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People Top 5
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- August 25, 1986
- Vol. 26
- No. 8
An American Samurai: Gordon Liddy
Lean, Mean and Macho, the Watergate Burglar Teaches the Survival of the Fittest
George Gordon Liddy has prevailed. When he emerged from federal prison in Danbury, Conn, in 1977, after serving 52 months for his role in the Watergate scandal, Liddy's prospects weren't good. Convicted as the mastermind of the 1972 burglary and an earlier break-in to photograph the psychiatric files of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, Liddy had lost far more than his job as general counsel for Richard Nixon's reelection committee. He left prison as a disbarred lawyer and felon who was $346,000 in debt.
Now, less than a decade later, Liddy, 55, lives in an eight-room redwood house commanding 400 feet of Potomac riverfront on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. and has a winter home in Scottsdale, Ariz. He drives a $100,000 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III, with license plates reading: "H20-GATE." The "Watergate" plates are "just my way of saying 'Hi' to the liberals," he explains, with an ironic grin.
Liddy earns the bulk of his substantial income making 60 speeches a year to university and corporate audiences at up to $8,000 each. He has also turned his thespian talents to television, playing a corrupt bureaucrat on Airwolf and a drug dealer on Miami Vice. (He shaved his hair into a bristly Mohawk for that role, and wears it that way still.) He is a partner in G. Gordon Liddy & Associates, Inc., a Miami-based private investigation and uniformed guard company. The firm's latest ventures are the security course, which is to be given in several cities, and the recently formed Hurricane Force, a squad of commandos-for-hire whose services Liddy will offer for corporate-security training and overseas hostage-rescue operations.
For $2,700 (ammunition provided), the academy offers 17 days of classes covering everything from "Competitor Intelligence/Industrial Espionage" to "Electronic Eavesdropping (bugging-debugging)" to "Intrusion (Exit/Entry)." The general thrust of the training is not how to do these things unto others but how to stop them from being done unto you. Liddy has switched sides, from offender to defender.
If there's any irony in Liddy's running a security business, he doesn't see it. "You do not recruit a parish priest to protect you from a violent, difficult world," he says. Nor does he let his status as a felon deprive him of the tools of his trade—guns—though the law forbids his possessing them. "Mrs. Liddy has an extensive collection of firearms, some of which she keeps on my side of the bed," he notes wryly.
Yet even Olaf Rankis, 38, a former University of Miami psycholinguist and criminologist who actually runs the academy for Liddy, admits he felt a bit queasy about his employer when first offered the job. "Me, working with Gordon Liddy?" he says, rolling his eyes. "Initially I had some questions, but after I've come to know Liddy, I really respect him. He's not the neo-Nazi that people put him out to be."
The vicious rumors about Liddy's fascist tendencies can probably be traced to himself. He recounts in his best-selling 1980 autobiography, Will, how "for the first time in my life I felt hope" when, as a sickly, perpetually frightened child in Hoboken, N.J., he listened with his family's German maid to Adolf Hitler ranting on the radio. Too young to understand the evil embodied by Der Führer, he heard only the message that through the "power of will," all fear and shame could be overcome.
As a boy, Liddy was terrified of the dirigibles that flew over his home, of heights, of moths, of the lashings his grandmother administered with a leather harness. "I was afraid of just about everything in this world, with the possible exception of my mother," he says, "and I wasn't too sure about her." His father was a physically and intellectually powerful man who worked his way from a job on the docks to a partnership in a patent and trademark law firm. Liddy's task was clear: "to change myself from a puny, fearful boy to a strong, fearless man."
One by one, Liddy confronted and defeated his fears. He was afraid of fire, so he repeatedly held his hand over a candle until the flesh burned black. He was afraid of rats, so he roasted and ate one. What does he fear now? "I don't fear anything now," Liddy states flatly. Not even death? "You get rid of the fear of death by understanding that it is an integral fact of our existence," Liddy explains. "You do that through will and reason."
For Liddy, even love is an exercise in reason. In Will, he describes his thoughts upon meeting Frances Purcell, who has been his wife for 29 years: "A Teuton/Celt of high intelligence, a mathematical mind, physical size, strength, and beauty, she had it all. I fell in love."
While frivolous, emotional fellows were eyeing girls' jeans, the ever analytical Liddy was appraising their genes. "I knew that genetics work," he explains. Liddy boasts that one of his three sons, James, 25, is a naval ensign who just led his team to a gold medal in the U.S. Olympic Festival modern pentathlon. Another, Thomas, 24, he notes with equal pride, is a Marine lieutenant who "hit a guy one blow in the face once, and it took three plastic surgery operations to put the guy back together again." The third, Raymond, 22, also a Marine, bench presses 325 lbs. If you ask him, Liddy will tell you that he also has two daughters. Alexandra, 27, is a registered nurse; Grace, 26, is a computer specialist.
The superiority of what he calls reason over emotion is Liddy's principal message to the academy students, who want either to enter or move up in the private investigation business. "Let's start applying the lessons of reason to our work," he says. "Take, for example, the African jungle, the home of the cheetah. On whom does the cheetah prey? The old, the sick, the wounded, the weak, the very young, but never the strong." Liddy's dark eyes blaze, and a vein bulges on the side of his shaved head. "Lesson: If you would not be prey, you had better be strong." He obviously heeds his own advice. He appears so physically and mentally tough that the Hurricane Force, in a pinch, could probably turn him horizontal and use him as a battering ram.
Another lesson: "You are going to be dealing with the law. A tremendous amount of people in this country confuse in their minds law and morality." Getting hung up on legality is one mistake Liddy never made. He accepts responsibility for the "failure of the mission" at the Watergate ("I was on the bridge when the carrier hit the reef"), but denies that he did anything wrong. "We were engaged in a presidential campaign," he explains. "We were going to engage in combat, albeit political combat."
To Liddy, politics is war, and the battlefield ethic justifies not only the Watergate burglary but all his fevered plans for dirty tricks and sabotage at which even the Nixon band balked. His most extreme proposal—rejected by the White House—was a recommendation that columnist Jack Anderson be assassinated.
Anderson, Liddy says, had published information that led to the murder of "one of our human elements," that is, a spy, posted abroad. "We were directed to come up with a recommendation that would guarantee that Anderson would not repeat this conduct. Well, how do you guarantee that someone won't do something in the future unless you kill him? That is just good common sense."
Those who recoil at such cold-bloodedness are simply "naive," in Liddy's view. In a world of cheetahs and gladiators, the United States has gone "soft."
"Wyatt Earp is gone," he laments. "And you'd be well-advised to learn how to protect yourself and to avail yourself of people who can, because the government can't anymore, or won't anymore."
Into the breach steps Gordon Liddy, though his academy is off to a shaky start. There were merely eight students, only four of whom paid for the course in full, the others being employees of Liddy Associates or relatives of Rankis. The school will try again in New York (September) and Los Angeles (October), but courses scheduled in three other cities have been postponed indefinitely.
If his academy's future is in doubt, Liddy's is not, at least in his own mind. "There is no way you can keep me from being successful short of killing me," he vows. "I always get back up, and I will always come back at you. I will come back again and again and again."
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