The New Republic: WHO IS LARRY PRATT?

March 11, 1996


By The Editors

Ever since he first toyed with the idea of running for president, Patrick J. Buchanan has demanded only to be taken seriously. So far, however, his chief Republican opponents, the leaders of the party and the national media have merely condescended to him. The result of the free ride is that Buchanan is now a deadly serious candidate for the Republican nomination. Fine. But that means the condescension has to end. Buchanan's factual claims, his rhetoric and his personal loyalties must now be examined as if his words, and his associations, were adumbrations of a now-thinkable Buchanan White House. To do less would be to perpetuate the error we've made so far by patronizing him and so holding him--and his supporters--to a lower standard.

Take Buchanan's defense of Larry Pratt, his campaign co-chairman until last week when Pratt took a leave of absence following revelations of his links to white supremacist groups. "All I know is Larry Pratt of the Gun Owners of America has been a loyal early supporter of mine when no one else did [sic]," Buchanan said on February 15. But this was not literally "all" Buchanan knew, or should have known, at the moment he uttered those words. In fact, this much was already on the public record: on repeated occasions, Pratt spoke at meetings and on cable television programs as the invited guest of Pete Peters, a leader of the pseudo-religion known as Christian Identity.

Christian Identity preaches that Jews are the offspring of Satan and that blacks are a "pre-Adamic" race of subhumans created before Adam and Eve. At a 1992 meeting, Pratt stood by as Peters raged against "Talmudic filth." (Pratt has also been a guest on the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby's "Radio Free America.") Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge fame was a Christian Identity adherent; the sect is closely tied to violent militia groups such as the one that spawned Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Basically, Larry Pratt is one of the few barely politically presentable ideologues of the American militia movement. In his 1990 book, Armed People Victorious, he urged the United States to adopt a system of civil defense patrols like the one imposed on the population of Guatemala by its military bosses. "It is time that the United States return to reliance on an armed people," he wrote. "There is no acceptable alternative."

Has Buchanan read Armed People Victorious? Does he agree with it? And, in the Oklahoma primary, will Buchanan stick up for Pratt's contention, offered three days after the mass murder at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, that "whoever did that in Oklahoma City had descended to the level of the FBI"? No one has asked him such questions so far.

Buchanan protests that he himself wouldn't have associated with the likes of Peters, but says he won't fire Pratt until the man has had "a chance to defend himself." Pratt has now given his defense: he did not know Pete Peters was a racist and would have objected if he did. Does anyone find this credible? More to the point, does Pat Buchanan?

We don't know the answers to these questions, either, because neither GOP leaders nor the press have really held Buchanan to account on the matter. Instead, Buchanan is allowed to stonewall, asserting that Pratt is being "smeared" in part because he is "a devout Christian." Buchanan should be obliged to name exactly what groups and individuals in America are out to persecute the Christian majority. "[T]he dogs are on" Pratt, Buchanan whines. Does Buchanan, who has elsewhere claimed to be appalled at the lowering of political discourse, mean that no one is criticizing Pratt in good faith--that anyone who does so is a "dog"?

To be sure, Buchanan has fired two campaign munchkins with connections to David Duke. But until Buchanan fires and denounces Pratt, it will be perfectly reasonable to construe Buchanan's position this way: his campaign co-chairman condones American racists and fascists, but, because that man has done political favors for Buchanan and because his accusers are acting out of anti-Christian prejudice, Buchanan will accept Pratt's patently false denials, smear Pratt's critics and keep Pratt on his campaign letterhead.

It is also fair to argue that Larry Pratt is to Pat Buchanan's candidacy as Louis Farrakhan was to Jesse Jackson's in 1984. Jackson maintained his solidarity with Farrakhan out of an underlying inability to break ranks with the thuggish activists of the black inner city for whom Farrakhan is an icon. Buchanan keeps solidarity with Pratt out of a primordial dependence on the thuggish activists of the white hinterland for whom Pratt is an icon. No enemies on the right, or almost none, appears to be the watchword of the Buchanan campaign. That campaign, abetted by the laziness and chumminess of America's political and media elite, is now on the verge of acquiring decisive power in one of the two major political parties in the United States of America.

(Copyright 1996, The New Republic)

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