warner of the Louisiana-based Christian Defense League; and past Identity pioneer Sheldon Emry all advertised their wares in The Spotlight. Militia propaganda and gear, as well as anti-tax and sovereign citizen materials, were available in abundance. The newspaper's "classified" section advertised other extremist publications and membership solicitations.
The Spotlight also extensively promoted Liberty Lobby's talk radio shows, formerly "This is Liberty Lobby," and more recently "Editor's Roundtable" and "Radio Free America." "Radio Free America" was hosted by Liberty Lobby Board of Policy member Tom Valentine; much like Spotlight, the program appeared merely to promote populist views on contentious mainstream issues. In fact, its skin-deep populism covered vintage Carto-ite anti-Semitism, paranoid-style politics, Holocaust denial and anti-Israel conspiracy theories. Aptly, when Valentine hosted a St. Petersburg, Florida, convention in November 1994 celebrating the program, the reported speakers included "Red" Beckman, an anti-Jewish tax protester associated with the militia and Identity movements; Eustace Mullins, one of the most prolific anti-Jewish propagandists of the post-War era; David Irving, the notorious Holocaust denier; and David Duke.
The Institute for Historical Review
Carto's anti-Semitism was further manifested in the Institute for Historical Review, which he founded in 1979 to spearhead a movement to deny the reality of the Holocaust and
to market Holocaust-denial propaganda. Carto was aided at the start by William David McCalden, a racist and anti-Semitic British publicist who -- using the alias Lewis Brandon -- served as IHR director until 1981 (when he left due to differences with Carto).9 Based in Costa Mesa, California, the IHR operated under a guise of scholarship and published spurious "revisionist" studies laced with anti-Semitic themes in its quarterly Journal of Historical Review and the now-discontinued IHR Newsletter. Carto promoted the Institute, contributors to its publications and Holocaust denial generally in The Spotlight and on "Radio Free America." A 15-page "Holocaust supplement" in the December 24, 1979, issue of The Spotlight included headlines that amplified Carto's unique rendition of the holiday spirit: "Were Six Million Jews Exterminated?" "Famous 'Gas Chamber Victims' Living Well," "Need $50,000? Find a Holocaust Victim," "Torture Used to Make Germans 'Confess.'" As Deborah Lipstadt has noted, The Spotlight ran articles claiming that Auschwitz victims were cremated to control typhoid, that the "gas chambers" were actually life-saving delousing showers, that the Diary of Anne Frank was a hoax and that Jews created the six million number to convince the United Nations to support the creation of Israel.
Carto was also able to gather virtually all of the world's foremost deniers at IHR's annual conferences, as well as surviving Nazis, children of Nazis, anti-Jewish polemicists not known for their views about the Holocaust and nonracist iconoclasts (like Hitler biographer John Toland and journalist John Sack). Carto set the tone for these events with his remarks at the organization's first conference in 1979, calling the Holocaust "atrocity propaganda" and declaring Zionists to be "predators" who exploit the "guilt" of the West and "offer us expiation for the sins of our fathers by giving us the magnificent opportunity to contribute to the building of God's promised land for God's chosen people with our tax money."
The Populist Party
In 1984, Carto attempted to extend his influence into electoral politics by creating the Populist Party. Promoted as a contemporary incarnation of the late 19th-century Populist movement, its 1984 platform called for "respect for racial and cultural diversity." But Carto's prejudices were given voice later in the same platform, which quietly invoked Yockey's characterization of Jews as "distorters": "The Populist Party will not permit any racial minority, through control of the media, culture distortion or revolutionary activity, to divide or factionalize the majority of the society-nation in which the minority lives." Along with more broadly shared conservative goals like abolishing the Equal Rights Amendment and ending busing, party planks have included repealing the federal income tax, abolishing the Federal Reserve (which is owned by "international bankers") and abolishing immigration.
The new party was first led by Liberty Lobby and Spotlight staff members -- Carto was a member of its Executive Committee -- along with a number of KKK leaders and hate group figures; its first national chairman was former Klan leader Robert Weems. Initially, The Spotlight heavily promoted the party and took credit for its "phenomenal growth." Its efforts in the 1984 Presidential race yielded little success, however. With former Olympic pole-vault gold medallist Bob Richards at the top of the ticket, the party received 66,000 votes nationally. (Richards later repudiated the party.)
Infighting soon split the ranks, and Carto and his followers were thrown over. In 1987, he established a separate faction under the leadership of Don Wassall, which continued to call itself the Populist Party. David Duke accepted the party's presidential nomination in 1988 and received slightly less than 50,000 votes. Thereafter, Wassall broke with Carto because of financial and managerial disputes, and Carto -- through The Spotlight -- quickly became the party's most vehement critic. His major vehicle for electoral outreach became the Populist Action Committee, established in 1991, which backed such candidates for office as Illinois neo-Nazi Art Jones and former George Lincoln Rockwell lieutenant Ralph Forbes of Arkansas.
IHR v. Carto
Carto's internecine battles in the Populist Party foreshadowed a major feud with the leaders of the Institute for Historical Review. In September 1993, the Institute's editorial staff and board of directors voted to terminate its association with its founder. On October 4, 1993, Carto received a letter announcing that he had been "fired." According to court documents, the falling-out stemmed from the purchase of a new Cadillac by Carto's wife using IHR funds, Carto's purchase of an insufficient insurance policy prior to a 1984 arson that destroyed IHR's warehouse and offices, his skimping on pay and health benefits and his "launching and subsequent mishandling of the reward offer" in the Mel Mermelstein affair. The latter referred to a civil judgment successfully brought against IHR by Auschwitz survivor Mermelstein after the Institute failed to pay him a $50,000 "reward" it had offered for "proof" that the Nazis had operated execution gas chambers during World War II. (The 1985 court judgment forced IHR to pay both the $50,000 reward and an additional $40,000 for pain and suffering.) IHR's director at the time, Tom Marcellus, also alleged that Carto planned to redesign the Journal for Historical Review into a more straightforwardly racist publication.
The most significant stake in this controversy was control of as much as $10 million in stock certificates bequeathed to IHR's parent corporation, The Legion for the Survival of Freedom, by Jean Farrel, an heir of Thomas Edison.10 The summer before Carto's "dismissal," Marcellus reportedly discovered a $100,000 bank order for Liberty Lobby drawn from the Farrel bequest. According to Marcellus, Carto had directed his wife to set up a corporation for the sole purpose of controlling Farrel's money and loaning it back to the Legion -- thus making the Legion a less attractive target for potential lawsuits. Because the IHR defined itself as the Legion, the senior staffers demanded control of the money bequeathed to the parent company. Marcellus discovered that while Carto had long claimed to be merely the corporation's "agent," the Legion listed as a corporate director a person who had been dead for five years; the board had never met; and Carto was the sole and controlling voice. Marcellus and his colleagues and lawyer were able to assemble a new board that terminated all association with Carto.
Carto's immediate response was to arrange a meeting with the IHR principals and their lawyer. While they waited for Carto at the lawyer's office, he went instead to IHR headquarters with his wife and three others and began disconnecting telephones, changing locks and tampering with computers; he also faxed the IHR attorney, stating that he was "now in control of the IHR office." A scuffle ensued, and he was ultimately dragged from the premises by police as he screamed, "You're killing me."
As the dispute entered a long and complicated litigation that would involve several lawsuits -- and prompt a relentless campaign of vituperation and false rumor by Carto -- The Spotlight announced in August 1994 that Liberty Lobby was launching a new publication devoted to historical revisionism called The Barnes Review (after the 20th century revisionist historian Harry Elmer Barnes). In a Spotlight editorial, Carto stated:
Real news, like real history, is very controversial in this day of the politicization of both. So what is more appropriate than for The Barnes Review to be assisted by the staff of the one American newspaper, The Spotlight, which has proven...to be far ahead of the rest of the news media in reporting events...which are habitually hushed up by that same media which touts myth and lies as history?
After the Feud
Fortune has not smiled on Carto in recent years. On November 15, 1996, California Superior Court Judge Runston G. Maino ruled in favor of IHR, saying Carto owed the group and the Legion for the Survival of Freedom, $6.43 million of the estimated $7.5 million bequeathed by Farrel. Judge Maino further characterized Carto's role in the proceedings: "I found that much of his testimony made no sense; much of his testimony in court was different from his previous testimony; much of his testimony was contradicted by other witnesses or by documents. By the end of the trial I was of the opinion that Mr. Carto lacked candor, lacked memory, and lacked the ability to be forthright about what he did honestly remember."
In response to the decision, both Carto and Liberty Lobby filed for bankruptcy. After three years of legal and extralegal maneuverings to slow or avoid making debt payments and, allegedly, to shield his assets in corporate shells, a series of Federal Bankruptcy Court decisions in June and July 2001 forced him to relinquish control over The Spotlight and Liberty Lobby. He also lost the Washington, D.C., offices Liberty Lobby had occupied for 40 years. Hardly slowing, Carto and his associates produced a rejiggered version of The Spotlight in August called the American Free Press. A page 1 editorial stated:
We choose life and that is why we've prepared this first issue of American Free Press, brought to you by the former staff of The Spotlight, who are now the publishers. We will bring you another issue every week. And this is exactly what each of us must do -- chose a life of liberty under law and the Constitution -- not slavery and death in the New World Order that is being prepared for us all.
In 1988, a United States federal appeals court ruled that the Wall Street Journal did not libel Liberty Lobby when calling it "far-right" and "anti-Semitic." Writing for the court, Judge Robert H. Bork stated, "We tend to agree with a district court that if the term 'anti-Semitic' has a core, factual meaning, then the truth of the description was proved here." Bork's opinion may serve as the most succinct post-mortem on Carto's career. Today, in his straitened circumstances and at his advanced age, the likelihood that he will lead followers to the Yockeyite "imperium" has dimmed considerably. Among other troubles, as of November 2001 he faces a court-ordered liquidation of his personal assets and could lose his home. But he has had an exceptionally resilient, energetic and inventive career, and as long as he has money he will continue to organize right-wing coalitions around conspiratorial fears of Jewish power and influence.09;
1According to both Carto and Yockey biographer Kevin Coogan, "Ulick" is an ancient Irish name meaning "reward of the mind." Varange refers to the Varangians, Scandinavians who imported Western culture to Russia in the ninth century ("that far-roving band of Norse heroes," as Carto calls them). "Ulick Varange" thus refers to a Europe unified "from the rock promontories of Galway to the Urals," in Yockey's words.
2Yockey dedicated Imperium to "the hero of the Second World War" -- a reference, as the work's apocalyptic anti-Semitism makes apparent, to Hitler.
3Carto's introduction was based on a critique of Imperium prepared by the eccentric, erudite and anti-Semitic University of Illinois Classics Professor Revilo P. Oliver. While some far rightists maintain that Oliver wrote the essay (see Kevin Strom at http://www.revilo-oliver.com/rpo/Imperium_intro.html), Yockey biographer Kevin Coogan points out that Oliver always acknowledged Carto as the author.
4Carto's description of Yockey is almost romantic. Describing a court appearance by his idol, Carto wrote:
In stature he was about five feet, ten inches. He was light of weight, perhaps 145 pounds, and quick on his feet. His hair was dark, and starting to grey. The expression on his face -- pensive, sensitive, magnetic -- this was the unforgettable thing. It was his eyes, I think. Dark, with a quick and knowing intelligence. His eyes bespoke great secrets and knowledge and such terrible sadness. As he turned to leave, one time, those eyes quickly searched the room, darting from face to face with a sort of desperation....What was he looking for? In that lions' den, what else but a friendly countenance? As his gaze swept across, and then to me, he stopped and for the space of a fractional second, spoke to me with his eyes. In that instant we understood that I would not desert him.
5Dan Carter, The Politics of Rage (New York, 1995), p. 297.
7Carto wrote under his own name and under various pseudonyms, including "Frank Tompkins" and "E.L. Anderson, Ph.D."
8Carto later briefly owned a stake in Resistance Records, the leading distributor of white power hate music, popular among skinheads and other disaffected and racist young people.
9Some sources, including the anti-Holocaust-denial Web site Nizkor.org, argue that McCalden founded IHR using Carto's money.
10Since the 1960s, Carto sheltered his more explicitly racist operations, like the American Mercury and IHR, in the Legion.