Lyndon LaRouche, perennial presidential candidate, dead at 96

Lyndon LaRouche, the political extremist and conspiracy theorist who ran for president in eight consecutive national elections, died Tuesday, his political action committee confirmed. He was 96.

"Those who knew and loved Lyndon LaRouche know that humanity has suffered a great loss, and today we dedicate ourselves anew to bring to reality the big ideas for which history will honor him," read a statement on the website of LaRouchePAC, which noted that LaRouche died on the birthday of former President Abraham Lincoln, whom he celebrated in his writings.

A native of Lynn, Massachusetts, LaRouche was a former member of the Socialist Workers Party who first ran for president in 1976 as a candidate of the U.S. Labor Party. In subsequent elections, LaRouche ran as either a Democratic or independent candidate. His final run for president took place in 2004.

LaRouche espoused several conspiracy theories, most notably that the International Monetary Fund was "engaged in mass murder" by spreading AIDS through its economic policies, that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Vice President Walter Mondale were Soviet "agents of influence," and that the Queen of England was involved in the international drug trade.

He also called for a quarantine of AIDS victims, referred to Zionism as "cult nonsense" and said the Holocaust was "mythical." The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith once characterized LaRouche's organization as an anti-Semitic political cult.

During a 1984 libel trial, LaRouche said he had no income and had filed no tax returns for 12 years. He said he did not know who paid his bills. His political action committee described him as a "philosopher, scientist, poet, statesman [and] economist."

Speaking in 1986, LaRouche described himself as being in the tradition of the American Whig Party, a forerunner of the GOP in the first half of the 19th century. His views evolved throughout his life, but a central tenet of his apocalyptic platform warned of an inevitable global downward slide into crisis and called for a complete overhaul of the world's economic and financial systems.

LaRouche ran his 1992 presidential campaign from prison after he was convicted in 1988 of mail fraud and conspiracy to defraud the IRS by defaulting on more than $30 million in loans from campaign supporters. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released in 1994.

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Based in Leesburg, Virginia, outside Washington, LaRouche's organization continued to operate during the years he was in prison. His followers could be found at major airports, where they distributed publications and tried to raise money. In addition to his presidential campaigns, LaRouche ran unsuccessfully in 1990 to represent a northern Virginia district in Congress.

The commitment of LaRouche followers reportedly inspired some people to hire so-called "deprogrammers" to kidnap his devotees and stop them from giving him their fortunes. One high-profile case involved a supposed conspiracy to kidnap DuPont heir Lewis duPont Smith and his wife to deprogram them. In 1992, a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, acquitted Smith's father, E. Newbold Smith, and three other men.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.