AARON RUSSO, FREEDOM FIGHTER
By Steven Yates
One week ago as I polish this, August 24, 2007, our country lost a hero. Aaron Russo—filmmaker and political activist for freedom and against tyranny and globalism—lost his battle with cancer. Russo is best known for having directed America: Freedom to Fascism, the documentary which has done more than any other such work to warn Americans about the dangers facing us, trace them to their source—and offer a way out.
Russo was born on February 14, 1943 in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island. He started promoting local rock bands at local venues while still in high school. After a stint working in his family’s undergarments business he moved to Chicago and began booking British Invasion bands in his own club, the Electric Theater, later named the Kinetic Playground. With a flamboyant, extroverted personality, he was a natural in the entertainment industry. In the 1970s he turned to film production. His work would win an Emmy, a Tony, a number of Golden Globes, and six Academy Award nominations. His best known production was the romantic comedy The Rose (1979) which starred Bette Midler. It is a tribute to his ability as a promoter that her star rose with his efforts and then fell after they went their separate ways.
Unlike most of the Hollywood set, Russo gradually grew uneasy with the direction the country was taking, especially when the 1990s arrived. This led to what amounted to a new and far more important career—as a political activist who valued individual freedom and the need to restore our Constitutional republic. In 1994, Russo made his first major statement, the one-hour video Aaron Russo’s Mad As Hell (1996). Part slash-and-burn commentary and part stand-up comedy, Mad As Hell offered a libertarian perspective on the IRS, NAFTA, the federal budget, national ID, such boondoggles as the “war on drugs” (which, of course, was not a real war at all) and the government’s assault on alternative medicine. He had in mind a projected television series, for which this was just the pilot episode. When no one would syndicate it, he sold the pilot as a video. The video attracted enough attention for Russo to mount a credible run for the Republican nomination for governor of Nevada in 1998, where he was then living. Republican elites scoffed at him, but he resonated with a lot of voters and came in second in the primary. He’d won 25.9 percent of the vote in a four-way race, coming out ahead of the sitting lieutenant governor!
Russo joined the Libertarian Party in 1999, calling it his “true political home.” He told the Las Vegas Sun that year, “I’m for the freedom of each person. The government is there to serve you; you’re not there to serve the government.” In 2000, he delivered a keynote speech at the Libertarian National Convention in which he called the Libertarians the “last, best hope for freedom in America.” He later told an interviewer his goal: “try and get the word out to the public about what’s happening to America—and give them an opportunity to try to change things.” He’s succeeded at that—brilliantly, and despite suffering the inevitable consequences of doing things your way instead of the Establishment’s way. He was increasingly frozen out in Hollywood as the 1990s lurched into corporatist-protofascism and political correctness.
This was around the time he had those infamous conversations with acquaintance Nick Rockefeller who had tried to recruit him into the Council on Foreign Relations. Russo related in an interview that Rockefeller had told him, 11 months before the 9/11 attacks, that there would be an “event” that would trigger U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, that the Rockefeller financial empire had bankrolled the women’s movement with the intent of breaking up the family and gaining control of the minds of children, and that the long-term goal of the globalists is a microchipped population that could be controlled by “the bankers and the elite people.” This sort of thing opened Russo’s eyes even further. He knew where he stood, and it wasn’t with “the elite people.”
In 2001, he began to feel ill. His doctors confirmed: he had cancer. He would soon be in treatment, but what would eventually become a battle for his life did not slow him down nor diminish his optimism. With his cancer in remission, in January 2004 he announced his intention to seek the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination. He told the LP News that the U.S. is “heading to totalitarianism. I have a sincere belief [in] the Constitution and Bill of Rights as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Ben Franklin. Unfortunately, neither political party respects the vision of our Founding Fathers, and these documents have been relegated to the dustbin. I want to dust them off and restore them to their proper role in our lives.” He promised to “bring our troops home from every corner of the globe. I’ll revoke the Patriot Act. I’ll cut taxes, cut spending. I’ll cut the size of government. I’ll stop corporate welfare. I’ll engage all nations in trade and commerce. I’ll protect our air and water, and I’ll protect our borders, but most importantly, I will protect our Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
At the contentious 2004 Libertarian National Convention held in Atlanta in May 2004, Russo received 258 votes, while Michael Badnarik received 256 and Gary Nolan received 246. He had not received the majority required for the nomination. On the final vote, Badnarik defeated him by a vote of 423 to 344. I remain convinced that the Libertarian Party erred grievously in not nominating Aaron Russo as its candidate. Russo had name recognition and millions of dollars of his own money. He could possibly have revived interest in a political party that was starting to wither on the vine and has continued to fade. (I could pontificate on what’s gone wrong with libertarianism, but that’s another column.)
Russo, never one to brood over setbacks, returned to what he knew best—filmmaking. His cancer also reappeared. Despite his health problems—or possibly because of the growing sense of his own mortality—Russo poured every ounce of energy he had into what would become the definitive achievement of his life: the documentary America: From Freedom to Fascism (the final version released in 2006 dropped From out of the title). AFTF premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to standing ovations. Afterwards Russo went to Germany to begin treatment. But with the new film to promote, he was unable to slow down long enough to complete it.
AFTF is an hour and 48 minutes of political dynamite. Reviewer Todd Schwartz said that it “makes [Michael Moore’s] Fahrenheit 9/11 look like Bambi.” The film pulled together the story of America’s engineered decline and identifies those responsible—the international banking cartel that created the IRS and the Federal Reserve in 1913, maneuvered us into what became the first World War, established the Council on Foreign Relations (alongside its British equivalent, the Royal Institute of International Affairs)—soon creating conditions for the Great Depression, the debauching of the currency, and the mounting stealth attacks on our economic and political freedoms.
The film works on more than one level. It offers both moments of uproarious humor and shocking footage of the abuse of law-abiding U.S. citizens by government agents, including the IRS and militarized police armed with tasers. The film issues stern warnings about efforts to give Americans national ID cards and suggests a future where RFID chips are implanted in human beings—Russo doubtless recalled that chilling conversation with Nick Rockefeller.
His solution: focus like a laser beam on shutting down the Federal Reserve—the nerve-center of international banking cartel power in the United States. (“Give me control of a nation’s currency,” he quotes international banking cartel founder Meyer Amschel Rothschild, “and I care not who makes the laws.”) Congress has this power. We must compel them to use it by supporting men and women for national office willing to sign a statement to the effect that they will work to shut down the Federal Reserve and restore a sound monetary system. The goal may seem quixotic, but Russo remained optimistic that if enough people saw the movie, they would take action. The plain truth is, we don’t have a choice. Between Bush’s signing statements, directives about “catastrophic emergencies” the President gets to define, unconstitutional legislation from the USA Patriot Act to the Military Commissions Act, including the elimination of habeas corpus and Posse Comitatus, everything is in place for the U.S. government to establish a totalitarian America complete with labor camps for dissidents and undesirables. We are possibly just one “national emergency” away, and we can no longer say we weren’t warned!
I recall when AFTF opened in my home town of Greenville, South Carolina on May 2, 2006 at J. Verne Smith Auditorium at Greenville Technical College. There hadn’t been a great deal of publicity beyond word-of-mouth. The local newspaper ignored the event. A room with 250 stationary seats was packed with over 330 people, some standing on chairs in the back. Despite distribution problems to be expected with an independent documentary like this, those theaters willing to take a chance on it had overflow audiences. The Director’s Cut, finally released last October, has become—again mostly through word-of-mouth—an underground bestseller with millions of copies now in circulation. There are also many places on the Web where it can be downloaded and viewed for free. While obviously Russo hoped to recoup his expenses, he was also anxious to get the word out.
On January 14 of this year, Russo—who was being encouraged to make another run for the presidency as an independent—publicly endorsed Ron Paul for the Republican nomination. In AFTF Dr. Paul had said matter-of-factly during an interview, “You have to get permission from the government for almost everything, and if that is the definition of a police state, that you can't do anything unless you get the government's permission, then we're well on our way.”
Aaron Russo leaves us with both the motivation and the means to stand against this tide. His was a life that made a difference. He was profoundly courageous: his national press secretary, a good friend of mine, tells me that even while battling cancer and in severe pain, he never lost that cheerful nature that brought joy to everyone around him. His work will live on, since as he’d doubtless acknowledge, the fight to restore this republic is larger than any one man.
Russo told the Las Vegas Sun back in that 1999 interview what he wanted on his headstone someday: “I want it to say, ‘Freedom Fighter.’”
© 2007 Steven Yates - All Rights Reserved
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Steven Yates earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1987 at the University of Georgia and has taught the subject at a number of colleges and universities around the Southeast. He currently teaches philosophy at the University of South Carolina Upstate and Greenville Technical College, and also does a little e-commerce involving real free trade. He is on the South Carolina Board of The Citizens Committee to Stop the FTAA.
He is the author of Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (1994), Worldviews: Christian Theism Versus Modern Materialism (2005), around two dozen philosophical articles and reviews in refereed journals and anthologies, and over a hundred articles on the World Wide Web. He lives in Greenville, South Carolina, where he writes a weekly column for the Times Examiner and is at work on a book length version of his popular series to be entitled The Real Matrix (hopefully!) to be completed this summer.
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