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Liberty Lobby goes under, ends Spotlight publication

By Andrea Billups
July 10, 2001

Liberty Lobby has closed its doors and its weekly newspaper, the Spotlight, has published its last edition after a federal bankruptcy judge last week dismissed the group’s latest claim for Chapter 11 protection.

The most recent ruling by U.S. bankruptcy Judge S. Martin Teel Jr. puts an end to a complicated eight-year battle between Liberty Lobby founder Willis A. Carto and his former associates at the California-based Institute for Historical Review (IHR).

IHR sued and won a multimillion-dollar judgment on claims that Mr. Carto illegally diverted funds from the institute’s Texas parent company, the Legion for the Survival of Freedom.

Mr. Carto, a resident of Escondido, Calif., founded the Washington-based Liberty Lobby in 1955. The nonprofit outfit and its publication, the Spotlight, funded by outside donations and subscriptions, claimed to be America’s key defender of patriotism and a hub for grass-roots conservative activism. But they also have been criticized as a fertile breeding ground for the views of anti-government extremists, conspiracists and racists.

Yesterday, as about 25 employees gathered personal belongings and wrapped up last-minute business at the Liberty Lobby offices, located at 300 Independence Ave., a spokesman defended Mr. Carto and vowed to fight on.

Nobody is really that sad, but everybody is mad, said spokesman William Francis. While Liberty Lobby may be dissolved, nobody has given up here. We know that we did nothing wrong as an institution. Everybody has complete faith in Mr. Carto and how he administered the funds.

While offering few specifics, Mr. Francis hinted that a new incarnation of the Spotlight was already in the works.

They may come in and shut us down, but the staff are fully committed to make new efforts to get something going. Over the last several days, we’ve had hundreds of phone calls to the office, pledges of hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up a new newspaper, he said. We have a citizens army behind us.

Mark Weber, director of IHR, said the ruling may signal the end of Liberty Lobby, but he predicts Mr. Carto will endure with some other venture.

This is a welcome culmination of an exhausting, costly, bitter legal and public relations dispute, said Mr. Weber, who has been assailed in the pages of the Spotlight as a rat, weasel, toilet bowl, cockroach and devil.

Mr. Francis yesterday reiterated his claims that IHR plans to sell one of the Liberty Lobby’s final assets, its subscriber mailing list, to such watchdog organizations as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, which have been critical of both feuding groups.

It’s a lie, Mr. Weber said of those claims.

Liberty Lobby once sued the Wall Street Journal for having called the organization anti-Semitic. But Judge Robert Bork dismissed the suit in 1984, declaring, If anti-Semitism has a core, factual meaning, it was demonstrated here.

Mr. Carto, a 74-year-old native of Fort Wayne, Ind., has been called the most influential anti-Semite in the United States. About 90,000 people are paid subscribers to the Spotlight, which in 1981 had an estimated readership of more than 300,000.

The weekly’s favorite political targets included the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds, Henry Kissinger, the Council on Foreign Relations and the ‘Zionist entity’ in Palestine, according to author Dennis King.

Mr. Carto played a key role in co-founding IHR in 1978. The Anti-Defamation League has called IHR the world’s single most important outlet for Holocaust-denial propaganda

Mr. Carto was ousted by IHR’s board of directors in September 1993 after the staff complained, among other things, of Mr. Carto’s interference in editorial decisions for the Journal of Historical Review, an IHR publication.