Steven Robert Esh (he later changed him name to Steve Kangas) was born on 11th May, 1961. His parents were conservative Christians and he attended private religious academies in South Carolina.
After graduating from high school in 1979, Kangas joined the US Army. He was later transferred to military intelligence and spent a year in Monterey (Defense Language Institute) learning Russian. He also spent time at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas before being sent to do secret work in Central America.
In 1984 Kangas moved to Germany where he was involved in electronic eavesdropping on Soviet military units in Eastern Europe, analyzing the transcripts and reporting back to NATO. It was at this time he began to question his conservative political beliefs.
Kangas left military intelligence in 1986 and became a student at the University of California in Santa Cruz. This experience moved him further to the left: "There, kindly professors pointed out to me the illogic of defending life by taking it, destroying the planet for a buck and shutting down schools to build more prisons. I am now thoroughly brainwashed to believe that kindness and human decency are positive traits to be emulated and encouraged."
Kangas ran the Liberalism Resurgent website. This included several articles on the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency. One of his online essays, The Origins of the Overclass, attempted to show "why the richest 1 percent have exploded ahead since 1975, with the help of the New Right, Corporate America and, surprisingly, the CIA." In the essay he argues that Richard Mellon Scaife ran "Forum World Features, a foreign news service used as a front to disseminate CIA propaganda around the world."
Scaife was very unhappy with the attack made on him and employed private detective, Rex Armistead, to carry out an investigation into Kangas.
It is believed that Kangas was working on a book about CIA covert activities when on 8th February, 1999, he was found dead in the bathroom of the offices of Richard Mellon Scaife, the owner of the Pittsburgh Tribune. He had been shot in the head. Officially he had committed suicide but some people believe he was murdered. In an article in Salon Magazine, (19th March, 1999) Andrew Leonard asked: "Why did the police report say the gun wound was to the left of his head, while the autopsy reported a wound on the roof of his mouth? Why had the hard drive on his computer been erased shortly after his death? Why had Scaife assigned his No. 1 private detective, Rex Armistead, to look into Kangas' past?"
I had just begun wondering why everyone complained about Army life when they shipped me off to Fort Bragg, to play G.I. Joe in the dirt. While my paperwork was still being processed, President Reagan decided to invade Grenada. I waved my comrades goodbye at neighboring Pope Air Force Base, unable to join them without my paperwork. (Damn bureaucracy!) No matter - I got to see a war anyway, in Central America, doing things I am not at liberty to discuss (but which you can read about in any newspaper).
In 1984 they shipped me off to Berlin, to do more of the things I can't discuss. Basically this involved electronic eavesdropping on Soviet military units in Eastern Europe, analyzing the transcripts and reporting back to NATO. It was here that I learned that a Soviet invasion of Western Europe was impossible, because their soldiers lacked certain sophisticated training - like, oh, say, driving skills. But I must not have been in the entire intelligence loop, for our leaders could often be seen on television solemnly warning us of the grave Soviet threat that hung over Europe like a pall.
And then there were the wake-up calls -- the terrorist bombing of a Berlin discotheque only a few blocks away from my living quarters. In response, Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya, even though it later turned out that we had no proof they did it. (The subsequent terrorist alert, however, forced me to cancel my vacation to Spain.) And then there was the Soviet's assassination of Major Arthur Nicholson, one of my intelligence compratiots, whose funeral I attended. The image of his 4-year old daughter clutching a Cabbage Patch doll throughout the entire service is one that is forever burned into my memory. This was a pivotal moment in my life, causing me to question my conservative beliefs and take a more serious look at the costs and benefits of the arms race. And I was also there when Chernobyl experienced the worst nuclear disaster in history, giving Berlin a nice radioactive bath in my last month of service. But other than this, I loved Europe.
With an honorable discharge in one hand, and the GI Bill in the other, I flew back to California in 1986 to recreate the college lizard lifestyle. Port of entry into said lifestyle was the University of California - Santa Cruz. This campus is one of the most beautiful in the world, sitting atop a small mountain of redwood forests, overlooking all 50 miles of Monterey Bay. It is also one of the most liberal places in America, only one of two U.S. cities to have ever elected a socialist mayor. Needless to say, Santa Cruz is often the target of Rush Limbaugh's wrath. UCSC is also famous for its appearance in the movie Pulp Fiction, albeit as an emblem on John Travolta's "dorky" T-shirt. (The yellow creature you saw was a banana slug, the school mascot.)
Going from the Army to USCS was like going from conservative heaven to liberal heaven at warp speed. There, kindly professors pointed out to me the illogic of defending life by taking it, destroying the planet for a buck and shutting down schools to build more prisons. I am now thoroughly brainwashed to believe that kindness and human decency are positive traits to be emulated and encouraged.
The Association for Responsible Dissent estimates that by 1987, 6 million people had died as a result of CIA covert operations. Former State Department official William Blum correctly calls this an "American Holocaust." The CIA justifies these actions as part of its war against communism. But most coups do not involve a communist threat. Unlucky nations are targeted for a wide variety of reasons: not only threats to American business interests abroad, but also liberal or even moderate social reforms, political instability, the unwillingness of a leader to carry out Washington's dictates, and declarations of neutrality in the Cold War. Indeed, nothing has infuriated CIA Directors quite like a nation's desire to stay out of the Cold War.
The ironic thing about all this intervention is that it frequently fails to achieve American objectives. Often the newly installed dictator grows comfortable with the security apparatus the CIA has built for him. He becomes an expert at running a police state. And because the dictator knows he cannot be overthrown, he becomes independent and defiant of Washington's will. The CIA then finds it cannot overthrow him, because the police and military are under the dictator's control, afraid to cooperate with American spies for fear of torture and execution.
The only two options for the U.S. at this point are impotence or war. Examples of this "boomerang effect" include the Shah of Iran, General Noriega and Saddam Hussein. The boomerang effect also explains why the CIA has proven highly successful at overthrowing democracies, but a wretched failure at overthrowing dictatorships.
The following timeline should confirm that the CIA as we know it should be abolished and replaced by a true information-gathering and analysis organization. The CIA cannot be reformed - it is institutionally and culturally corrupt.
1941: COI created
In preparation for World War II, President Roosevelt creates the Office of Coordinator of Information (COI). General William "Wild Bill" Donovan heads the new intelligence service.
1942: OSS created
Roosevelt restructures COI into something more suitable for covert action, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Donovan recruits so many of the nation's rich and powerful that eventually people joke that "OSS" stands for "Oh, so social!" or "Oh, such snobs!"
Donovan recruits the Catholic Church in Rome to be the center of Anglo-American spy operations in Fascist Italy. This would prove to be one of America's most enduring intelligence alliances in the Cold War.
1945: OSS is abolished
The remaining American information agencies cease covert actions and return to harmless information gathering and analysis.
While other American agencies are hunting down Nazi war criminals for arrest, the U.S. intelligence community is smuggling them into America, unpunished, for their use against the Soviets. The most important of these is Reinhard Gehlen, Hitler's master spy who had built up an intelligence network in the Soviet Union. With full US blessing, he creates the "Gehlen Organization," a band of refugee Nazi spies who reactivate their networks in Russia. These include SS intelligence officers Alfred Six and Emil Augsburg (who massacred Jews in the Holocaust), Klaus Barbie (the "Butcher of Lyon"), Otto von Bolschwing (the Holocaust mastermind who worked with Eichmann) . The Gehlen Organization supplies the US with its only intelligence on the Soviet Union for the next ten years, serving as a bridge between the abolishment of the OSS and the creation of the CIA. However, much of the "intelligence" the former Nazis provide is bogus.
Gehlen inflates Soviet military capabilities at a time when Russia is still rebuilding its devastated society, in order to inflate his own importance to the Americans (who might otherwise punish him). In 1948, Gehlen almost convinces the Americans that war is imminent, and the West should make a preemptive strike. In the 50s he produces a fictitious "missile gap." To make matters worse, the Russians have thoroughly penetrated the Gehlen Organization with double agents, undermining the very American security that Galen was supposed to protect.
President Truman requests military aid to Greece to support right-wing forces fighting communist rebels. For the rest of the Cold War, Washington and the CIA will back notorious Greek leaders with deplorable human rights records.
President Truman signs the National Security Act of 1947, creating the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Council. The CIA is accountable to the president through the NSC - there is no democratic or congressional oversight. Its charter allows the CIA to "perform such other functions and duties as the National Security Council may from time to time direct." This loophole opens the door to covert action and dirty tricks.
1948: Covert-action wing created
The CIA recreates a covert action wing, innocuously called the Office of Policy Coordination, led by Wall Street lawyer Frank Wisner. According to its secret charter, its responsibilities include "propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation procedures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world."
The CIA corrupts democratic elections in Italy, where Italian communists threaten to win the elections. The CIA buys votes, broadcasts propaganda, threatens and beats up opposition leaders, and infiltrates and disrupts their organizations. It works the communists are defeated.
1949: Radio Free Europe
The CIA creates its first major propaganda outlet, Radio Free Europe. Over the next several decades, its broadcasts are so blatantly false that for a time it is considered illegal to publish transcripts of them in the U.S.
Late 40s: Operation MOCKINGBIRD
The CIA begins recruiting American news organizations and journalists to become spies and disseminators of propaganda. Frank Wisner, Allan Dulles, Richard Helms and Philip Graham head the effort. Graham is publisher of The Washington Post, which becomes a major CIA player. Eventually, the CIA's media assets will include ABC, NBC, CBS, Time, Newsweek, Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, Scripps-Howard, Copley News Service and more. By the CIA's own admission, at least 25 organizations and 400 journalists will become CIA assets.
The wealthy have always used many methods to accumulate wealth, but it was not until the mid-1970s that these methods coalesced into a superbly organized, cohesive and efficient machine. After 1975, it became greater than the sum of its parts, a smooth flowing organization of advocacy groups, lobbyists, think tanks, conservative foundations, and PR firms that hurtled the richest 1 percent into the stratosphere.
The origins of this machine, interestingly enough, can be traced back to the CIA. This is not to say the machine is a formal CIA operation, complete with code name and signed documents. (Although such evidence may yet surface - and previously unthinkable domestic operations such as MK-ULTRA, CHAOS and MOCKINGBIRD show this to be a distinct possibility.) But what we do know already indicts the CIA strongly enough. Its principle creators were Irving Kristol, Paul Weyrich, William Simon, Richard Mellon Scaife, Frank Shakespeare, William F. Buckley, Jr., the Rockefeller family, and more. Almost all the machine's creators had CIA backgrounds.
During the 1970s, these men would take the propaganda and operational techniques they had learned in the Cold War and apply them to the Class War. Therefore it is no surprise that the American version of the machine bears an uncanny resemblance to the foreign versions designed to fight communism. The CIA's expert and comprehensive organization of the business class would succeed beyond their wildest dreams. In 1975, the richest 1 percent owned 22 percent of Americas wealth. By 1992, they would nearly double that, to 42 percent - the highest level of inequality in the 20th century.
How did this alliance start? The CIA has always recruited the nations elite: millionaire businessmen, Wall Street brokers, members of the national news media, and Ivy League scholars. During World War II, General "Wild Bill" Donovan became chief of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA. Donovan recruited so exclusively from the nations rich and powerful that members eventually came to joke that "OSS" stood for "Oh, so social!"
Another early elite was Allen Dulles, who served as Director of the CIA from 1953 to 1961. Dulles was a senior partner at the Wall Street firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, which represented the Rockefeller empire and other mammoth trusts, corporations and cartels. He was also a board member of the J. Henry Schroeder Bank, with offices in Wall Street, London, Zurich and Hamburg. His financial interests across the world would become a conflict of interest when he became head of the CIA. Like Donavan, he would recruit exclusively from societys elite...
Although many people think that the CIAs primary mission during the Cold War was to "deter communism," Noam Chomksy correctly points out that its real mission was "deterring democracy." From corrupting elections to overthrowing democratic governments, from assassinating elected leaders to installing murderous dictators, the CIA has virtually always replaced democracy with dictatorship. It didnt help that the CIA was run by businessmen, whose hostility towards democracy is legendary. The reason they overthrew so many democracies is because the people usually voted for policies that multi-national corporations didn't like: land reform, strong labor unions, nationalization of their industries, and greater regulation protecting workers, consumers and the environment.
So the CIAs greatest "successes" were usually more pro-corporate than anti-Communist Citing a communist threat, the CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected Mohammed Mussadegh government in Iran in 1953. But there was no communist threat the Soviets stood back and watched the coup from afar. What really happened was that Mussadegh threatened to nationalize British and American oil companies in Iran. Consequently, the CIA and MI6 toppled Mussadegh and replaced him with a puppet government, headed by the Shah of Iran and his murderous secret police, SAVAK. The reason why the Ayatollah Khomeini and his revolutionaries took 52 Americans hostage in Tehran in 1979 was because the CIA had helped SAVAK torture and murder their people.
Another "success" was the CIAs overthrow of the democratically elected government of Jacabo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. Again, there was no communist threat. The real threat was to Guatemalas United Fruit Company, a Rockefeller-owned firm whose stockholders included CIA Director Allen Dulles. Arbenz threatened to nationalize the company, albeit with generous compensation. In response, the CIA initiated a coup that overthrew Arbenz and installed the murderous dictator Castillo Armas. For four decades, CIA-backed dictators would torture and murder hundreds of thousands of leftists, union members and others who would fight for a more equitable distribution of the countrys resources.
Another "success" story was Chile. In 1973, the countrys democratically elected leader, Salvadore Allende, nationalized foreign-owned interests, like Chiles lucrative copper mines and telephone system. International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) offered the CIA $1 million to overthrow Allende which the CIA allegedly refused but paid $350,000 to his political opponents. The CIA responded with a coup that murdered Allende and replaced him with a brutal tyrant, General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet tortured and murdered thousands of leftists, union members and political opponents as economists trained at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman installed a "free market" economy. Since then, income inequality has soared higher in Chile than anywhere else in Latin America...
Journalism is a perfect cover for CIA agents. People talk freely to journalists, and few think suspiciously of a journalist aggressively searching for information. Journalists also have power, influence and clout. Not surprisingly, the CIA began a mission in the late 1940s to recruit American journalists on a wide scale, a mission it dubbed Operation MOCKINGBIRD. The agency wanted these journalists not only to relay any sensitive information they discovered, but also to write anti-Communist, pro-capitalist propaganda when needed.
The instigators of MOCKINGBIRD were Frank Wisner, Allan Dulles, Richard Helms and Philip Graham. Graham was the husband of Katherine Graham, todays publisher of the Washington Post. In fact, it was the Posts ties to the CIA that allowed it to grow so quickly after the war, both in readership and influence.
MOCKINGBIRD was extraordinarily successful. In no time, the agency had recruited at least 25 media organizations to disseminate CIA propaganda. At least 400 journalists would eventually join the CIA payroll, according to the CIAs testimony before a stunned Church Committee in 1975. (The committee felt the true number was considerably higher.) The names of those recruited reads like a Who's Who of journalism...
The CIA also secretly bought or created its own media companies. It owned 40 percent of the Rome Daily American at a time when communists were threatening to win the Italian elections. Worse, the CIA has bought many domestic media companies. A prime example is Capital Cities, created in 1954 by CIA businessman William Casey (who would later become Reagans CIA director). Another founder was Lowell Thomas, a close friend and business contact with CIA Director Allen Dulles. Another founder was CIA businessman Thomas Dewey. By 1985, Capital Cities had grown so powerful that it was able to buy an entire TV network: ABC.
For those who believe in "separation of press and state," the very idea that the CIA has secret propaganda outlets throughout the media is appalling. The reason why America was so oblivious to CIA crimes in the 40s and 50s was because the media willingly complied with the agency. Even today, when the immorality of the CIA should be an open-and-shut case, "debate" about the issue rages in the media...
The CIAs fingerprints were all over Watergate. First, we should note the CIA had clear motives for helping oust Nixon. He was the ultimate "outsider," a poor California Quaker who grew up feeling bitter resentment towards the elite "Eastern establishment." Nixon, for all his arch-conservatism, was surprisingly liberal on economic issues, infuriating businessmen with statements like "We are all Keynesians now." He created a whole host of new agencies to regulate business, like the FDA, EPA and OSHA. He signed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, which forced businesses to clean up their toxic emissions. He imposed price controls to fight inflation, and took the nation fully off the gold standard. Nixon also strengthened affirmative action. Even his staffers were famously anti-elitist, like Kevin Philips, who would eventually write the bible on inequality during the 1980s, The Politics of Rich and Poor. Add to this Nixons withdrawal from Vietnam and Détente with China and the Soviet Union. Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had not only tried to remove control of foreign policy from the CIA, but had also taken measures to bring the CIA itself under control. Not surprisingly, Nixon and his CIA Director, Richard Helms, could not stand each other. (Nixon fired him for failing to cover up for Watergate.) Clearly, Nixon was fighting at cross-purposes with the CIA and the nations elite.
As it turns out, the CIA had inside knowledge of Nixons dirty work. Nixon had created his own covert action team, "The Committee to Reelect the President," more amusingly known by its acronym, CREEP. The team consisted of two CIA agents - E. Howard Hunt and James McCord - as well as former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy. They also employed four Cubans with long CIA histories. In fact, a CIA front called the Mullen Company funded their activities, which ranged from disrupting Democratic campaigns to laundering Nixons illegal campaign contributions.
The CIA not only had intimate knowledge of Nixons crimes, but it also acted as though it wanted the world to know them. When the FBI began investigating Watergate, Nixon tried using the CIA to cover up for him. At first the CIA half-heartedly complied, telling the FBI that the investigation would endanger CIA operations in Mexico. But a few weeks later it gave the FBI a green light again to proceed again with their investigation.
Furthermore, Watergate was exposed by the CIAs main newspaper in America, The Washington Post. One of the two journalists who investigated the scandal, Robert Woodward, had only recently become a journalist. Previously Woodward had worked as a Naval intelligence liaison to the White House, privy to some of the nations highest secrets. He would later write a sympathetic portrait of CIA Director Bill Casey in a book entitled Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA. It was Woodward who personally knew and interviewed "Deep Throat," the unnamed source who revealed inside information on Nixons activities. Many Watergate researchers consider one of Woodwards old intelligence contacts to be a prime candidate for Deep Throat...
In the mid-1970s, at this historic low point in American conservatism, the CIA began a major campaign to turn corporate fortunes around. They did this in several ways. First, they helped create numerous foundations to finance their domestic operations. Even before 1973, the CIA had co-opted the most famous ones, like the Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations. But after 1973, they created more. One of their most notorious recruits was billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. During World War II, Scaife's father served in the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA. By his mid-twenties, both of Scaife's parents had died, and he inherited a fortune under four foundations: the Carthage Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Scaife Family Foundations and the Allegheny Foundation. In the early 1970s, Scaife was encouraged by CIA agent Frank Barnett to begin investing his fortune to fight the "Soviet menace." From 1973 to 1975, Scaife ran Forum World Features, a foreign news service used as a front to disseminate CIA propaganda around the world. Shortly afterwards he began donating millions to fund the New Right.
A former Army intelligence officer shot himself to death last month in a restroom outside conservative philanthropist and publisher Richard Mellon Scaife's Downtown offices, and Scaife has assigned a private investigator to determine whether the incident was a bungled assassination attempt.
Steven R. Kangas died in the late hours of Monday, Feb. 8, on the 39th floor of One Oxford Centre.
The shooting of the 37-year-old Las Vegas man attracted little attention at the time, and Pittsburgh police and the Allegheny County coroner's office quickly ruled it a suicide.
Since then, though, the Internet has churned with speculation about Kangas. Some Web theorists have drawn parallels to the 1993 death of White House Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster, whose apparent suicide Scaife has openly questioned, calling it "the Rosetta Stone" of the Clinton administration...
According to a city police report, One Oxford Centre building engineer Don Adams was making a routine check of electrical circuit breakers in the men's room down the hall from the Scaife foundation offices when he found Kangas lying face up, his head protruding from beneath a toilet stall.
Police said Adams left the restroom to radio for help, and when he returned with a colleague a minute later, they found Kangas seated on the toilet, slumped over after apparently shooting himself in the head. Police and security guards found a 9 mm pistol Kangas had bought two weeks earlier in Las Vegas, along with at least 47 rounds of ammunition in his backpack and one of his pockets.
Police also found a nearly empty bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey and three books, including "Mein Kampf" by Adolf Hitler.
An autopsy by the Allegheny County coroner's office determined that Kangas died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A toxicology test set his blood-alcohol level at 0.14 - above the state's threshold of 0.1 for being too intoxicated to drive.
Kangas' parents say they have attempted to figure out why their son, whose military career included stints in Central America and Berlin during the latter days of the Cold War, would have gone to Pittsburgh, apparently with no credit cards and only $14.63 in his pocket, to kill himself.
Scaife is one of three tenants on the 39th floor, a location he specifically requested when he moved his family foundations and personal offices there several years ago. Also on the floor are Staley Capital Advisers and the law offices of T.W. Henderson.
Henderson yesterday said he heard nothing further about the suicide after it was reported and knew nothing about Kangas. Receptionists at Staley Capital referred all inquiries to One Oxford Centre management.
"We're as baffled as anybody else," said Robert Esh, Kangas' father, who said his son had changed his name six years ago from Esh to Kangas, his mother's maiden name.
"We have no earthly idea why he would be up there."
Esh and Kangas' mother, Jan Lankheet, are divorced. He lives in South Carolina, and she resides in a small town in Michigan.
Both said they had no idea their son had bought a gun and learned of it only after his suicide. Then they discovered he had ordered a burglar alarm for his Las Vegas apartment.
"Steve was totally nonviolent. He didn't even believe in guns. It looks like he was running scared, and we don't know why," Esh said.
Scaife hired Rex Armistead to find out whether Kangas had gone to One Oxford Centre with plans to confront or attack the billionaire because of Scaife's financial backing of conservative groups that have attacked Clinton.
One of those organizations, The American Spectator magazine, received more than $1.8 million for the so-called "Arkansas Project," which sought to find evidence linking Clinton to drugs and also looked into the Foster suicide.
The magazine also uncovered allegations concerning Paula Corbin Jones. It was Jones' sex-harassment lawsuit against Clinton that eventually led to revelations of the president's sexual liaison with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Published reports have said Armistead played a role in the Arkansas Project, and a federal grand jury in Little Rock last year began looking into the matter.
Scaife, who publishes the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, also assigned one of his reporters, Richard Gazarik, to dig into Kangas' background.
Kangas' family and friends who have talked with Armistead and Gazarik say the men have explored theories linking Kangas and associates to the CIA and the intelligence communities.
One fact about Steve Kangas is indisputable: This proud veteran of years of political argument in Internet discussion forums, and creator of an award-winning Web site devoted to liberal issues, is dead. On Feb. 8, his body was discovered in a men's room on the 39th floor of a building in Pittsburgh -- just outside the offices of conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.
But that's where the certainty ends - at least on the part of those discussing Kangas' death in the very same Usenet newsgroups that Kangas, a dogged debater who championed liberal causes with formidable persistence, once participated in. Was Kangas, as press reports in Pittsburgh papers declared, the drunken victim of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head? Had he really become obsessed with Scaife to the point that he had traveled all the way from his home in Las Vegas on a deluded mission to assassinate him? Could it possibly be true that this lifelong foe of right-wing ideology had been found with a copy of "Mein Kampf" by his side?
Or was something more sinister at work? Why did the police report say the gun wound was to the left of his head, while the autopsy reported a wound on the roof of his mouth? Why had the hard drive on his computer been erased shortly after his death? Why had Scaife assigned his No. 1 private detective, Rex Armistead, to look into Kangas' past?
To some of Kangas' longtime adversaries, the conspiracy-theorizing by his sympathizers was absurd - and yet at the same time it served as a kind of long-sought ratification of their own pet obsessions. Hadn't they been arguing for years that Vincent Foster, the Clinton official whose death in 1994 has been officially ruled a suicide, was actually the victim of a malign conspiracy? If the liberals were going to start questioning strange aspects of Kangas' death, then shouldn't they open their minds to the possibility that there was more than met the eye to Foster's demise?
The story's many baroque layers of cross-references don't end there. The single person most responsible for spreading conspiracy theories about Vincent Foster is, arguably, Scaife himself. The Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper has been the leading vehicle for pushing the claim that Foster was murdered. Now, that same paper was dismissing any possibility of foul play, dismissing Kangas as a would-be assassin and suicide, not to mention an Internet pornographer and ne'er-do-well.
Who can one trust in such an atmosphere? On the Net, and on Usenet in particular, you judge people by their words. Thousands of Kangas' posts are still around, and thousands more posts invoke Kangas' memory or point to articles archived at Kangas' impressive Web site, Liberalism Resurgent. What do they say about him?
Liberalism Resurgent is a massive collection of documents, footnoted articles and frequently asked question files that works as a kind of primer and encyclopedia for Usenet political thrashes. Indeed, if you search for Kangas' name at a Usenet archival site like DejaNews, you'll turn up more references to his Web site than to his own posts - especially over the past year or so, when his posting frequency declined dramatically. Although articles in the right-wing press have depicted his Web site as obsessed with Scaife, only a fraction of it is directly concerned with the conservative financier.
"Yes, at times his articles indulged in suggestions of conspiracy, but for the most part they were just an excellent summary of what others - from Chomsky to Galbraith - had written," says A. Engler Anderson, a regular poster to the political newsgroups. "The Liberalism Resurgent site, despite many flaws, is a treasure trove of information, talking points and inspiration for anybody who has been drawn into a national political dialogue that is ever more framed by the conservative think tanks that Kangas fulminated against."
Toward the end, the articles posted at Liberalism Resurgent do betray a pronounced conspiracy-theory tendency -- an alarming development from Kangas, who had previously attacked conspiracy theorizing. One of the last major articles posted on the site was a lengthy screed outlining CIA involvement in a conspiracy to concentrate wealth among the top 1 percent of the American population. Even those predisposed to support Kangas found themselves put off by his new direction.
"I do think that he had gone off the deep end a bit with his CIA conspiracy theories that he had come up with late in his life," says Loren Petrich, another Usenet regular.
Even so, the news of his death surprised almost everyone who had interacted with Kangas.
"I certainly would not have listed him as someone to actually go over the edge," says Brett Kottman, maintainer of a Web page devoted to Ronald Reagan, who adds that he was one of Kangas' "primary targets" on Usenet.
"In one respect I'm sorry to see that he's gone, both in the way that it happened and that he's no longer around to debate with," continues Kottman. "Even though I thought he was wrong, he was one of the few people who could muster a good enough argument in opposition to make you work to prove them wrong."
Richard Mellon Scaife, the most generous donor to conservative causes in American history, is astoundingly rich and has given away more than $600 million, yet is known to people who have worked for him as a cheapskate.
He has given at least $340 million to fund a "war of ideas" against American liberalism, yet no one interviewed for these articles could remember him discussing a book he had read or recall an original idea that came from him.
In his own small world in Pittsburgh, Scaife is known as a man who wants to be in control, who wants employees who say "yes," who is capable of bearing grudges for years. Once, it is said by knowledgeable sources, he compelled the Mellon Bank to fire a newly hired attorney in the bank's legal department because the lawyer was the son of a former employee Scaife had turned against.
Scaife has broken off relations with numerous friends and associates, waged a bitter, prolonged divorce battle with his first wife, has strained relations with his son and no relations with his daughter. He and his sister haven't spoken for 25 years.
Yet his friends describe the man they call Dick Scaife as charming, warm, easy to be with. He himself said once, "I'm genial and I'm jovial."
Conservatives regularly honor him. He is vice chairman of the board of trustees of the Heritage Foundation and has turned down many suggestions that various buildings, schools and professorships be named for him. "The man is a hero," said a young activist in one of the organizations he supports.
Despite his demons and his difficulties, Scaife and the Mellon fortune he inherited have prevailed. The money didn't buy a happy childhood or the personal confidence he has always lacked, but for all the distractions of his complicated life, he has, at 66, established an imposing legacy. With the help of a few longtime aides and of the conservatives who got his money people who made him feel useful and appreciated Richard Mellon Scaife became the leading financial supporter of the movement that reshaped American politics in the last quarter of the 20th century.
How did Scaife do this? Why did he do it? And how does he feel about his accomplishment? Those are questions Scaife has never shown any desire to answer. He has never spoken revealingly about himself at any length, and he has rarely given interviews. Though he provided a brief written statement in response to questions from The Washington Post, he refused, over many months, to grant an interview.