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Profile: Young Americans for Freedom (YAF)

Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Former White House aide Tom Charles Huston, the author of the infamous “Huston Plan” (see July 14, 1970), talks about Watergate and civil liberties with a small audience, the Philadelphia chapter of the conservative organization Young Americans for Freedom (YAF).
Plan for Surveillance - His topic is “Government Surveillance of Private Citizens: Necessary or Ominous?” Huston discusses at some length the discussions and issues surrounding his plan, which would have allowed for draconian police and surveillance powers to be used against the populace and particularly against anyone identifying themselves with antiwar protesters and organizations. According to Huston, the country was reeling from bombings and bomb threats, closed-down schools, National Guard alerts, university ROTC buildings being burned, police officers injured and killed, civilians killed, snipers firing from rooftops. Huston paints a picture of a country on the brink of armed insurrection.
Overreaction - But Huston isn’t ready to draw such a conclusion. “Looking back, it is easy to understand why people now think the administration overreacted,” he says. “And had I known at the time that if we had done nothing, the problem would just go away, I would have recommended that we do nothing. But we did not understand that, and I don’t think that any reasonable person could have known this. Something had to be done. In the last analysis, I suppose this is an example of the dangers of letting down your guard against increased executive powers—no matter what the circumstances. Not that the danger was not real, but in this case the risk of the remedy was as great as the disease. There was a willingness to accept without challenge the Executive’s claim to increased power. That’s why we acted as we did, and it was a mistake.”
"Hooray for Watergate" - During the question-and-answer session, a middle-aged woman tells a story of how her son was being beat up by neighborhood bullies, and how, after trying in vain to get authorities to step in, gave her son a baseball bat and told him to defend himself. By this point the crowd is chanting and cheering in sympathy with the increasingly agitated mother, and some begin yelling: “Hooray for Watergate! Hooray for Watergate!” Huston is clearly nonplussed by the audience’s reaction, and, when the chanting and cheering dies down, says, “I’d like to say that this really goes to the heart of the problem. Back in 1970, one thing that bothered me the most was that it seemed as though the only way to solve the problem was to hand out baseball bats. In fact, it was already beginning to happen…. Something had to be done. And out of it came the Plumbers and then a progression to Watergate. Well, I think that it’s the best thing that ever happened to this country that it got stopped when it did. We faced up to it…. [We] made mistakes.” [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: Young Americans for Freedom, Tom Charles Huston

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Bo Burlingame, a former member of the radical antiwar group the Weather Underground, interviews former Nixon White House aide Tom Charles Huston, the author of the notorious, unconstitutional “Huston Plan” (see July 14, 1970). Huston is just coming off a speech to a conservative audience in which he said that his plan, and Nixon’s attempt to seize executive power at the expense of Congress and the Constitution, was excessive and mistaken (see Late 1973). Huston, a lawyer, a former Army intelligence officer, and an early leader of the Indiana chapter of the conservative extremist group Young Americans for Freedom, tells Burlingame that he found an interesting parallel between his group of right-wing extremists and Burlingame’s left-wing extremists: “I was interested to learn that you people were frustrated because nobody was listening to you. You know, we felt the same thing at the White House. It seemed as if a momentous crisis was at hand, and nobody was aware of it or cared.”
Coup d'Etat Begins with Creation of Fear in Populace - Huston is contemptuous and dismissive of many of his former White House colleagues, particularly Richard Nixon. “Frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past him and those damn technocrats,” he says of Nixon and his senior aides. “[Y]ou can’t begin to compete with the professional Nixonites when it comes to deception.… If Nixon told them to nationalize the railroads, they’d have nationalized the railroads. If he’d told them to exterminate the Jews, they’d have exterminated the Jews.” He took a position with the White House in January 1969 “believing that things were finally going to be set straight.”
Disillusioned - Huston became increasingly disillusioned with the lack of idealism in the Nixon White House, and left after deciding that Nixon and his top officials were less interested in implementing true conservative reforms and more interested in merely accumulating power. The Nixon team was an apolitical, power-hungry bunch “whose intellectual tradition is rooted in the philosophy of [marketing and advertising guru] J. Walter Thompson.… This administration has done more to debauch conservative values than anything else in recent history.”
Fear and Repression - Considering his plan to abrogate the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans, Huston seems quite supportive of those rights even in the face of national danger. “The real threat to national security is repression,” he had told a New York Times interviewer not long before the Burlingame interview. “A handful of people can’t frontally overthrow the government. But if they can engender enough fear, they can generate an atmosphere that will bring out every repressive demagogue in the country.”
Explaining the Huston Plan - Huston explains the rationale behind his radically repressive plan, telling Burlingame that the country was on the brink of mass insurrection and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was not doing nearly enough to combat the civil rights and antiwar protesters, particularly groups like the Black Panthers and Burlingame’s Weather Underground. By early 1970, many in the White House were ready to ease Hoover out of power; when, shortly thereafter, the mass protests against the Cambodia bombings (see February 23-24, 1969 and April 24-30, 1970) and the Jackson State and Kent State shootings (see May 4-5, 1970) occurred, Huston and others at the White House thought there was a far more organized and systematic underground, left-wing revolution going on than they had evidence to document. “We just didn’t believe we were getting the whole story,” he says.
Removing Hoover - Getting rid of Hoover and replacing him with someone more amenable to the White House’s agenda was the first goal, Huston says. The June 1970 “Interagency Committee on Intelligence” (see June 5, 1970) was designed to maneuver around Hoover and have him implicitly authorize counter-insurrection methods that he had always opposed, including “surreptitious entry” and “covert mail coverage.” The committee was the genesis of the Huston Plan. But Hoover stops the plan in its tracks by going through Attorney General John Mitchell. Whatever he said to Mitchell is not known, but Mitchell chewed out Huston and saw to it that the plan was terminated. Huston says that the unit of illegal campaign operatives later known as the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971) stems in part from the White House’s inability to force Hoover from power. Had Hoover made the FBI available to conduct the illegal burglaries and surveillances that Nixon wanted done—had Nixon supported the Huston Plan—the Plumbers would have never come into existence. “I find that totally indefensible,” Huston observes.
Ethical Confusion - Burlingame is bemused by Huston’s apparent ethical schizophrenia—on the one hand, Huston has come out strongly for constitutional freedoms, and on the other hand is now saying that his plan, which he himself has long admitted was blatantly illegal, would have avoided the entire Watergate contretemps and would have worked to bring the country into line. In fact, Huston asserts, he believed at the time that the Watergate conspiracy was completely legal. “I took the view that in internal security matters the president had the right to infringe on what would, in other circumstances, be constitutional rights, but that decision encompassed a decision that you forfeit the right to prosecute.” This view is why he left the Justice Department entirely out of the loop on his plan, he says.
Deliberately Keeping outside the Framework of the Law - The entire Huston plan would have never been used for anything except intelligence-gathering, he says. It was necessary for the plan to be exercised outside the structure of US law, he says. “[Y]ou don’t want a constitutional or legal mandate,” he says. “You don’t want to institutionalize the excesses required to meet extraordinary threats. The law just can’t anticipate all the contingencies.” He now thinks that he went too far with pushing for extraordinary powers; that if Hoover could have been eased out of power, the FBI could have done what needed doing without breaking the law. Burlingame writes that he cannot help but think that Huston is employing “tortured legalisms” to “cover his flank,” and questions Huston’s portrait of himself as an increasingly marginalized conservative idealist who became so disillusioned with the amoral power-mad bureaucrats of the Nixon administration that he walked out rather than further jeopardize his own principles. [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bo Burlingame, Black Panthers, ’Plumbers’, Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Walter Thompson, Young Americans for Freedom, J. Edgar Hoover, Tom Charles Huston, US Department of Justice, Weather Underground, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The American Security Council (ASC), a McCarthy-era organization originally conceived to ferret out Communists from the American business community, and now broadening its focus to oppose any sort of detente with the Soviet Union or any arms control agreements, forms the Coalition of Peace Through Strength, an association of 148 members of Congress led by Senator Robert Dole (R-KS). It opposes any sort of arms reduction agreements with the Soviet Union, and particularly opposes the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) treaty negotiations. By 1979, its ranks in Congress will have grown to 191, and it will have the support of over 2,400 retired generals and admirals. The organization insists that any such agreements with the Soviet Union are nothing less than a “symbol of phased surrender.” The organization is allied with other hardline conservative groups, including the American Conservative Union, Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, Young Americans for Freedom, and a loose organization of neoconservatives and disaffected Democratic hawks called the Coalition for a Democratic Majority. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 72-73]

Entity Tags: Young Americans for Freedom, American Conservative Union, American Security Council, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Coalition of Peace Through Strength, Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Saulius “Saul” Anuzis.Saulius “Saul” Anuzis. [Source: CBS Detroit]Former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saulius “Saul” Anuzis (R-MI) announces his candidacy for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (RNC), in a bid to replace the controversial current chairman, Michael Steele (R-MD). Anuzis currently chairs the Save American Jobs Project. He was unsuccessful in his 2009 bid to take the RNC chairmanship. In an email, he promises to make “fundraising my number 1 priority as chairman,” and vows “NOT… to be the voice or the face of our party. Of course I will be happy to discuss politics and elections with the media, but I won’t be competing with valuable airtime from the men and women on our ticket. Instead, I will work with our elected leaders around the country to give them maximum exposure and guarantee a consistent message that leads us to victory.” He promises to run a “tight ship” financially, and to work on behalf of whichever candidate wins the 2012 presidential primary race. [Detroit Examiner, 11/12/2010; Saul Anuzis, 11/12/2010; Wall Street Journal, 11/12/2010] Anuzis is considered to be a frontrunner in what looks to become a race with numerous possible candidates, including Steele, who intends to remain as RNC chair. [Wall Street Journal, 11/12/2010] However, Anuzis does not emphasize his support for Kyle Bristow, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a “right-wing extremist.” Under Bristow’s leadership, his organization, the Michigan State University branch of Young Americans for Freedom, was dubbed a “hate group” in 2006 by the SPLC, in large part because of Bristow’s demonstrably racist statements and actions. Among his actions as head of the MSU-YPF: insisting that the university create a “Caucasian caucus” for student government and eliminate minority caucuses; stating that gay rights groups “are complicit with murder”; sponsoring a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day”; holidng a “Koran Desecration” competition; joking about giving out smallpox-infested blankets to Native American students; and bringing several racist speakers to campus, including a Holocaust denier from the radical British National Party. Many members left MSU-YAF because of Bristow’s extremism, with one former member calling Bristow’s organization a haven for “racists and fascists.” In 2007, Anuzis, then the Michigan Republican Party chairman, said of Bristow after MSU-YAF’s activities had caused an eruption of outrage throughout Michigan: “This is exactly the type of young kid we want out there. I’ve known Kyle for years and I can tell you I have never heard him say a racist or bigoted or sexist thing, ever.” In recent years, Anuzis has helped shepherd Bristow’s rise in the radical right. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 11/16/2010; Think Progress, 11/19/2010] Anuzis will lose to Reince Priebus, a Wisconsin Republican Party official, after seven ballots. [National Public Radio, 1/14/2011]

Entity Tags: Michael Steele, Young Americans for Freedom, Reince Priebus, Saulius (“Saul”) Anuzis, Republican Party, Southern Poverty Law Center, Kyle Bristow

Timeline Tags: 2012 Elections

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