Into the Psyche of Eustace Mullins

The most incriminating book in my personal library is the only authorized biography of the poet Ezra Pound, inscribed to "my friend Graeme Wood" by its author, Eustace Mullins, whose work Glenn Beck cited yesterday on his show. Mullins was an open purveyor of blood libel: he claimed that Jews kidnap Christian children, ritually puncture their veins, and drink their blood as a restorative for their own degenerate bodies. During Pound's involuntary commitment in St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington in the Fifties, Mullins visited him frequently, and under his direction, Mullins authored foundational texts in Federal Reserve conspiracy theory. Those theories have proved impressively durable. In addition to Glenn Beck's citation yesterday, Pat Robertson's books peddled variations on them in the 1980s, and elements of the Tea Party echo them now. (Short version: the Federal Reserve controls the world, and the UN is taking over the US via the New World Order.)

Mullins died in February at 86, and when I visited him in Staunton, Virginia, six years ago on assignment for The Jewish Daily Forward, he was already slowed by age, living in a creepy, dark rat-trap filled with religious icons, votive candles, and old newspapers. The wallpaper curled down off the wall in two-foot sections, and the chairs coughed up decades' worth of dust when we sat down. He surprised me by snatching the Pound biography from my hands and inscribing it. The moment reminded me of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Doctor Jones accidentally gets Hitler's autograph in his notebook.

I had read almost everything Pound ever wrote, and much of Mullins's own writing. By visiting him I hoped to discover exactly how crazy Pound was during his time in the mental hospital. Pound had broadcast propaganda for Mussolini during the war, and some said he was feigning madness to avoid execution for treason. During his supposed madness he wrote some of the poetry for which he is best known. By meeting Mullins, I also wanted to learn something about how anti-Semites thought, and what allowed them (unlike people with most other mental pathologies) to be so unhinged about Jews while also being clever and insightful about other things, like modernist poetry.

On the first question, Mullins assured me that Pound was sane, and that he was a political prisoner who knew too much. I asked him to give an example of how Pound demonstrated his sanity. Mullins said that during one of his visits to Pound, an orderly came to Pound to say a man had showed up and wanted to meet him. Pound asked what the man's name was. The orderly said "Abrahamsen," a Norwegian patronymic. Pound told the orderly to tell the man to go away, Mullins said, and then snickered to Mullins that no Jew was getting near him today. That Mullins took this weird exchange as evidence of Pound's sanity demonstrates pretty vividly that both men were completely bananas.

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Graeme Wood is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His personal site is gcaw.net.

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