History Thread: Gordon Liddy’s Greatest Hits

Header image from National Lampoon (October 1973), art by Dick Ayers. All other illustrations are from New York Magazine’s The Illustrated Secret History of Watergate, online here.

Last Tuesday, Nixon henchman and Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy died at age 90. The former FBI Agent, Plumber, film and TV star and talk radio host lived a long, full and bizarre life that showed him, truly, as the most insane man ever to enter Washington politics. And one of its biggest, most conspicuous failures. Really, Liddy’s story is that of a colossal, bumbling loser who convinced himself he was the Biggest Badass Whoever Lived. Bizarrely, he managed to convince many others as well, because some people are easily impressed by toxic masculinity.

I considered preparing a proper write-up but really, there’s no way to dramatize Liddy’s madness better than reproducing his own words. Let’s allow the Dale Gribble of American Politics to speak for himself, using passages from his 1980 memoir Will (online here) with brief footnotes.

Liddy in his prime

Liddy on the Pledge of Allegiance:

I enjoyed the mass salute and performed it well, unexcelled in speed of thrust and an iron-shaft steadiness throughout the remainder of the pledge. That habit became so deeply ingrained that even today, at assemblies where the pledge is made or the national anthem played, I must suppress the urge to snap out my right arm.

On hearing Adolf Hitler for the first time:

For the first time in my life I felt hope. Life need not be a constant secret agony of fear and shame. If an entire nation could be changed, lifted out of weakness to extraordinary strength, certainly so could one person.1

On pest control:

One October day in 1941, Tommy left a dead rat on the kitchen steps and I found it. It was not nearly the size of the wharf rat I’d encountered under the Hoboken dock, but a respectable length nevertheless. The carcass was still warm and remarkably undamaged. To demonstrate to myself my lack of fear, instead of using a stick I picked it up with my hands, then looked for a place to bury it. As I walked toward the trees in the back, I saw some old bricks, and I got the idea for a test to destroy forever any dread I might still harbor for rats. I put the rat down and, with the loose bricks, built a small enclosure on the gravel next to the garage. I filled it with broken twigs, bark, and small branches and went into the kitchen for matches.

For the next hour, I roasted the dead rat. Then I removed the burned carcass with a stick and let it cool. With a scout knife I skinned, then cut off and ate the roasted haunches of the rat. The meat was tasteless and stringy. Finished, I dismantled the little fireplace and buried the rest of the carcass. As I stamped down the earth over the remnants of my meal, I spotted the cat. Tommy. I smiled as the thought occurred to me: from now on rats could fear me as they feared cats; after all, I ate them too.

Liddy’s own supervillain origin story:

After ten minutes of climbing, I gained the highest point that would hold my weight—some sixty feet up—and I lashed myself to the trunk with the belt. By now the storm was very close; there was almost no interval between flash and thunder. The wind was shifting as the storm hit, whipping the trunk, slender at that height, in all directions…

With reckless abandon I released one hand and shook my fist at the wildly pitching sky. “Kill me!” I shouted,
“Go ahead and try! I don’t care! I don’t care!” and I started to laugh uncontrollably as I rode the whirlwind.

On romance:

I would find the woman I wanted to bear my children: a highly intelligent, tall, fair, powerfully built Teuton, whose mind worked like the latest scientific wonder, the electronic computer. I had worked long, hard, pain-filled years to transform myself; to make a reality of my genetic potential. Now I believed I had earned the right to seek my mate from among the finest genetic material available.2

Raiding a den of filthy hippies:

By the light of a single candle flickering from the top of a Coca-Cola bottle, he saw a young man and woman, nude, upon an ancient mat. She was on her back. He was at his apogee, about to plunge to her perigee, when the officer shouted: “FREEZE!”

For one stunned moment, the man hung there, suspended, as the forces of Eros did battle with those of Smith & Wesson. Smith & Wesson won.

Prosecuting a murder case as Assistant DA in New York:

The jury’s eyes followed that slowly turning cylinder as if it were the swaying head of an erect cobra. It was so quiet the click of the cylinder lock going into place was audible. Then the sear disengaged, the hammer fell, and the firing pin hit the live primer.


The primer went off. The little old lady sitting front and center threw her arms across her breast and squeaked, “Oh, Jesus!”

The court reporter fell off his stool.

Liddy in the FBI

Befriending his neighbor’s children in Washington, DC:

I waited in the shadow of another garage until one of the egg throwers came along. I grabbed him in a restraining hold I had learned years before in the FBI. He was about my size and struggle as he might, he wasn’t going anywhere. The others swarmed around, offering my captive encouragement. It didn’t help. I held him immobile and demanded his name and address, informing him that the only way he was going to get home was for me to take him there to speak to his father.

Performing a party trick for a date:

I told her to light her cigarette lighter and hold it out. She did and I locked my gaze upon her eyes and placed my hand, palm down, over the flame. Presently the flesh turned black and when she smelled the scent of burning meat, Sherry Stevens broke from my gaze and pulled the lighter away from my hand. She seemed frightened badly
so I took pains to calm her, wrapping an ice cube against the burn with a napkin and returning to my dinner. 3

Inspiring his fellow Plumbers:

“Hey, you guys,” I said one day, “you want to see a real rally?” Curious, they asked what I was talking about.

…I had taken my children to see Leni Riefenstahl’s cinematic masterpiece Triumph of the Will . I called the National Archives and set up a special showing for the White House staff. About fifteen people attended. At the climactic end of the picture, as thousands stand to sing the rousing Horst Wessel anthem following scenes of hundreds of thousands of storm troopers and SS in the mass formations of Albert Speer’s gigantic spectaculars, the last notes drifted off, the picture faded, and the lights came up. There was a moment of stunned silence. Then from the rear of the audience came an awed, “Jesus! What an advance job!”

Howard Hunt

Debriefing Howard Hunt’s team after burglarizing Lewis Fielding’s office in Los Angeles, looking for incriminating files on Daniel Ellsberg:

Hunt arrived first, and by the time I got there he was cooling a bottle of champagne. The Cubans arrived next. Barker spoke for them. They had brought out the suitcase and put it in the trunk of one of the cars. The files had been resistant, and they’d had to damage them to get them open. To allay suspicion, they had then ransacked the office, strewing pills on the floor to make the entry appear the work of junkies looting physicians’ offices in a search for drugs. All well and good, but what did they find?

“Nothing, Eduardo,” said Barker to Hunt. He held up a piece of paper on which I’d written the name “Daniel Ellsberg” and given to him just before he entered—the first time they knew the name of the target file. “There’s no file with this name on it.”

Hunt was unbelieving. “Are you sure?” he asked. They were. The men had brought out photographs of the damage inflicted and described every drawer and file in the office. They had been through every one and there was no file on Ellsberg. We were quite disappointed, but at least the operation had been “clean”: in and out without detection. We decided to celebrate that, at least, with the champagne.

Reporting to his boss, Egil “Bud” Krogh:4

I was completely candid with him in my report showing him everything: the suitcase, tools, even the knife I had carried. He asked me, incredulous, “Would you really have used it—I mean, kill somebody?”

“Only if there were absolutely no other way. But yes, I would, if necessary to protect my men. I gave them my word I’d cover them.” Krogh was visibly taken aback by that but said, “Hang on to those tools and things, we may need them again later on.”

“The Plumbers Prepare to Rob Dr. Fielding” by Julian Allen

Debating ways to humiliate Ellsberg:

Hunt and I studied the matter and developed a plan to infiltrate enough Cuban waiters into the group serving the banquet to be able to ensure that one of our people would serve Ellsberg at the dais. One of the earliest dishes on the menu was soup. A warm liquid is ideal for the rapid absorption and wide dispersal of a drug, and the taste would mask its presence. Hunt was certain that he could provide men from the Miami Cuban community who’d worked at major Florida hotels; the drug, a fast-acting psychedelic such as LSD-25, he said he could get from the CIA together with a recommendation of the dose necessary to have Ellsberg incoherent by the time he was to speak.

Proposal for eliminating reporter Jack Anderson:5

Other methods were discussed and discarded. “Aspirin Roulette,” for example: the placing of a poisoned replica of the appropriate brand of headache tablet into the bottle usually found in [Anderson’s] medicine cabinet. That method was rejected because it would gratuitously endanger innocent members of his family and might take months before it worked.

I came up with the suggestion we finally agreed upon as the one to be recommended…I submitted that the target should just become a fatal victim of the notorious Washington street-crime rate. No one argued against that recommendation and, at Hunt’s suggestion, I gave Dr. Gunn a hundred-dollar bill, from Committee to Re-elect the President intelligence funds, as a fee for his services. I took this to be to protect Dr. Gunn’s image as “retired.”

Celebrating a successful burglary with CREEP treasurer Hugh Sloan:

Both of us went to the men’s room, where Sloan was startled to see me draw the Walther. I no longer needed a loaded gun and I didn’t want to put any more strain on the air seal than necessary, so I discharged the pistol into a toilet to release the pressure. It was noiseless, and I knew from my FBI experience that water slows down and stops a high-velocity projectile rapidly.

“Liddy’s Modest Proposal” by Julian Allen

Pitching Operation GEMSTONE to Attorney General and CREEP Director John Mitchell:

I felt obliged to impress Mitchell with my seriousness of purpose, that my people were the kind and I was the kind who could and would do whatever was necessary to deal with organized mass violence. Both Magruder and Dean were too young to know what I was talking about, but I knew that Mitchell, a naval officer in World War II, would get the message if I translated the English “Special Action Group” into German. Given the history involved, it was a gross exaggeration, but it made my point.

“An Einsatzgruppe, General,” I said, inadvertently using a hard g for the word General and turning it, too, into German. “These men include professional killers who have accounted between them for twenty-two dead so far, including two hanged from a beam in a garage.”

Mitchell gazed at me steadily, took another puff on his pipe, removed it from his mouth and said, “And where did you find men like that?”

“I understand they’re members of organized crime.”

“And how much will their services cost?”

I pointed to the figure on the chart. It was substantial. “Like top professionals everywhere, sir,” I said, “they don’t come cheap.”

Recruiting prostitutes for Operation SAPPHIRE, a scheme to entrap Democratic politicians:

Hunt and Barker kept recruiting dark-haired and -complexioned Cuban women. They were very good-looking, but their English left something to be desired. I was not sure they’d be suitable for the purposes I intended: posing as idly rich young women so impressed by men of power they would let themselves be picked up at parties and bars by Democratic staffers who, in the course of boasting of their own importance, would disclose valuable information. Hunt took the position that what the seduced men had to say would be tape-recorded anyway. I wanted to be able to call upon the memories of the women for what was said at locations other than those we had bugged. I was also affected by my own bias. Because I would be more attracted to Northern Europeans, I assumed fair women would be more successful and rejected those selected.6

Liddy’s relationship with CREEP Deputy Director Jeb Magruder:

“Gordon,” he said in a voice loud enough to attract the attention of the others in the elevator lobby, ‘‘I’m really not satisfied with your work on the primaries. You’re just going to have to redo it.” He stood there, leaning on my shoulder as the others stared, waiting for my answer.

I gave him one. “Jeb, if you don’t take your arm off my shoulder, I’m going to tear it off and beat you to death with it.”7

Jeb Stuart Magruder

Leading an attack on Daniel Ellsberg at an antiwar rally:

I signed for the $3,000, brought up some Cuban heavyweights under Barker, and they went to the rally. This time there was no flag in evidence. They disrupted Ellsberg’s speech and punched out some radicals sufficiently hard for Barker to have injured his hands and Frank Sturgis to have been detained by police; but the cops were sympathetic and let him go.

Providing security for the first Watergate break-in:8

Frank Sturgis and I walked through the alley to the brightly lighted area of the rear door. There, with Sturgis watching my back, I used the single-shot Walther to shoot out the three floodlights over the rear door, loading, cocking, and firing individually for each one. The luftpistole was silent, and all that could be heard was the breaking of the glass and the SHSsssss of the escaping gas that filled the bulbs as it flared briefly before they died.

The cluster of lights farther out proved to be a problem. A head-on 90-degree-angle shot was impossible from the
ground because of an obstructing framework of steel beams supporting an air-conditioner. I’d have to get higher. I signaled Sturgis, a massively built man, and he obligingly bent over, bracing his hands on his knees, and let me use his back to climb onto the overhead steelwork. From there I shot out the last three lights.

“The Break-In Begins – With a Banquet” by Alex Gnidziejko

Dinner and a show before work:

To allay suspicion and kill time Hunt had a multicourse banquet ordered and rented a motion picture projector and travel film to play after the dinner. The plan was to keep the meeting going until after the waiters had all cleaned up and—well tipped—left us alone in the Continental Room…McCord, typically unwilling to stay in one place or in the company of so many, excused himself from the banquet, leaving us with one extra serving.

Banquet time arrived and the rest of us had a good time, even polishing off McCord’s meal. The film went on as scheduled and was so boring the waiters were encouraged to clean up and leave us early. We ran the film a couple of times for the benefit of anyone looking in through the glass door to the inner court.9

Informing Attorney General Richard Kleindienst of the break-in:

Kleindienst looked stunned. Moore hadn’t said a word but was shaking his head from side to side, negatively. I agreed with him and said, “I know. There’s no way you can even try to do it without it getting out. Then what happens to you?”

Kleindienst exploded. “Me? Fuck what happens to me! What happens to the President if I try a fool thing like that? It’s the Goddamnedest thing I ever heard of!”

Moore and I said nothing and Kleindienst continued: “Jesus Christ! That’s what everybody ought to be thinking of—the President! What the fuck did you people think you were doing in there?”

The Arrest” by Richard Hess

Assuring John Dean of his continued loyalty after the botched Watergate break-in:10

Dean had his head down, looking at the sidewalk, when I told him: “Look, John. I said I was the captain of the ship when she hit the reef and I’m prepared to go down with it. If someone wants to shoot me”—Dean’s head snapped up and he stared at me—“just tell me what corner to stand on and I’ll be there, O.K.?”

Dean searched my face to see whether I was joking. I wasn’t, and he could see that. “Well, uh,” he stammered, “I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet, Gordon.”

“All right. But please remember what I said.”11

Later, debating whether to show Dean a magic trick:12

Here was the perfect opportunity to kill Dean. A pencil was lying on the desk. In a second I could drive it up through the underside of his jaw, through the soft-palate and deep into his brain.

Bridging the racial gulf in prison through the power of song:

But in the D.C. jail, I was thought to be flaunting my sexuality. There I was, walking past them, offensively
naked—and white. The catcalls came in a storm from the locked cells as I walked past them. “Honky!” I heard.
“White movafuck!” They were angry because, as one voice I heard put it: “White movafuck ain’ showin’ no
respek fo d’Brothas!” I was angry at all the racial remarks.

Even though the radio speakers and televisions hadn’t yet been turned on for the day (something that was at the whim of the guard) the noise was deafening as I started my shower. I seethed. Then an idea hit me. They wanted race? I’d give them race! My mind reached back thirty-five years, deep into my childhood. In my head the shortwave of my mother’s old Emerson snapped on.

The music started and I started to sing, sing as I hadn’t in years. I roared out into the chaos about me the anthem of the nation whose psychotic obsession with race sent millions of those believed inferior to their graves:

“Die Fahne hochl” I sang, “Die Reihen dicht geschlossen . . .”

A curious phenomenon occurred. The roaring noise started to abate.

By the time I reached the second verse of the “Horst Wessel Song,” my voice was the only one in the entire cellblock. I don’t believe there was a man there who understood one word of what I sang. But they got the message.

Liddy on Miami Vice


Liddy, on the “real” cause of the Watergate scandal:

The way the call-girl ring operated was by a photographic brochure with pictures of the girls…John Dean knew that, this was a John Dean operation. The question then comes to mind; “Well how would John Dean, counsel to the President, know something like that”? Well, that’s because his then paramour, now his wife, Maureen…was the roommate of the madame.13

Liddy, Radio Host, on how to deal with Federal agents:

“They’ve got a big target on there, ATF. Don’t shoot at that because they’ve got a vest on underneath that. Head shot, head shots.”

Liddy, Birther:

I’m convinced that despite his protestations to the contrary, that Barack Obama is a Muslim. I don’t believe that he’s a Christian at all. I believe he’s a Muslim.

With that, there remains only to sign off: Say good night, Gordon!