A Friend of Sam Francis, The Occidental Quarterly, Summer 2005
The following text is from an address by the author that was presented at a memorial program on March 15, 2005, in Arlington, Virginia.
Good evening. Thank you for the opportunity to speak about our friend Dr. Samuel T. Francis.
Sam’s tangible achievements were many — the degrees earned, awards won, speeches given, books, essays, and columns written, and the largely untold story of the many people he helped. However, tonight I will speak not so much about Sam the accomplished thinker, writer, and political leader, but rather about Sam my true, gifted, and most rarified friend.
About this time twenty-eight years ago, a colleague had complimentary tickets to one of those conservative appreciation dinners in Washington. As a young Senate staffer, I jumped at the chance to go. Jimmy Carter had been sworn in as president, and we movement conservatives — that’s what we were called back then — were digging in, as it were, to promote our principles in the face of a White House and Congress dominated by the left. I remember those good old days — we were the hard-core conservatives, the early-day paleo-cons. Our situation back then brings to mind Shakespeare’s words, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”
Leaving the dinner, my colleague spotted an old buddy from the North Carolina Conservative Society and hailed him over. He was Sam Francis. Afterwards my colleague remarked that Sam was a mere shadow of his former self — “He must have lost about a hundred pounds!” Sam was actually slender. This was 1977.
About a week later, Sam called and invited me to lunch. We hit it off and then some. We’d read a few of the same books and had similar interests. Fellow Southerners, we both had forebears who suffered the late unpleasantness a scant hundred years before — so there were no illusions about big government beneficence! We had both been in Washington a matter of weeks.
As time passed, we found ourselves meeting for lunch two or more times a week, sometimes in the Senate cafeteria, sometimes at a Capitol Hill watering hole called The Man in the Green Hat. Patrons were packed like sardines in that place — there was no privacy — so Sam and I began taking walks around the block after lunch, swapping stories and expounding on our politically incorrect ideas. It was on those walks, in the 1970s, that we tumbled to the realization that the Washington “leadership” of the conservative movement was woefully out of sync with its grassroots supporters in the heartland. We wondered why.
Sometimes we would talk ourselves around the block two or three times until one of us would say, “Don’t we have jobs somewhere?” Then he would walk one way, back to the Heritage Foundation, and I in the other direction, to that bloated bastion of imperial democracy, the United States Senate.
Sam was at his best during the regular beer bashes I used to throw at my bachelor pad. As they wound down, after midnight, the ten or fifteen lingering diehards would gather round and Sam would hold forth, dropping droll Francis witticisms left and right. Yet, however unsparing his banter in those days, it was not unkind — he had such a way with words. Usually the conversation continued into the very wee hours, and we’d go out to breakfast at Bob and Edith’s or that old truck stop-type restaurant on Route 1 near Crystal City — which, sadly, is now an Afghan restaurant.
One day at our usual after-work haunt, I was a bit down in the mouth. I’d been invited out to California, and needed an extra $500 that I didn’t have just then, to make the trip. I had never been to California. Sam, out of the blue, spoke up: “I’ll lend you the money. I have the $500, you need it, end of story.” I was amazed. And if you knew what a fastidiously frugal fellow he was, you’d be too! But that is how I got to California the first time — courtesy of Sam. Though he was my de facto banker, he would accept no perks beyond repayment. In fact, he allowed me to spring for lunch only once — to celebrate his newly conferred Ph.D. Then we discovered Jerry Woodruff, now editor of Middle American News, to which you all should subscribe. Sam, Jerry, and I were like three peas in a pod — we’d pile in the car and head out to a party, movie, used bookstore, or some bargain-basement eatery. Ladies would be present on occasion, necessitating two or even three cars between us. Of course, back then we weren’t paying the price of empire at the gas pumps.
From time to time we would visit a firing range. A good Southerner, Sam was at ease with arms. He was a very good shot. I asked how he became so. He replied, “When you aim, think of the enemies of our civilization.”
Soon enough, 1980 rolled around, and Sam’s old friend Dr. John East, also of the North Carolina Conservative Society, was elected to the Senate by the skin of his teeth. Sam and his friend the Senator-elect talked, and he came aboard the Senator’s staff.
Sam hosted many a consultation in his office at the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. “Dr. Sam,” as we used to call him, dispensed everything from personal anecdotes to advice on terrorism, conservatism, and how to find a job in the Reagan administration. The early Reagan days were full of hope. Conservative Republicans led the Senate, and Southern “boll-weevils” gave the good guys a working majority in the House. We actually thought we could turn things around. But it was not to be. Some of our former conservative stalwarts morphed into political hacks. Cutting government was fine until they became part of government. Position trumped principle.
At the same time, a new breed of Republican mysteriously appeared on the Reagan ranch. Big government conservatives, today known as neoconservatives — the Trotskyite right (some of their leaders were former Trotskyites) — materialized in our midst. They had money behind them, and an agenda totally foreign to defenders of the Old Republic. Our early feelings of cautious euphoria gave way to grim determination.
We really learned who was boss after Sam introduced me to his friend Dr. Mel Bradford, a Southern gentleman if there ever was one. Mel’s name was twice put forth for presidential appointments, both times swamped by a tsunami of neoconservative smear. To the best of my knowledge, that was Sam’s first head-on encounter with the Trotskyite right, a lesson he never forgot.
But we still had our fun. One day in the Senate, when Sam was at the top of his game, fortune foisted upon him a delegation of angry liberal women. They were “activists.” They were hostile. They were in enemy territory and they knew it. Sam graciously heard them out, but that was not enough. The ostensible leader of the group, a large African-American woman, rose and loudly demanded that Senator East endorse their petition for sanctions against South Africa. Sam, thoughtfully, looked up, wadded up their petition, threw it in the wastebasket, and calmly told them to “Get the hell out of my office.” That was his first fifteen minutes of fame. The switchboard lit up with press calls and demands to“Fire Dr. Francis!” However, nothing came of it save a deluge of congratulatory phone calls from his fans — those were the days before email.
Afterwards, Sam told me that one rather “harsh-looking” woman in the bunch “just glared at me — glared — like some kind of wild beast!” Of course I don’t know what else he expected of them after he trashed their petition that way.
There were sad times as well. Early one Sunday morning in 1985, Sam called to tell me that Senator East, who suffered mightily, had committed suicide. Two days before, Sam had finished helping the Senator with his forthcoming book. The death of Senator East began a new chapter in Sam’s life. He was pursuing an opportunity at the National War College when the Washington Times called. The Times was a relatively new outfit then, an upstart newspaper actively seeking conservative talent. How times have changed at the Times!
It didn’t take long for Sam to settle in and begin serving up the paper’s finest fare. My best memory from the Times days was when he called me — happy as a clam — to say he had won the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing. He went on to win it two years in a row!
The pen of Sam did not gladly suffer fools. He wrote about the Beltway conservative leadership marshaling their following in a phone booth, such was their clout. He lampooned the GOP as The Stupid Party. He coined the term “anarcho-tyranny.” He challenged “open borders” immigration. The Trotskyite right was doing a slow burn.
When warned that his writing might get him into trouble, Sam recalled that we were descended from the likes of those who camped with Washington at Valley Forge, manned the barricades at the Alamo, and stood with Stonewall Jackson. “What is writing a newspaper column compared to that?” he thundered. “What are they going to do, shoot me, burn my home?” (Of course this was spoken years before Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the so-called “Patriot Act.”) You see, Sam’s forebears did not help conquer a continent to have descendants that would snivel and cower in the face of such threats. He just wasn’t born that way. Sam made many friends while at the Times. Gordon Liddy read his columns on the radio, and Pat Buchanan courageously gave voice to some of Sam’s ideas while rocking the Republican establishment to the core.
I remember Sam’s calls the day he was “demoted” at the Times (can you imagine Sam, demoted, at anything?) and later when he was fired. He was fired not for anything spoken or written, but for attending a conference. While it was a rather public conference, the Washington Times had to read about it months after the fact in the Washington Post. So they fired Sam — for being Sam.
But the last laugh was on the apostles of political correctness. Sam landed on his feet and then some. While a few papers killed his column, the world-wide Web more than took up the slack. His following mushroomed. He was permanently on a roll!
Sam spoke up for Middle America. He had the temerity to believe, in this age of political correctness, that Americans should not only be free to speak, but to speak freely. He even had the impertinence to state the obvious: Most of these beleaguered Middle Americans were white folks. Why should we have to circle the wagons in our own country? He even spoke up for the ideas of those much-maligned “dead white males,” the Founding Fathers.
So many of the laughs I had with Sam were “situational” — you just had to be there. One time he invited me along to a speaking engagement up north. It turned out to be an A#1 right-wing geek-fest. Yes, there are such things. A prominent sign on one of the vending tables read “Wake Up America.” One huge fellow, about Sam’s size, was asleep on the front row. He had a face that looked like Santa Claus with a screw loose. He snored loud enough to be heard from the back of the room. “Look at THAT,” Sam snorted. “I don’t want that so-and-so snoring while I speak.
”Well, Sam began his speech, and the big fellow began to stir. By the time Sam had finished, our twisted Santa was wide-eyed awake. He lit into Sam about black helicopters and such, telegraphing to all he was a nutcase nonpareil. Sam the gentleman struggled mightily to keep a straight face as the crowd cackled with laughter. It was quite a scene. As we were leaving, Sam told me, “When these people actually get around to their ‘wake-up America’ campaign, they would do well to let that guy snooze.”
On the way back we toured Baltimore, taking in his alma mater, Johns Hopkins, and some of H. L. Mencken’s old haunts. Passing through a neighborhood that had fallen victim to “diversity” since his college days, Sam, no fan of social engineering, sarcastically remarked: “Let’s declare this place an enterprise zone — that’s what is needed to stop crime — enterprise zones! Get Jack Kemp on the line!”
Kemp has championed preferential tax treatment for “enterprise zones” as a panacea for urban blight.
Sam was a bit irate after one speech. A few folks had gathered round and offered him a great deal of free advice — on health and fitness. “What business is it of theirs if I smoke and gain weight?” he roared. “Look,” I said, “these are your people — your followers, your fans. They care about you. They want you around for the duration.” He paused — and then quietly replied, “I hadn’t really thought of it that way.” Unlike the political world’s hollow self-promoters, Sam didn’t think in egocentric terms. “Well, you should think of it that way from now on,” I preached. “Whatever you think about this bunch, you’re their leader.” He smiled, and said half under his breath: “That’s like being an admiral in the Swiss Navy.”
Sam was a native of Chattanooga, raised in the city and on beautiful Lookout Mountain. His roots go back to America’s founders. He was descended from hardy English, Scots-Irish, and Huguenot stock.
A few well-intentioned folk have expressed a post-mortem interest in Sam’s spiritual well being. I am sure he would be grateful. Some have scoured his writing, searching for traces of affinity for a particular church or theology.
It may be helpful to those people to know, however incomprehensible it may seem, that the class of people Sam was born into are taught from the time they are tots that a gentleman does not wear his religious faith on his sleeve. Talk is cheap. A gentleman lives his creed.
Sam was a son of the South, an occasional speaker at gatherings of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He had an old portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln. His middle name was Todd, after his father. There is a Todd line in his background. Some of you may know that Mary Todd’s brothers were high-ranking Confederate officers. He attended prep school at Baylor (then a military academy) in Chattanooga. He won writing awards even then.
Sam selected Johns Hopkins for undergraduate school because he wanted to be a physician. He entered college as a premed student. He worked one summer in a hospital blood lab, fomenting anxiety at home with talk of the blood samples he handled. He was intensely interested in psychiatry. That is probably why he became a writer. It may explain his interest in science fiction. It is possible that is why he came to Washington, D.C. in the first place — to observe firsthand the world’s largest working loony bin. (Talk of psychiatry reminds me of the old story, told outside the beltway, of when a Washington thug held a gun to a man’s head and demanded “Give me all your money or I’ll blow your brains out.” The man said “Let me think about it. What a choice! You don’t need any brains to live in Washington, but it sure takes money.”)
He also had a critical eye for cinema. I once recommended Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, which had been released about two decades earlier. Foul language aside, it was a fascinating social commentary. He seemed interested. Some months later Sam’s brilliant piece The Godfather As Political Metaphor appeared in Chronicles.
Another of Sam’s friends recently told us that he was such a fan of the Blair Witch Project that he drove to Burkittsville, Maryland, to see where it was filmed. His boyish curiosity never faded. Sam’s friendship has been a constant in my life for twenty-eight years. His loss is an open wound. At times he was gruff and irascible, dispatching a conversation with his trademark “Humph!,” which meant it was time to change the subject. Most times he was warm and generous. Nobody’s fair-weather friend, he stood by his compatriots, trouble or not. He helped many. As a matter of fact, our last conversation before he was stricken was about what could be done to help a friend bludgeoned out of a job by craven neoconservatives. Sometimes we would talk daily — other times weeks would pass between chats. The advent of email leavened our discourse. Aside from the hilarious online chat, it gave me the opportunity to occasionally bait him with mate-rial he hadn’t already seen.
No more will be the emails, late evening phone calls, the jokes, the reminiscing, or those dinners, too many to count, where we would invariably be booted out as the busboys closed the place around us. That part of my life, sadly, is gone.
Yet Sam’s legacy lives. His quantifiable achievements, the degrees, writings, and awards, are obvious. But the extent of his influence in the realm of ideas, on so many, may never be known. He was that rare one among us, an original thinker. He understood, as few do, the dynamics of power. The very title of his first book, Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham, was revealing. Sam was not only a student of history. He truly understood the forces that shape history.
The philosopher Arthur Schopenauer wrote, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” Sam left us during that tortured second stage of truth, the violent opposition. He understood this as he labored happily to rouse the Middle American majority from its slumber. He was doing so, winning hearts and minds one by one, sowing seeds of courage along the way. We discount his influence at our folly.
History taught him that the course of events could turn on a dime, that the specter of chaos is ever present, as is hope.
So he persevered.
We shall never forget him.