Beware the leaders of plumbers. Okay, I don't really mean that. This is why generalizing is bad, because certainly there was only one plumber who helped people break into the Democratic National Headquarters offices in the Watergate facility. And really, they were just using "plumber" as a metaphor. None of these guys knew how to fix or lay pipe.
So I'm talking about G. Gordon Liddy, the main plumber behind the Watergate break-in. The Gate that begat all the other gates to follow, except Bill.
While one of the foci in the Watergate case was G. Gordon Liddy, head "plumber," I'll just note here that Watergate was not this crew's first break-in to find dirt or information on their political opponents. But Liddy orchestrated the burglary—apparently from across the street—and masterminded how Nixon's secret plumbers would plant listening devices and wiretaps. With the Patriot Act a full 30 years away, maybe he was just ahead of his time.
Watergate was one thing; the cover-up happened next, and the revelation of the cover-up is all very public history (in case you haven't watched it, check out All the President's Men sometime, with two terrific performances by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford). G. Gordon Liddy was sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $40,000 fine, which in 1970s dollars was quite a bit of change. It wasn't long after that President Carter commuted his sentence; Liddy was released after serving 4 and a half years.
The Watergate break-in came after other Plumbers activities, namely, inventing conspiracy theories about how the Democratic Party was ruining America. So while Liddy may have been ordered to partake of his role in Watergate, which is in itself rather problematic, it seems at least to some people that there were good reasons to think he'd be happy to take charge of it.
Since his release in 1977, Liddy hasn't exactly slowed down. In 1980 he wrote an autobiography, Will, which was later made into a TV movie, and which includes, among other things:
- His admiration for Adolf Hitler, which he later recanted
- His serious consideration of killing a journalist he and Nixon didn't like
- His rationale for breaking into Democratic Headquarters
- Growing up in a very strict German Catholic household
He has not stayed away from controversy, saying on his radio show in 1994 that if Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents come into a person's house, the owners should "shoot for the head," not the bullet-proof flakjackets.
"Head shots, head shots ... Kill the sons of bitches ... Shoot twice to the belly and if [that] does not work, shoot to the groin area. Arm yourself. Get instructed in how to shoot straight. And don't register [your weapons] either." His caller replied, "And I'm aiming between their eyes." Liddy replied, "There you go. That way their flak jackets
won't protect them."
That Liddy would deliver an anti-Government message, saying that Federal staff are out to get good American citizens, is at the very least, mind-numblingly ironic, and certainly more than a truckload disingenuous. He later tried to contextualize this statment, saying that he was only talking about ATF agents who tried to raid the wrong houses, because that "happens all the time."
In 2002 Liddy was a named defendent in another trial—this time around it was for slander. Ida Wells, a former secretary of the DNC, charged that Liddy slandered her in 1996 and 1997 with his "alternative" theories, which he provided on his radio show, of the Watergate break-in. Three trials were needed after a judge threw out Wells' first case, and the second came back with a hung jury. Eventually, Liddy prevailed, hailing his First Amendment rights.
Liddy's views on other issues, such as Vietnam and President Obama's citizenship are also extreme; Liddy was among the vocal tide of "birthers" during and after the 2008 gubernatorial election. Like Oliver North, Liddy has made a media career out of his scandalized history, and his anti-government sentiments belie his education and FBI training, but none of that seems to choke his success. He has appeared in several films, has penned two novels, and even was a contestant on Fear Factor. His radio show on Air America and his contributions to Fox News keep Liddy relevant to the neoconservative and Tea Party movements. That's a long way from staring at a DC hotel through binoculars.