The recently deceased Kevin Coogan helped create the scholarly groundwork for preventative measures against the rise of the Alt Right.
Born on October 8, 1952, Coogan was raised in an Irish family in Philadelphia where he grew up in a loving and intellectually stimulating community. “Our grandparents ran a boarding house for Irish immigrants,” his sister Nell tells me, “and Kevin loved being around that Irish story-telling culture.”
His father Joseph Coogan served in the military in World War II as an actor in a theater group in Honolulu. Nell describes him as “fun, delightful. Kevin and he were very, very close.” His mother made a living as a writer who headed up a magazine on nursing.
“Writing was [Kevin’s] passion,” his sister told me. In his post-collegiate career, he focused on niche, understudied groups—obscure channels of occult extremists, strange sects of syncretic cults, and overlapping spaces of right and left.
“He could probably have become an academic but always wanted to retain his independence,” says his long-time friend and publisher at Routledge, Craig Fowlie. “So his attitude towards the scholarly academy was always slightly contradictory and ambivalent.”
Never one to soak in the spotlight, Coogan anonymously published a number of meticulously researched documents on the complex, wide-ranging networks developed by Lyndon LaRouche, and contributed to “parapolitics” at the intersection of intelligence agencies, political extremists, and criminal syndicates.
Coogan rapidly became a reliable scholar on “third positionists,” who reject communism and capitalism for a “third way” of national revolution against NATO. During the 1980s, Coogan carefully tracked these extremists from the ratlines escaping post-war Europe into globally dispersed networks.
“He was a very dedicated researcher and he was very passionate about his work,” his co-author Martin A. Lee recalls. “There wasn’t much focus on that as a subject – certainly not in the 1980s.”
In 1986 while working on an article for Mother Jones together, the two met François Genoud in Lausanne. A Nazi who befriended the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Genoud would commit suicide ten years later, after authorities launched an investigation into his financial ties to stolen Nazi gold.
Another interviewee, Genoud’s friend Jacques Verges, had disappeared for nearly a decade before resurfacing to provide legal services for Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. Later, Coogan interviewed Ahmed Huber, a former leftist who converted to Islam in Nasser’s Egypt, becoming an international éminence grise.
“Huber and Genoud were good friends as well,” Coogan writes shortly before his untimely death. “Huber is a Sunni Muslim but he had very close ties to Iran.”
Lee told me that Coogan’s work reflected his humble character. “He was not a professional, but he was really better than the professionals. He wasn’t an academic, but he could mentor one.”
One of Coogan’s unpublished works for the 1980s delved into what was then a scanty body of literature on the burgeoning Soviet nationalist movement and the so-called “National Bolshevik” movement. He cautioned that elements within the KGB and broader security services sought to use nationalism to prop up the state, while certain U.S. actors sought to exploit the Russian far right to bring the Soviets down.
This visionary work, brought together in a manuscript called Red Swastika and shared with me by the author shortly before his death, would have proven one of the earliest descriptions of a movement that produced arguably the most influential ideologue of the far right today, Aleksandr Dugin. Yet Coogan never published it. He described it to me in an email as “a historical curiosity written on a broken-down typewriter.”
“Kevin was one of the finest parapolitical researchers in the world, and certainly one of the world’s leading experts on extremist ideologies of various kinds and underground extremist groups,” his long-time friend Jeffrey Bale states in a phone interview. Now a scholar of extremism at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Bale first met Coogan in his beloved New York City in the 1990s.
“He was just sort of a reclusive guy. He was just sort of like off in his own world doing his own thing, like many of us who are scholarly types,” Bale explains.
While Bale pursued his post-doctoral studies, Coogan drove a cab and filled other odd jobs. In his spare time, he wrote articles for Bale’s music magazine, Hit List, about syncretic organizations like the Workers World Party.
Using a biography of obscure post-war fascist leader Francis Parker Yockey to further develop earlier research, Coogan assembled a trove of information revealing how fascists critiqued modern civilization and imperialism in ways that made inroads into subcultures and dissident political movements.
The resulting book, Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Post-War Fascist International, did not gain widespread acceptance among scholars and activists at first.
“I think he was always a little bit disappointed that [Dreamer of the Day] didn’t receive as much attention as it should have done at the time,” reflects Fowlie over Skype. “It was an incredibly prescient book.”
Today, Coogan’s work could not be more vital for researchers of the complex global networks that foster the development of fundamentalist, third positionist, and radical-right political movements.
During the 2000s, Coogan worked on and then abandoned another book—this time about Marx’s racist tendencies. His brilliance shone through at the same time in succinct scholarly articles, like an important 2004 article on the emergence of conspiracy theories as the backdrop for the modern Patriot movement.
A text through Routledge about Polish spy Michal Goleniewski entitled The Spy Who Would be Tsar: The Mystery of Michal Goleniewski and the American Far Right Underground is forthcoming. “It’s a bit like the Yockey book in that it uses a biography to be a bit like a who-dunnit, and it goes off in all these different directions,” says Fowlie.
A proper bibliography of Coogan’s works can now be found at the Beyond the Fringes blog. His kindness and intellect indicate that his forthcoming texts will be vital for future scholarship.
Mr Alexander Reid Ross is a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right and a PhD candidate in Portland State University’s Earth, Environment, Society program. See his profile here.
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