Book Review: Willis Carto and the American Far Right
By George Michael
Published by University Press of Florida; ISBN 978-0-8130-3198-9; 341pp; Hardback
[This review was published in the January 2009 edition of H&D. Its subject – Willis Carto – died on 26th October 2015.]
In his comprehensive new biography of Willis Carto, publisher of the Barnes Review and the American Free Press, Dr George Michael assesses his subject as “undoubtedly the central figure in the post-World War II American far right.” European readers will wonder how this can be so, since Mr Carto has neither stood for public office nor promoted a distinct interpretation of nationalist ideology, but it is clear from this book that to a very large extent the history of our movement in post-war America is the history of Willis Carto.
Central figures in the European “far right” such as Jean-Marie Le Pen, Jorg Haider, Udo Voigt and Roberto Fiore have all held elected office in some parliament or council chamber, as for that matter has H&D’s editor. Other leaders such as John Tyndall, Colin Jordan and Nick Griffin have been unsuccessful electoral candidates. [update: Nick Griffin was of course later elected as an MEP from 2009 to 2014, as was former NF chairman Andrew Brons]
During more than half a century in the movement, Willis Carto has not been a candidate in a single election, a fact which tells us much about the racialist movement in the world’s largest democracy. The truth is that there has only been one seriously successful election campaign for the American movement in those years: David Duke’s election as a Louisiana state representative in 1988. At presidential level there have been very few serious attempts from any quarter even to shake the duopoly of the Democratic and Republican parties: Henry Wallace and Ralph Nader from the left; Strom Thurmond, George Wallace and Pat Buchanan from the right; billionaire maverick Ross Perot; and liberal Republican John Anderson.
Carto was a prominent organiser in one of those campaigns, the 1968 effort by four-term Alabama Governor George Wallace to fight back against the Democratic Party’s betrayal of southern Whites. Wallace took 13% of the nationwide vote and won five southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Yet the impetus of his campaign was soon diverted by President Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” which has left the Deep South as a block of “red states” consistently supporting Republican presidential candidates. Like their fellow Americans forty years on from the Wallace campaign, southern Whites this year had the dismal choice between presidential aspirants John McCain and Barack Obama.
Should we therefore judge the American racial nationalist movement – and in effect Willis Carto’s career – a failure? As Dr Michael documents Carto began his political activism in the early 1950s, just as White America was coming under sustained attack.
It is surely significant that unlike many other leading postwar American racialists (Thurmond, Wallace, Fields, Duke) Carto was not from the Deep South, nor was his background in the rural or small town America which has been the bedrock of the Christian Right. Carto was born and brought up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a large Midwestern city.
He is among the last leaders of our movement to have fought in World War II, joining the U.S. Army in 1944 and serving with the 23rd (‘Americal’) Infantry Division in the Far East, where he was wounded by a Japanese sniper.
After briefly studying at law school Carto dropped out to work as a salesman – making his pre-political background surprisingly similar to John Tyndall’s, and strikingly different to leaders such as Nick Griffin, who have never held a serious job outside politics.
Dr Michael demonstrates that Willis Carto’s ideological development was much influenced by Lawrence Dennis, who promoted corporatism and isolationism in the 1930s and came to be seen as one of the most pro-national socialist American intellectuals. Arguably Dennis (and later Carto) have been the true inheritors of Thomas Jefferson’s political legacy. It has been common to find American populists denouncing big government, only to end up effectively promoting the interests of big capital – New York money as the Scylla to the Charybdis of Washington bureaucracy. American anti-communists have built up “Red scares” to terrify conservatives, who have ended up subordinating U.S. foreign policy to another alien influence and fighting an apparently endless and hopeless war on behalf of Israel. Carto’s strain of populism has avoided these pitfalls, and tellingly his biggest regret is that in the 1960s his anti-communism led him to support U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Many readers will be particularly interested in Carto’s attitude towards Christianity. Though like every prudent American racialist or conservative Carto has been careful not to cause gratuitous offence to Christians among the donor base, his own attitude seems closer to critics of Christianity such as Dr Tomislav Sunic. In his introduction to the Noontide Press edition of Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ, published in 1980, Carto criticises both the liberal, multiracialist variant of Christianity and what was then the resurgent wing of conservative fundamentalist Christian Zionism personified by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. This Christian Zionist conservatism is in Carto’s words:
…a deadly enemy – the traitor at the gate. A secret enemy – one who poses as your friend – nay, your savior – is far more dangerous than an open enemy.
While avoiding either the open national socialism of George Lincoln Rockwell or the paramilitary style of William Pierce’s National Alliance, Willis Carto has never been afraid to tackle the Jewish question head on. In common with several other leading postwar racialists he was much influenced by Francis Parker Yockey’s book Imperium, and was the last visitor to the author in his San Francisco prison cell before Yockey’s suicide in June 1960. Like Yockey, Carto has always perceived Jews as “culture distorters” waging a “permanent revolution” against the ideals of European civilisation.
This perception of an overriding Jewish threat means that Carto has to square the populist circle when discussing the appropriate size and role for central government:
Fascism is really a populist economic system. It’s a system whereby the dictator appeals to the public directly and goes over the heads of the bankers and over the heads of the other interests. That’s why they got those huge majorities in the plebiscites like Hitler had. Fascism is populism.
But there is one difference, which is an essential difference… Fascism is authoritarian populism. That’s not what we ever had in this country. That’s certainly not what I advocate. I advocate a democratic populism. Europe literally had communists marching in the streets. And where populist movements had been submerged by communism such as in Romania and such as in Hungary, the anti-communist movement had to be militant… It had to be authoritarian. It had to be pyramidical where you had leaders at the top, just like an army, because it was an army. They were fighting organised communism. They were fighting big money… And the people literally put down communism all over Europe.
In promoting his brand of populism Willis Carto’s primary role has not been as an ideologist or a political candidate: instead he has been a supreme organiser and networker, arguably the best in the movement’s postwar history worldwide. After just a couple of years of active political engagement he took over an organisation called Liberty and Property in 1954, quickly becoming one of the most prolific opponents of the racial integration which had taken a giant step forward that year with the Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.
Between 1955 and 1960 Carto’s first publication was the newsletter Right: The National Journal of Forward-Looking Americanism, whose contributors included some of the legends of 20th century racial nationalism such as Earnest Sevier Cox, Lothrop Stoddard and Roger Pearson. It was in the pages of Right that he first developed his interest in black separatist nationalism as a logical complement to our cause. More recently Carto’s magazines have published favourable articles and interviews with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Dr Michael notes:
When reading back issues of Right today one is struck by its radicalism. Looking back, the newsletter appears ahead of its time, as it championed certain positions with a stridency uncharacteristic of its far right contemporaries. While other rightist organs at least endeavored to create a veneer of moderation and respectability, Right became increasingly shrill and oppositional. In it, one could find unapologetic defenses of racial separatism based on the putative biological superiority of whites. Yet at the same time, Right reached out to like-minded blacks in order to forge a multiracial separatist coalition. Despite the fact that the Holocaust and World War II had occurred only a few years earlier, the newsletter became more and more open in its criticism of Jews and defensive of certain aspects of fascism and National Socialism. Entry into World War I was identified as the crucial event, which put America on a destructive trajectory and set in motion trends that led to the Great Depression, the rise of Bolshevism, fascism and Nazism. Right unabashedly stated that the United States fought on the wrong side in World War II. The war and its aftermath threatened to destroy Western civilisation. Jews were implicated as the principal agents in this sad state of affairs. They were blamed for blackmailing Woodrow Wilson into involving the United States in World War I.
Such concerns led Willis Carto to establish the Institute for Historical Review in 1978, the first real attempt to organise what was then emerging as a revisionist trend among some historians of the Holocaust. As Carto tells Dr. Michael:
I tried to bring a little light into history… And that’s why I started the IHR… The Holocaust is history. Anybody, except a very biased person, realizes that there are two sides to every question. And the historical revisionists …have a perfect, moral and legal right to give the other side to this question. There has been so much done in the past twenty years on this… You see the Jews don’t want to debate this. You can’t find anybody to debate them.
Alongside well known revisionists such as David Irving, Robert Faurisson and Fred Leuchter, speakers at IHR conferences included more mainstream historians such as John Toland and William Hesseltine. Carto has shown a similar ability to bring together disparate individuals in his political enterprises, most famously the Liberty Lobby and associated publications such as Spotlight. He has tried on several occasions to forge a serious political coalition out of the notoriously fractious American racial nationalist movement.
Dr. Michael suggests that Liberty Lobby (devised in the late 1950s but not formally incorporated until 1962) represented a move away from the strident militancy of Right towards a pragmatic strategy of influencing the Republican Party. At the 1964 presidential election it appeared that some sort of right-wing coalition had gained control of that party, with the nomination of Sen. Barry Goldwater, though in fact Goldwater was not “right-wing” at all except in his anti-communist foreign policy. In 1968 Carto played a leading role in “Youth for Wallace”. Gov. Wallace did present a genuine challenge to liberal orthodoxy, and the National Youth Alliance created out of his 1968 campaign perhaps had more potential than any other American racial nationalist movement.
During 1969-70 two titans of that movement – Willis Carto and William Pierce – were working together in the NYA. Sadly they soon split and became bitter enemies. This pattern of encouraging pan-nationalist alliances followed by rancorous splits and festering disputes has recurred throughout Carto’s career (one such dispute, as Dr. Michael records, involving H&D’s editor). The IHR itself eventually split, provoking a long legal battle between Carto and the organisation’s director Mark Weber. Similar problems bedevilled the Populist Party, which Carto created in 1984. After abortive efforts to field former Olympic pole vault champion Bob Richards as a presidential candidate that year, the Populist Party nominated David Duke for President in 1988. Though Duke received fewer than 50,000 votes across the twelve states which allowed him onto the presidential ballot, his campaign proved a useful launch pad for his successful election as a Louisiana state representative the following year.
By 1992 the Populist Party’s coalition had crumbled, with open warfare between Carto and the man he had installed as party leader, Don Wassall. Having apparently abandoned efforts to create a third party, Carto now focuses more on the “political action committee” strategy of supporting racial nationalist candidates within the established parties. His assessment of political prospects for the early 21st century might have seemed apocalyptic when Dr. Michael’s book went to press, but now appears prescient:
I can’t see there being any significant political movement in this country until a real economic calamity, a real economic collapse, which has to come. I’ve been saying that for years. It hasn’t come. But the financial picture for the government is unbelievably horrendous. The government is literally bankrupt. There’s no chance of it ever getting out of bankruptcy. The only possible thing that I can see is that it has to fall off the side of the cliff. When it does in this country, I think we are going to miss the point of political corrective action. I think we can forget about it with our present institutions. I think when there is a real economic collapse there is going to be a revolutionary situation created overnight.
In the short term the collapse of American capitalism has led to the country’s most leftwing and first black President. This may not be the death knell for Carto-style racial nationalism: in fact it may be the first stage of the revolutionary situation he has long predicted. Should this prove to be the case, racial nationalists across the White world will have cause to be grateful to Willis Carto for keeping the flame alive across more than half a century of tireless activism. Dr. George Michael’s biography, despite its inevitably depressing chronicle of factional chaos, vividly records this career. Through the decades, in Right, the Liberty Lobby, NYA, Spotlight, the IHR, the Populist Party, Barnes Review and the American Free Press, Willis Carto has been a true disciple of Thomas Jefferson and a bold defender of free debate.
Reviewed by: Peter Rushton, Manchester, England
Willis Carto and the American Far Right is available for $45.00 (post-paid) from University Press of Florida, 15 Northwest 15th Street, Gainesville, FL 32611-2079, USA or online at www.upf.com.