$2 Million in Populist Party Money Missing from Dead Treasurer's FEC Files

Michael Pugliese debsian at pacbell.net
Mon Aug 28 08:47:58 PDT 2000

Factionalist Feuding on the far right. Don Wassell publishes the paper of the American Nationalist Union, http://www.anu.org/ (current issue has picture of Dubya with a crown, the Intelligence Report always has lotsa far right gossip and newsbytes). Kirk Lyons, a neo-Nazi lawyer for the C.A.U.S.E. Foundation, http://www.main.nc.us/wncceib/lynaziinterview.html , was along with Ramsey Clark, one of the attorneys in the losing suit brought by families of the Waco Branch Davidians. His friend at the Christian Identity compound Elohim City, Andreas Strassmeir, is the son of a confidante of Helmut Kohl. Y'all remember, Mark Lane from the 60's. He's married to Willis Carto's daughter. Bo Gritz is the model for "Rambo".

This story reminds me of the millions of dollars that the "Aryan Republican Army" stole in the eighties in bank heists, that was given to groups like the Aryan Nations, which Morris Dees, right now is suing, like he has various KKK groups.

Michael Pugliese

Sixteen years ago, in its issue No. 36 for 1984 (Sept. 3), The SPOTLIGHT reported on the first national convention of the Populist Party and its nomination of former Olympic champion Bob Richards and health freedom advocate Maureen Kennedy Salaman as the party's candidates for president and vice president.

Established just eight months earlier, under the auspices of Liberty Lobby, the populist Institution that publishes The SPOTLIGHT, the party showed phenomenal growth in its infancy. Thou sands of patriots rallied behind the party under its founding chairman, populist writer Robert H. Weems, and Jim Yar brough, a respected third-party organizer.

Although some feared the party would "help elect a Democrat"-a major stumbling block in party recruitment-the party's own presidential candidate prov ed an even greater encumbrance.

When the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) falsely alleged the party was "anti-Semitic," Richards was so terrified he considered withdrawing up to the last minute prior to his nomination.

However, things got worse. Richards fell under the spell of a trio of promoters, two known to be federal undercover in formants and another an outspoken devotee of Israel. They convinced Richards the "only way" he could "win" would be to break with The SPOTLIGHT-which is what Richards did.

He crossed the country denouncing The SPOTLIGHT and, in the end, repudiated the party and its platform, describing himself as only an "independent" candidate.

In spite of Richards, the party made strides forward with vice presidential candidate Maureen Salaman and newly-elected national chairman Bill Baker working energetically to promote the party.

On the ballot in 14 states, the Populist ticket won 66,000 votes, a respectable showing for a "new" party divided within, but also competing against Ronald Reagan, who won a landslide re-election.

Although Richards promptly disappeared from the scene, the mess he created came back to haunt Liberty Lobby which bore the brunt of fines levied against his campaign by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC spent more than five years harassing Liberty Lobby for setting the party in motion.

Following the election, the party parliamentarian, William K. Shearer of California, engaged in power plays that alienated party members. At one point, Shearer even invited a known ADL asset, Roy Bullock of San Francisco, into a party leadership position even though Shearer had been warned of Bullock's ADL affiliation.

Dissatisfaction with Shearer resulted in many state parties disassociating themselves from the national party.

In response to the urgings of grassroots party leaders, Liberty Lobby foun der Willis Carto and others convened a meeting to reconstitute a new party. Shearer's faction quickly folded and Shearer was left with only his own dissipated American Independent Party (AIP) remnant in California.

A new national party was established in March 1987 at which time former Rep. George V. Hansen (R-Idaho) indicated he would accept the party's 1988 presidential nomination.

A dedicated party leader, Tom Mc Intyre, was elected national chairman. Don Wassall was named secretary of the party's new national office. Despite some reservations, Wassall was permitted to own and profit from the official party newspaper, The Populist Observer.

In the meantime, the party convention met in St. Louis on Labor Day weekend, 1987, and gave Hansen its nod. Tennes see businessman Hubert Patty was named his running mate. Hansen, however, astounded the party by bowing out of the race, preferring to launch his own populist enterprise and in no short time ended up in prison on trumped-up char ges of check-kiting relating to his new venture.

Still, party leaders were confident a new candidate would emerge and scheduled the party's national committee meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, in March 1988 to select a replacement.

At that meeting, two candidates vied for the nod: Louisiana maverick David Duke and former Green Beret James (Bo) Gritz, first introduced to the patriot movement by The SPOTLIGHT.

Although Don Wassall worked feverishly behind the scenes for Gritz, fearing the party would be called "racist" were Duke nominated, Duke overwhelmingly defeated Gritz and then asked Gritz to be his running mate.

Gritz accepted, but "played Hansen" and shocked the party by withdrawing and privately denouncing Duke as a "racist." He then ran for Congress, but was defeated in the GOP primary. Party leaders then drafted Dr. Floyd Parker, a veteran third-party organizer, as Duke's running mate.

On the ballots of 11 states, Duke-Parker won 48,267 votes, a good showing for a party with a minimal budget and hardly any media coverage. In fact, Duke's showing provided him the springboard that led to his election as a Republican to the Louisiana legislature in 1989 and to his phenomenal campaigns for governor and U.S. senator.

After the 1988 election, dissatisfaction with Don Wassall led to the resignations of Chairman McIntyre, Vice Chairman Yarbrough and other party leaders. In the void, Wassall assumed the chairmanship.

The SPOTLIGHT reported on the criticisms of Wassall-who promptly began claiming The SPOTLIGHT was "attacking the Populist Party." In the meantime, Wassall moved again to recruit Gritz as the party's 1992 presidential candidate.

Gritz never agreed to be the party's candidate, proclaiming he was an "independent" and-predictably-there was friction with Wassall, who was raising money out of an office he set up in Ford City, Pa.

Gritz infuriated many by publicly attacking David Duke and even claimed a SPOTLIGHT photo of Gritz and Duke as the party's initial 1988 ticket had been "doctored" and that he could not remember the photo having been taken.

Despite Wassall's false allegation that SPOTLIGHT criticism of Wassall was harmful to Gritz, who was on the ballot in 18 states, Gritz still won 106,619 votes, more than twice as many as Duke.

Gritz ran behind two "third party" candidates on the ballot in all 50 states-Libertarian Andre Marrou (with 278,528 votes) and Lenora Fulani of the New Al liance Party (with 211,742 votes)-but still did better than Howard Phillips of the U.S. Taxpayer Party.

In addition, much to the embarrassment of William K. Shearer, who had placed Phillips on the AIP ballot line in California, Gritz won more votes in California via write-in than Phillips won by actually being on Shearer's ballot line.

>From 1992 to 1995, Wassall told conflicting stories as to the nature of the
party's condition, but continued to raise money and to publish The Populist Ob server as the party organ (personally pro fiting from the paper, unknown to most party contributors).

At one point Wassall filed a $25 million libel action against The SPOTLIGHT for describing him as a political nerd. Indi cating perhaps Was sall's hidden agenda, Wassall drag ged col umnist Pat Bu chan an into the controversy by suing The SPOTLIGHT for point ing out, quite correctly, that Bu chanan had wisely refused Was sall's offer of the Populist presidential nomination.

In the end, after The SPOTLIGHT's attorney, Mark Lane, grilled Wassall under oath and forced him to admit, among other things, that he was a heavy marijuana user, Wassall withdrew the suit.

Meanwhile, the party was disintegrating and on Sept. 18, 1995, The Chicago Tribune reported that Wassall claimed "it doesn't make a lot of sense [for the Populist Party to field a presidential candidate in 1996] with Pat Buchanan already out there [seeking the GOP's nomination]," although, Buchanan was out of the GOP race early on.

At the same time, however, Wassall alleged that it was because of The SPOTLIGHT's criticism of Wassall that the party was unable to field a presidential candidate.

In September 1995 Wassall announced the party was "suspending" its activities. Although he had scrapped the party, Wassall continued to publish the party newspaper under a new name. He also changed the party's name and proclaimed it to be a "union," but Wassall alone profited from the "new" venture.

In the meantime, Wassall filed a malpractice suit on his own (and in the name of the party's national committee) against the attorney he had previously retained to conduct his failed suit against The SPOTLIGHT.

Wassall won a $2.1 million judgment and with his cronies divided the money up. Although what Wassall pocketed remains unknown, FEC records indicate Wassall's treasurer, Phil Chesler, took some $85,000. Whether Chesler split those funds with others remains a mystery since Chesler died shortly after advising the FEC that the party was now officially dissolved.

Although a portion of the $2.1 million was channeled through the party bank account, the party's "National Commit tee" (in whose name Wassall filed the suit) never received a penny, according to FEC records. Instead, Chesler and several Wassall cronies-including Billy Chand ler, John Justice and Tom Par ker-shared the loot.

Wassall's friend, Kirk Lyons-best known as the confidant of Andreas Strassmeir, a reputed undercover government informant linked to the Oklahoma bombing-also received a cut.

Sixteen years after the Populist Party was founded in the highest of hopes, the party is dead, a noble effort destroyed from within. The populist movement, however, is very much alive.

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