They Sometimes Called Him Al

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

About a year ago I stumbled across the online Willis A. Carto correspondence archive. It’s a source of never-ending delight.

Officially it’s called the Willis A. Carto Library— —which it literally is, as it sells rare and not-so-rare volumes from the late Mr. Carto’s extensive private collection of books. Mainly though, it’s a revealing trove of letters and other documents from the second half of the 20th century. Like an online Presidential library, it’s full of once-secret, strange & surprising stuff that extensively revises our received history of Conservatism and the Dissident Right.

For example, there are vague old legends in the Right-o-sphere that Willis Carto was generally at odds with, or was disdained by, such notable personages as Revilo P. Oliver, Wilmot Robertson, or John Birch Society founder Robert Welch. This appears to be nonsense. At least during the late 1950s, Mr. Carto had a lively friendship with both Oliver and Welch. WAC, like RPO, was a Birch Society member in its early days, before they both turned sour on Welch. (Note: I’m not linking specific pages or sections, because they are readily searchable within the site.)

An amusing if inconsequential eye-opener for me was learning that Mr. Carto, whom I and his wife and employees (and seemingly everyone else) called Willis, was once known as Al. This comes out in correspondence from the mid-1950s, when Liberty Lobby was first founded in San Francisco, under the name “Liberty & Property.” Was Al just a salesman’s front, a name that sounded friendlier than the formal, chilly Willis? (“That Al, he’s a regular, affable guy! You know me, Al!”) Or was it a private, family name, for close kin and intimates? I just don’t know. Maybe there were laughs aplenty when folks found out that Al was short for Allison, his middle name: thus Willis he became and Willis he stayed. Right here I’m mostly referring to him as Mr. Carto, though even that can be fraught with problems. One of the first people he ever introduced me to was ex-spook Victor Marchetti, who proceeded to lecture me that Mr. Carto’s name is properly pronounced Car-TO. Because it’s French, you see, originally Carteaux. I suspect this faux pedantry was just a hobbyhorse of Victor’s. He was probably in mind of the French general at Toulon in 1793 whose captain of artillery was 24-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte. But I digress.

Now let’s go to August 1965. Someone calling himself Wilmot (or W.J.) Robertson sends Liberty Lobby (headquartered near Capitol Hill in D.C.) a huge doorstop of a manuscript called The Dispossessed Majority. This finds its way to Willis A. Carto, Liberty Lobby’s “Secretary-Treasurer,” as he styles himself. WAC reads it, makes notes and suggestions, and these are deeply appreciated by the author. As both men were living in the San Francisco Bay area for much of the 1950s and 60s, it’s not surprising they eventually get together in November 1965 for dinner at Robertson’s house in Berkeley.

By now they’re good friends, and they have a good dinner. Mr. Carto doesn’t think Liberty Lobby is an appropriate publisher for the book. His idea rather is private publication, with advertising in appropriately targeted journals. (Which is what Wilmot Robertson ended up doing. I first noticed the book in early 1973, in an ad in American Opinion.) On the other hand, Mr. Carto finds Robertson’s manuscript very similar, topically speaking, to his new magazine, Western Destiny.[1] And in due course a excerpt from the manuscript, bylined “Wilmot Robertson,” appears in Western Destiny.[2]

At that time Wilmot Robertson usually signed his letters W. J. Robertson. But early on, he clued-in Mr. Carto to his true identity. So sometimes in letters the puckish Willis addresses him as “Wilmot” (with quotes), and other times he calls him Humphrey (his real name).

Another scribe Mr. Carto sought for Western Destiny was a genuine seasoned professional. A celebrity in fact: the funny, irascible Westbrook Pegler. Now 70 years old, living in Tucson, Arizona, and cut off without a penny from the Hearst and Scripps-Howard syndicates he enriched for forty years as top columnist.

Young Willis Carto first wrote to him in 1948, and now calls him “Peg,” which is how Mr. Pegler signs himself. Writing to Willis in 1964, Peg lets it all hang out:

Goddam it, I am one of the best reporters we ever had and here the Jews have me muzzled and nobody else will write a peep about some very dangerous things. The negroes are close to wild revolution under the stimulation of the Kennedy machine. They could overthrow Johnson any time. [sic] New York is on the brink. Nobody ever heard of this Shriver until he married one of those Irish belles and now he runs the sinister CIA. Bob Welch is yellow and hiding out. His organization is disgusted with him and that letter which his wife wrote me very clearly invites the belief that my work was unpalatable to the ADL and curtailed contributions.

There can be blood on the moon in this land. Our violent crime rate down this way makes Dallas looks like a Methodist camp meeting.

The NY papers madly fomented the “march” on Washington for a whole dam year under the Kennedys’ auspices, driving white people into corners and now the whites in New York are afraid to go window shopping or to ride the subways at night and no authority is more to blame than the American press and the Kenndys. [sic] What makes people believe revolution can’t happen here?

Peg may be three sheets to the wind here. He makes no sense when he says Sargent Shriver is Director of the CIA. John McCone was Director from 1961 to 1965, while Sarge was busy with the Peace Corps. (Then again, perhaps Peg knows something we don’t.)

But no matter. Mr. Carto is looking for name-brand contributors to his new journal. He sends Peg a copy of Western Destiny, and suggests that Peg—once the highest-paid columnist for King Features Syndicate—write for it:

….let me know if you could do a short article once in awhile and on which subjects? Could you do one on how the Catholic Church has changed here in the US in its attitude on Communism and Jews?

Westbrook Pegler was definitely Catholic, but his métier had been sports and politics, not Church affairs, and it is doubtful whether he was paying much attention to the aftermath of Vatican II. Mr. Carto conversely was not Catholic, but he followed such things with a keen eye. At one point he lectured Wilmot Robertson on the burgeoning Leftism in the Catholic Church in America, something to which Robertson had been oblivious in his early draft of The Dispossessed Majority; and Robertson was grateful for the corrections.

Now let’s move on to William F. Buckley, Jr. WFB is on hand here with cordial, if not quite chummy correspondence, from 1955 to 1960. Our Mr. Carto begins by proposing a few National Review articles, to be penned by himself or Lawrence Dennis. Come 1957, he warns Mr. Buckley that the Anti-Defamation League is trying to smear National Review as a bigoted anti-Catholic hate sheet. No doubt the ADL were doing this, as well as defaming Buckley and his family in other ways. [3] But the notion of National Review and WFB being anti-Catholic is still pretty funny, all things considered.

WFB wrote back to WAC sporadically, but eventually cooled on his fellow young conservative entrepreneur, breaking off relations around 1960. The cause of the break wasn’t Mr. Carto’s Bircher connections, or his hobnobbing with the likes of American fascist Lawrence Dennis, or his wish for National Review to push the conservative case against Hawaiian statehood. [4] No, indeed, it was about differences over…trade policy!

Dear Mr. Carto [Buckley writes in 1960], We did indeed endorse the Liberty Lobby, but would have done so with less enthusiasm had we known it would direct its efforts to erecting high tariff walls, which I view as antipathetic to liberty.

WFB then goes on to defend his opposition to tariffs as an opinion he shares with “Frank Chodorov, Friederich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises…Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard,” et al.

In all likelihood this tariff argument was merely a convenient pretext on Buckley’s part to chase away a persistent pest whom he had come to identify with the fever-swamp right. [5] Nevertheless this dry exchange points up how the moral rot at National Review was there at the beginning. The magazine’s “conservative” values revolved mainly around the sanctity of laissez-faire capitalism and free trade. For the National Review of 1960, economic libertarianism was regarded as an all-purpose magic-shield, guaranteed to protect you from legal onslaughts against housing covenants and segregated restaurants. Except, of course, it couldn’t—and didn’t.

Trade policy and tariffs also figure greatly in Mr. Carto’s correspondence with Avery Brundage (construction tycoon, Chicago hotel owner, longtime chairman of the International Olympic Committee, and one of the early-40s stars of the America First Committee).[6] There was a bill before Congress to revise New Deal-era trade rules, a bill that Mr. Carto believed was of existential importance. (“Unless the Mason bill is passed, we will be irretrievably and inevitably in world government within the next three or four years.”) Mr. Carto organizes a Trade Policy Congress, with rented headquarters at the National Press Club building, and solicits Mr. Brundage’s participation as sponsor and board member. Mr. Brundage agrees to the first, says no to the second, because the Olympics are going on (it is 1960) and he can’t mix up politics and sport.

Five years later, Carto writes Brundage at the Montecito Country Club in Santa Barbara, asking for help with a very different project. It seems Roger Pearson and his family are moving to America from England so Dr. Pearson can edit the new Western Destiny magazine. (How often WD raises its head here!) Mr. Brundage sends a check.

The funniest solicitation I’ve come across is a request to Carroll Quigley (Georgetown professor, author of Tragedy and Hope). In 1975 Mr. Carto hopes to bag Prof. Quigley as a featured speaker at Liberty Lobby’s 20th Anniversary party in Los Angeles. Prof. Quigley says no, he’s too busy, despite Mr. Carto’s tempting offer of $500, a coach class air ticket, “a sleeping room (with a bed) and all the chicken and creamed peas you can eat.” Prof. Quigley avers, however, that he might take look at a book Mr. Carto recommends. It’s called The Occult Technology of Power.[7]

Needless to say, this Carto correspondence online is but a tiny, curated fraction of 60 or 70 years’ worth of letters and other documents. It was a massive undertaking to sort out these files and scan them in as images, along with written commentary, in a WordPress website. I hope I don’t sound churlish or ungrateful if I say I wish to see more, more, more.


[1] Edited by Roger Pearson—who is still with us at 95 years of age, as we recently learned!

[2] I do not have that issue anymore, but I believe it is from 1966. All issues of Western Destiny are rare, but this number must have had a big press run, as copies were available from the Noontide Press for many years. The cover, incidentally, shows a handcuffed Francis Parker Yockey.

[3] The ADL’s Arnold Forster kept a close watch on WFB and National Review in the 1950s and 60s. He also kept a dirt file on the Buckley family, which he fed to Gore Vidal, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, and other Left-leaning media personalities of the era. This eventually led to legal disaster for Vidal and Esquire magazine when Esquire published a slanderous Vidal piece about the Buckleys (September 1969 issue). WFB generously let Esquire work off its damages settlement by providing many years’ worth of subscription ads for National Review.

[4] Opposition to Hawaiian statehood is often portrayed in pop history as something driven by racial prejudice. The leading opponents in Congress seemed to be segregationist Southerners, and this made for a tidy explanation among politicians and newspapers in New York. But as Willis Carto liked to emphasize, there was a deep Constitutional issue as well. Not only were a majority of Hawaiian “citizens” nonwhite, only a minority of voters there were in any sense Americans by birth and ancestry. Hawaii was not created by American settlers who first developed a territory and then petitioned for statehood. The Hawaiian situation was as if the USA were to annex the Bahamas as a protectorate and then declare most Bahamians to be American citizens…after which such “citizens” might be encouraged to vote for statehood. It is poignant to recall that the first American President ostensibly born, and partially raised, in Hawaii, was Barack Obama.

[5] “Whatever you do, don’t send this to Buckley,” writes Willis Carto to Revilo Oliver in March 1958, after making some criticisms of National Review articles. “I’m already in the doghouse with him, it seems, as he not only rejects any articles I send him, he doesn’t even bother to answer letters to him now.”

[6] Avery Brundage is still tarred in the gutter press as a pro-Nazi and anti-semite because he opposed an American boycott of the Berlin Olympics back in 1936, when he was chairman of the American Olympic Committee. (He would chair the IOC from 1952 to 1972.) A related sin on his dossier is that he kept the two slowest sprinters on the American team from participating in the games. They were both Jews, as it happens. What we’re not usually told is that one of their replacements was Jesse Owens.

[7] “The Transcriber” (Author), The Occult Technology of Power: The Initiation of the Son of a Finance Capitalist into the Arcane Secrets of Economic and Political Power. First published in 1974.

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