A Complicated Ethical Situation

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Bellant and others say they are not troubled by intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness that bridge ideological lines, but they do have concerns when left and right groups and individuals forge covert relationships.

There is a big difference between reading books by or interviewing members of far-right and racialist groups, and working in what amounts to an ad-hoc investigative coalition with members of these groups. There is a serious difference of opinion among progressive researchers as to the propriety of working with the LaRouchians or other ultra-right groups, especially those that preach bigotry. Some say they cannot, in good conscience, even accept unsolicited information from such groups, while others argue they need to interview members of these groups for their research.

Journalist Jane Hunter says she has consistently rejected overtures from the anti-Jewish far right. Hunter is highly critical of anyone who would covertly or overtly work with racists, anti-Jewish bigots, or neo-Nazis. She notes that even on a pragmatic level, "Any information that these people have is bound to show up someplace, free for the taking, for what it's worth. Our energies need to be spent in reaching out to people who are victims of the system--the people with whom we share a common interest in changing it."

Hunter and some two-dozen other progressive researchers (including the author) have been discussing these issues for several years. The one point of agreement is that this is a problem long overdue for debate. As Hunter explains, "In my speaking engagements I have found in audience questions an alarming increase in conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism." She also is worried that as conditions for African-Americans in the U.S. have continued to deteriorate, there has been an increase in the scapegoating of Jews by African-Americans. While scapegoating and turning to conspiracy theories is a common phenomenon in communities experiencing financial or social stress, it should never be tolerated.

Not all the rightist groups seeking an alliance or information exchange with the left are bigoted or fascist. Some are principled conservatives or libertarians seeking an open debate. However, some of the groups seeking to link up with the left have openly neo-fascist or neo-Nazi agendas, including some that call themselves conservative or libertarian. The ethical parameters on these questions for journalists and researchers need further debate.

It is important to recognize that the moral issues for persons building coalitions in the movement for peace and social justice are different than those for lawyers, academics, and reporters. For organizers the principles of unity seldom (if ever) are such that working with fascist, racist and anti-Jewish groups is appropriate.

Most people agree that uncritical reliance on either right-wing or left-wing material can lead to the recirculation of misinformation or disinformation. When working with the political right, there is the additional possibility that the left could unintentionally end up letting the right set its agenda. Some progressive researchers also argue that it is unethical for progressive groups to take information covertly from the political right and repackage and recirculate it without disclosing the source. That issue, however, remains unsettled, and needs to be debated openly.

A good illustration of the problem came up in an October 15, 1991 Village Voice article on the mysterious death of writer Danny Casolaro by authors James Ridgeway and Doug Vaughan. Casolaro at the time of his death was researching the legal case filed by the Inslaw corporation alleging theft and illegal sale of its software program, Promis. Promis is a program used to track complex litigation, but it can also be used to track dissidents and criminal conspiracies. Persons involved in several federal agencies are alleged to have participated in the illegal use and distribution of Promis. Casolaro had nicknamed the government and private conspiracies he perceived to be surrounding the Inslaw case "The Octopus," and had circulated a book proposal.

Ridgeway and Vaughan do report that Casolaro, in the course of his research, would "head into Washington for a congressional hearing or a meeting with, for example, Danny Sheehan of the Christic Institute--whose `Secret Team' could just as easily have been called the Octopus." They also mention that Casolaro was working with the LaRouchians in gathering information.

Not mentioned in the article is that the LaRouchites funneled information to the Christic Institute, Barbara Honegger, and the Spotlight/Liberty Lobby crowd; or that another named source, investigator Bill McCoy, also worked with Christic and supplied information from the LaRouchians; or that co-author Vaughan works at the Christic Institute.

Ridgeway and Vaughan do mention LaRouche's criminal conviction and the LaRouchian obsession with conspiracy theories and report, "The LaRouchies had ties to the Reagan White House and have long run a surprisingly elaborate intelligence-gathering operation of their own." They do not, however, characterize the LaRouchians as fascists or anti-Semites.

In the course of the article a LaRouchite intelligence operative is cited along with other sources. Should LaRouchian sources be treated differently than any other journalistic source? Again, there is no agreement even among alternative journalists. "I have great respect for Jim Ridgeway, but to put any credence in anything a LaRouchite has to say is a leap into faith that I can't make," says Voice columnist Nat Hentoff. Another Voice writer, Robert I. Friedman says, "The LaRouchians are an anti-Semitic conspiracy organization. It's a mistake for a journalist to use LaRouchians as a source without describing the kind of organization it is." Ridgeway responds that he has characterized the LaRouchians as conspiracists, fascists, and neo-Nazis in other settings, and he thinks most people who read his column already know who the LaRouchians are.

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