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Remembering Willis Carto:
July 17, 1926–October 26, 2015

carto19601,980 words

If you know the broad outlines of Willis Allison Carto’s life (biography review here), you know that he was, for well over a half-century, the founder and patron of those political movements we now variously call paleoconservatism, race realism, Dissident Right, or White Nationalism.

Pause and consider. When you imbibe the heady sophistication and philosophical analyses here at Counter-Currentsor laugh at the mordant humor of Mike Enoch’s The Right Stuff; or addictively check out The Occidental Observer every day; or appreciate the rich, deep lore available at such sites as Inconvenient History and Euro-Synergies—then you must give a tip of your mental hat to Willis Allison Carto, the old pioneering strategist who made this Dissident Right possible.

Lest we forget, Mr. Carto himself had quite a few titles, imprints, and websites in his long life. Right. Western Destiny. The American Mercury (which he owned in the ’60s and ’70s).The Washington Observer. The Spotlight. The Journal of Historical Review. The Barnes Review. American Free Press. The Noontide Press. Independent Publishers.

The anti-Buckley

Back in the 1950s, when Bill Buckley and his National Review crew were trying to reinvent American conservatism by casting it as something cutesy and sanitized and nice-to-the-Jews, Mr. Carto, a Purple Heart recipient (once shot by a Jap sniper on Cibu Island, May 1945) looked the enemy in the face and did not flinch. He did not balk or cringe when they called him an anti-Semite, a racist, a crypto-nazi.

Nicey-nicey folks of the National Review stripe get shirty when you call them names. So it’s appropriate that these days we now have a fine snide name to call them. Cuckservatives! I don’t know if Willis Carto paid attention to that word when it was making sound and fury in the political blogosphere shortly before his death, but I like to think that he did.

Of course he did. He must have heard about it. And must have had a great big triumphal end-of-life belly-laugh. Bwah-hah-hah!

The comeuppance of the cucks! National Review goes down hard. Willis Carto lives to see it. Oh, what a world! What a world!

William F. Buckley, Jr. and Willis A. Carto sparred continuously, in print and in the courts, for much of their adult lives. Initially, in the early- and mid-’50s, they swam in the same waters, along with such luminary confederates as G. L. Rockwell, Russell Maguire, and Revilo Oliver. After National Review got launched in 1955, however, Bill Buckley began to disavow his old associates, along with the teachings of his upbringing and religion. Willis Carto founded Liberty Lobby the same year, but unlike Buckley, built his enterprise into a sturdy multi-million-dollar organization, with a townhouse a block from the Capitol.

National Review assiduously ignored Carto until September 1971. Then it published a “hit” piece on him, bylined by one C. H. Simonds and full of formulaic denunciations about “anti-Semitism” and Carto’s deep sympathy for the American fascist philosopher Francis Parker Yockey. Where did this come from? Well, it appears that the rising popularity of Yockey’s Imperium (published by Carto’s Noontide Press) and bearing an Introduction by Carto was the probable trigger for this smear job. Imperium was then being widely distributed by the National Youth Alliance—formerly Youth for Wallace, later National Alliance. (((Someone))), presumably the ADL, decided this new Danger on the Right was both fearsome and—better yet!—an attractive fundraising opportunity.

Thereafter, Willis Carto and Liberty Lobby made regular appearances in the mainstream press—National Review, The New York Times, and a strange, short-lived 1981 magazine backed by political journalist Jack Anderson called The Investigator. Carto and Liberty Lobby immediately sued for libel on the grounds that they were therein described as “neo-Nazi, fascist, anti-Semitic, and racist,” and these allegations were based entirely on one-sided reports from biased sources. Antonin Scalia of the US Circuit Court eventually found for Carto and Liberty Lobby in 1984.[1] Meantime, The Investigator was long gone from the newsstands, having folded after that first unfortunate issue.

In an even more protracted case from 1971 until 1985, Carto and Liberty Lobby sued Buckley for the hit piece by “C. H. Simonds.” The court agreed that the Simonds article was “a muddled smear,” but agreed with Buckley that Liberty Lobby should not have reported Buckley’s “close working relationship” with George Lincoln Rockwell in the 1950s.[2]

Meantime, from 1978 to 1983, there was a libel suit between Buckley pal (and Watergate co-conspirator) E. Howard Hunt and the Liberty Lobby. A Wilmington, Delaware newspaper and The Spotlight (then published by Liberty Lobby) both claimed that CIA operative Hunt had been present in Dallas at the time of the JFK assassination. Hunt decided to sue Liberty Lobby, but not the Delaware paper. Carto’s attorney Mark Lane was able to show that Hunt had indeed been in Dallas at the time of the assassination; and was almost certainly one of the suspect “tramps” arrested (and swiftly released) by Dallas Police on November 22, 1963.

Operational Security

Willis Carto and his wife Elisabeth were friends of mine. We first met at a Liberty Lobby function on Capitol Hill in 1985. Thereafter, I saw them frequently for about ten years, first in DC, then in Southern California. I wrote occasionally for The Spotlight, and worked freelance for book editing projects at the Institute for Historical Review in Costa Mesa.

In March 2015, I decided to look up my old friends. I hadn’t seen them since their Christmas party in Escondido in 1995. (I remember I brought a bottle of pinot noir, and that I had a dangling tailpipe and dented muffler. Willis advised me I really ought to get that muffler replaced. Which I promptly did.) Then I moved out of the country,[3] and the Cartos lost their mountaintop house through the actions of some very erratic, ungrateful employees.

I knew that Willis and Elisabeth had moved their editorial headquarters (The Barnes Review and American Free Press) from Capitol Hill in DC to a spacious office-park suite in the wilds of Prince Georges County, Maryland. From California, I remembered Willis’ fondness for cheap, anonymous business estates with lots of room to store shippable books and back issues of magazines. The Cartos’ enterprises in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa had been set up this way. Nevertheless, I was quite unprepared for the long, almost impossible trek it was from Largo Station at the end of the Washington, DC Metro to their offices many miles to the north.

The Largo end of Prince Georges County is almost entirely negro. There is a Metro station and a bad shopping mall; otherwise, not much there there. You get off at Largo station and discover there is virtually no public transportation beyond. I had to pay a Guinean cabbie fifty dollars to drive me to the Cartos’ office park, some ten miles away. Once I got there, it took them a while to remember me (we were all twenty years older), but when they did, they were full of useful information, such as Elisabeth’s recommendation that I rent a car from Enterprise next time I come up from Washington—much cheaper than Metro and taxi. They told me how they now had a home in Orange County, Virginia (over an hour’s drive away), and how they, and most of the editorial staff, came into the office only once each fortnight.

I gathered that these new, remote offices were taken in consideration of Operational Security. Back in California, they had once lost a warehouse of books through (Jewish) terrorist bombings, and some years later they got forced out of their premises at gunpoint by greedy, disgruntled employees.

But that kind of swindle was Willis’ Achilles heel. Like King Lear, Willis Carto was repeatedly done in by deceitful “heirs” and underlings. He never went mad on the Blasted Heath, and he always sprang back with new enterprises, but still, it was disconcerting to watch him make the same mistakes over and over.

Tragicomedy and hope

The classic, central saga about Carto in this respect is l’affaire IHR: the mind-numbing, seemingly endless lawsuits between him and his former employees at the Institute for Historical Review (roughly 1993-2000). This is a tale that the ADL, SPLC, and Antifa groups never tire of recounting with gleeful Schadenfreude.

Briefly, an heir of Thomas Edison had left Willis Carto (or one of his enterprises) a legacy of about seven million dollars. Some senior employees at the IHR discovered this, declared that part of the legacy had been siphoned to Carto’s other enterprises, and proceeded to evict him from the organization’s board, as well as from the premises of the IHR.[4] Later on, the IHR employees obtained a court judgment against the Cartos and seized their Escondido house (which the Cartos supposedly made semi-uninhabitable by disconnecting all the mains and filling the bathroom commodes with cement).[5]

aceNone of this should have been a surprise to Willis. His first director of the IHR, 1978-81, William David McCalden (aka “Lewis Brandon”), was also the first to turn traitor. Very energetic but egotistical, David took his personal contacts and mailing lists from the IHR, and set up a sort of rival, one-man operation called Truth Missions, which consisted of little more than a monthly newsletter making fun of Willis Carto and his successive employees. David’s young successor, Keith Stimely, came aboard at age 23 and helped turn the Journal of Historical Review into a serious, scholarly publication, while also helping Willis amass a devastating “dirt file” on McCalden (distributed circa 1984 as Dossier on a “Revisionist” Crank). Then Keith, too, turned against Willis, and wrote up his own dirt-file: Willis was an opportunist, a huckster like Kirk Douglas in Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole; someone who signed his name to the Introduction to Imperium, even though Revilo Oliver wrote it! A philistine, someone who couldn’t sit through a Bruckner symphony without squirming![6]

What always baffled me about Willis is that he did not spot this repeating pattern, and thereby foresee the 1993 IHR “coup,” when his four senior employees, with the assistance of the IHR’s outside counsel, seized control of the premises and forced Willis and Elisabeth out of the offices at gunpoint. This time, the situation snowballed to the point where the Cartos and their other organizations (Liberty Lobby, The Spotlight) were forced into bankruptcy.

The Cartos were amazingly resilient, and recovered even from this disaster. But it still beggars belief how Willis got himself into this tragicomic predicament again and again.

Perhaps you just can’t build a successful nationalist, racialist organization unless you are able to maintain a high-trust mentality, the kind of trust Willis took for granted growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. If this is the case, then we’re just all going to have to take our risks and take our knocks. Trust everyone, but cut the cards. In the meantime. . .

Farewell then, Willis, comrade. Many lessons learned!


[1] Carto and Liberty Lobby sued, and won a judgment. The case was appealed. Judge Antonin Scalia of the US Circuit Court upheld the findings that Carto and LL had been defamed and that Anderson and his writers had acted with malice.

[2] The one finding against Liberty Lobby has a very contemporary ring: ‘On two counts of the magazine’s charges, Judge [Joyce Hens] Green ruled that Liberty Lobby committed libel by saying National Review favored allowing ”militant sex deviates” the right ”to molest your children,” and that the magazine was a ”mouthpiece” of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.’ NY Times, Oct. 26, 1985.

[3] Willis was disappointed when I moved to London for some years on business. He was a real old-fashioned Midwestern Anglophobe.

[4] Some employees would stay with or visit me while plotting with IHR board members. Like Mrs. Surratt, I “kept the nest where the plot was hatched.” Except in this case I really did believe that this nice Mr. Booth was merely a charming young actor.

[5] Personal anecdote.

[6] Keith Stimely, 1986 memoir about the IHR and Willis Carto.



  1. Bernie
    Posted July 17, 2019 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I visited the old Liberty Lobby building near Capitol Hill in September 1995. I was in grad school and a fellow student from Spain told me about The Spotlight and how it was one of the more popular publications on the hard right. I ended up buying Camp of The Saints from their book shop.

    Must say, I didnt think much of The Spotlight. Why did they have ads for pills that cure cancer or contraptions to block people from reading your thoughts?

    • margot metroland
      Posted December 5, 2020 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Long-belated reply:

      Prior to The Spotlight, the Carto enterprises owned The American Mercury and The Washington Observer Newsletter (if I remember correctly). In the early 70s the idea arose that you needed to connect with a mass audience on a demotic level, to create an entry-level portal for normies. Thus, The Spotlight was created as a kind of Nationalist-Populist National Enquirer. It replaced those two other publications, and did very well financially, for years.

      In between commentary on political news and nutritional/naturopathic columns, it provided some pretty incisive intelligence on lobbying groups, particularly the Israel lobby, in the 1980s and 90s.

  2. Laurence Gallagher
    Posted July 17, 2019 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    As an information seeking teenager in late 1950’s I visited the Liberty Lobby office in San Francisco. Carto was hospitable and allowed me to take away arm loads of material from his discard box including my first copies of the National Review and Modern Age, also trivial imprints from small town KKK outfits, etc. I met his wife. I shied away from Carto’s personality and the temper of his local followers. Later I tangled with one of them in the Young Republicans for which I was denounced by name in a newsletter of Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party. If Carto had presented himself and his ideas differently, with more intelligence and restraint, I might have been recruited and signed up.

  3. A. Yell
    Posted July 19, 2019 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    I recently stumbled across a copy of An Appeal to Reason: A Compendium of the Writings of Willis A. Carto-Edited by Michael Collins Piper.
    The appendices are particularly informative. They include a list of many of the books Carto was involved in publishing as well as many of the people he was involved with politically. I was surprised to see a photo of Carto shaking hands with Otto Skorzeny! Great stuff!

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