Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to David Wertheimer and Curtis Cronn some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

I was on Nixon's Enemies List: A true story

Ted Van Dyk was #52 on President Richard Nixon's infamous hit list. He and other surviving enemies will be honored this week at a D.C. event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the list's disclosure.
President Richard Nixon signs the Child Nutrition Act on May 14, 1970.

President Richard Nixon signs the Child Nutrition Act on May 14, 1970. U.S. Department of Agriculture

John A. Volpe, President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Volpe was the Secretary of Transportation during Nixon's administration.

John A. Volpe, President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Volpe was the Secretary of Transportation during Nixon's administration. Lucius Beebe Memorial Library

It's been 40 years since we learned about President Richard M. Nixon's infamous Enemies List. To commemorate the anniversary, Common Cause is sponsoring a program this week in Washington, D.C.

Many members of the list are now deceased, including the late Stimson Bullitt and Ed Guthman, a Seattle journalist who went on to become Robert Kennedy's press secretary and the national editor of several publications. I am the only living member on the list with a Seattle connection. A scheduling conflict will prevent my attending the D.C. event in person. But I've sent my photo and recollections, which will be used in the proceedings.

The enemies list was compiled by Nixon aide Charles Colson during the 1972 presidential campaign and passed along to White House counsel John Dean. Those on the list were to be harrassed by the Internal Revenue Service and punished wherever possible through other federal actions. Some list members escaped any harrassment. Others were not so lucky. Some people, not on the list, also were pursued, most ofen through repetitive tax audits.

I had several brushes with the Nixonites. I had served in policy roles in the 1968 and 1972 Democratic presidential campaigns. I had helped to start a committee supporting peace candidates in the 1970 congressional elections, and had continued my political activities past 1972. Even before publication of the Enemies List, in 1970, I learned that my correspondence and phone calls were being monitored illegally by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Early in 1973, my business partner Frank Mankiewicz, a fellow 1972 McGovern campaigner, and I learned from a front-page news story that the Nixon White House had specifically instructed the IRS to go after both of us. One of my consulting clients, United Airlines, which was headed at the time by Seattleite Eddie Carlson, was contacted by a federal agency pursuing an allegation (false) that I had arranged below-market UAL charter rates for McGovern campaign flights. An Associated Press reporter called to ask for comment on a report (also false) that I was laundering campaign money for Democratic candidates. Later, I was subpoenaed by Watergate Committee Republican staff to testify about allegations (false again) that I had directed Democratic "dirty tricks" against the Nixon campaign in 1968 and 1972.

These were the kinds of things you might expect from a Nazi or Soviet regime, but not from one democratically elected in the United States.

The Enemies List included not only those active in politics, but bystanders in the arts, finance, business and other fields who had made one time Democratic financial contributions or lent their names to liberal causes. It appeared to have been compiled, ad hoc, from scanning news stories that mentioned individuals opposing Nixon. Some names came from a 1972 McGovern campaign staff directory.

There were several hundred names on the list. Common Cause has informed me that I was No. 52. Why 52? Who knows.

It's easy to vent at Nixon and Co. and express gratitude that his excesses forced him from the presidency. But these things are possible under any government, of any ideological tilt, which feels itself sufficiently powerful and unchecked. How many of us have had personal experiences in which federal, state or local officials have tried to impose policies or take actions that appear to be outside the law? The response to this? Eternal vigilance and, where appropriate, outrage.

Today the Enemies List is an interesting historical artifact. But it could reappear almost anywhere, at any time.

Ted Van Dyk has been involved in, and written about, national policy and politics since 1961. His memoir of public life, Heroes, Hacks and Fools, was published by University of Washington Press. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Tue, Mar 12, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

I'd be surprised if any President doesn't have a domestic enemy list. The last couple certainly seem capable of it.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Mar 12, 11:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Remember the 900 plus files that Bill and Hillary Clinton played with in the 1990's? And, Rush Limbaugh, all FOX ratings winners, Paul Ryan, and many more surely are on lots of dem enemy lists.

animalal

Posted Tue, Mar 12, 10:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Wow, That is quite an honor to be on Nixons Enemies List. You must have been working on the side of Good. Thank you for the work you did to be on the Enemies List.

jhande

Posted Wed, Mar 13, 4:32 p.m. Inappropriate

It's unfortunate that TVD has to mar a Nixon-era history piece with vague, dubious comparisons to government overall. Who or what specifically is he talking about? I'm not aware of any documented evidence of subsequent presidential administrations engaging in any similar enemies list, though the George W. Bush-inaugurated surveillance wiretap program is different, more sweeping, and even more disturbing. Of course we have to be eternally vigilant, and we should be grateful to Sen. Rand Paul and others, including members of the Washington State Legislature, who have spoken up against drone surveillance. Why doesn't TVD speak specifically about subsequent abuses he has seen rather than engage in his usual pox-on-both-their houses rhetoric? One other point. What does TVD mean in talking about his work for United Airlines as a "consultant"? Doesn't he mean lobbyist? No euphemisms please.

Posted Wed, Mar 13, 6:45 p.m. Inappropriate

"These were the kinds of things you might expect from a Nazi or Soviet regime, but not from one democratically elected in the United States."

Actually, TVD, what you might expect from the Nazis or Soviets was to be arrested, jailed, tortured, and executed. I doubt those who ran afoul of either of those regimes would have been much concerned about the type of petty hararassment by government agencies that you cite. Let's keep things in perspective.

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 9:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the comments. Contrary to the sentiment expressed by the headline writer, and jhande, I never considered Enemies List membership as much of an honor. The list clearly was not prepared in any rational, deliberate way. Some major players were omitted; non-political bystanders were included. A sad, tawdry operation triggered by a semi-paranoid president who felt himself encircled by enemies.

It is true that the actions taken against list members, including myself, did not compare to the murders and imprisonments imposed by totalitarian regimes. But it should be remembered that, even under the Nazis, initial actions against "enemies" were small, administrative, and harrassing before they became monstrous and lethal.
The Nixon White House actions were intended to cost their targets
time, money, and reputation. They included break-ins, wiretappings, planting of false rumors, and other measures which could easily have escalated had the enterprise not been exposed. IRS whistleblowers helped bring it all to light (as with the early leak to a Washington, D.C. newspaper that the White House had ordered the IRS to go after both my business partner Mankiewicz and myself).

For anyone who cares---and I cannot imagine many do---I had an 11-year consulting relationship with United Airlines, with broad involvement in many ot the company's activities. On the "lobbying" side, which constituted maybe 15-20 percent of my help to UAL, I mainly worked with Sen. Ted Kennedy's Judiciary Committee staff to develop workable proposals for airline-industry deregulation. UAL, then the largest U.S. carrier, was among the first to endorse Kennedy's deregulation initiative. (Kennedy's staff man on the issue, by the way, was present Supreme Court Justice Steve Breyer. You never know where paths will cross),

Posted Thu, Mar 14, 11:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for clarifying your role as a lobbyist, part of the Beltway's notorious revolving door of influence peddling.
BTW, just for historical accuracy, I just read Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, and the Nazis started up their beatings, murders, and generalized brutality against Jews, Communists, and other "undesirables" very early in the process, in 1932 or 1933, when Hitler came to power. In fact, they were engaging in violence even before coming to power. So it's not accurate to say that the Nazis' initial actions against "enemies" were small, administrative, and harassing. The Nazis were the Nazis, and Nixon was Nixon. Again, let's put things in perspective.

Posted Fri, Mar 15, 8:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Care to respond to the issues and arguments I raised? Like whether it's in any way defensible to compare Nixon administration abuses to the Nazis? Name calling doesn't advance the discussion.

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »