Photos from the Vault

When Oliver North went west, visiting Santa Maria

Oliver North receives warm applause while at the lectern in Santa Maria during a visit in 1988. Eric and Andrea Seastrand at the right. Over 800 supporters attended the fundraising dinner while about 300 protesters carried placards outside.
Oliver North receives warm applause while at the lectern in Santa Maria during a visit in 1988. Eric and Andrea Seastrand at the right. Over 800 supporters attended the fundraising dinner while about 300 protesters carried placards outside. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Don’t search for logic in political theater.

Recently, protesters opposing oil trains brought a homemade prop, an inflatable black plastic pipe, to a public rally at the County Government Center. Plastic, made from oil.

Contradiction is part of the scenic backdrop of political theater.

Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North’s story is a classic example.

A Wall Street Journal headline from July 7, 1987, said, “Which Col. North Will Tell His Story to Nation: The Villain Who Deceived or Hero Who Obeyed?”

During six days of testimony before the U.S. Congress, different observers saw facets of both.

North was involved in a scheme to bypass Congress. The Contra paramilitary were then locked in a murderous guerrilla war to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Congress had blocked taxpayer funding for the Contras.

North, a member of President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council, secretly raised money to fund the Contras through missiles sales to Iran. It was also hoped that Iran would put pressure on terrorist groups friendly to Iran to release American hostages in Lebanon. The convoluted scandal became most frequently known as Iran-Contra.

In testimony before Congress, North said: “I must confess to you that I thought using the ayatollah’s money to support the Nicaraguan Resistance was a right idea.”

Later he said: “I don’t think it was wrong. I think it was a neat idea and I came back and I advocated that and we did it; we did it on three occasions.”

North admitted to shredding key documents in an attempt to give his bosses “plausible deniability,” though he said he was following their orders.

Later in 1989, North would be on trial facing 12 felony charges. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief supporting North.

North was convicted on three counts, but in 1990, a divided three-judge appeals court reversed the conviction on the charge of destroying classified documents.

North’s convictions for accepting an illegal gift (a security fence for his house) and aiding and abetting in the obstruction of Congress were then also thrown into jeopardy. Charges were dropped in 1991.

North’s testimony before Congress came under grant of immunity and could not be used against him at trial. Some might argue ironically that this was a classic case of the ACLU and an activist, soft-on-crime judiciary letting a lawbreaker off on a technicality.

Others called North a likable hero.

North visited Monterey and Santa Maria in 1988 in between his congressional testimony and trial. It was a fundraising trip; the $66,500 raised by the $50 tickets would be split between North’s defense fund and local Republican state Assembly candidates like Eric Seastrand.

About 300 protesters and 830 supporters converged on the Santa Barbara County Fairgrounds in Santa Maria. Brief verbal clashes and protester chanting were the extent of the confrontations. I did not observe violence, and none was reported, a notable contrast to polarized politics today.

The Sept. 29, 1988, Telegram-Tribune story by David Wilcox said Oliver North criticized Congress.

“Against the backdrop of an enormous American flag, North used his 30-minute speech to blast Congress for tying President Reagan’s hands during most of his eight-year administration. The president’s power, he said, ‘should not be usurped by the 535 members of Congress, as they have so evidently tried to do.’ 

Those who bought tickets, curious to hear Iran-Contra stories, were disappointed. North’s lawyer advised his client not to talk about the impending case.

In 1994, North ran unsuccessfully for one of those 535 congressional seats, to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

He has deftly parlayed his fame into television and radio appearances and writes a syndicated newspaper column. Several websites like Celebrity Net Worth estimate his net worth in the millions.

  Comments