The great Tom Cruise (“Top Gun”) has his name above the title of “American Made,” which hit theaters on Friday. Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on Communists in Central America. As one online summary has it, Seal “soon finds himself in charge of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States. The operation spawns the birth of the Medellin cartel and almost brings down the Reagan White House.”
Director Doug Liman, who teamed with Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow,” has another interesting connection. He is the son of Arthur Liman, lead attorney for the U.S. Senate’s Iran-Contra investigation. As they say in entertainment and politics, it’s all relative. On the other hand, the real star of “American Made” is embedded in the story.
In this tale, the cocaine trade is a creation of the United States, which used the proceeds to fight Communism. That was the contention of the Christic Institute, a “nonprofit, interfaith center for law and national policy in the public interest” that launched in the early 1980s.
As the Christics had it, U.S. policy from the late 1950s was a massive anti-Communist plot, funded by profits from drug dealing. President Daniel Sheehan and executive director Sara Nelson believed Marxist dictatorships liberate oppressed people and establish social justice. So the Christics helped Nicaragua’s Sandinista junta by attacking the “Contras,” whom they called Nazis and fascists.
The Christics’ prime target was U.S. Army General John Singlaub, who actually fought Nazis in World War II and helped supply the French Resistance. A decorated hero of three wars, Singlaub found himself under attack in U.S. courts.
In May 1986, Sheehan filed a RICO lawsuit charging that a “secret team” of former military and CIA officers were running U.S. foreign policy. The same omnipresent secret team, the Christics charged, was financing the Contras by trafficking in cocaine.
Sheehan quickly became a national figure courted by liberal Democrats, such as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). The Christics boasted offices in Washington, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, and North Carolina. Their lawsuit and conspiracy theory both played well in Hollywood.
Sheehan got face time with Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, Martin Sheen, Darryl Hannah, Jane Fonda, and others, who helped him stuff his war chest with an estimated $3 million—much of it raised at a $100-a-plate fundraisers and benefit concerts with Kris Kristofferson, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, and Jackson Browne. The Christic conspiracy also provided stories for episodes of “Miami Vice” and “Wiseguy.”
Taxpayer-funded Pacifica radio stations broadcast a weekly Christic report. Former presidential aide Bill Moyers championed the Christic cause in “The Secret Government,” a PBS special later turned into a book the Christics peddled for $9.95 in their “Tools for Truth” catalog.
On the other hand, the Christics deployed fabricated testimony and deceptive affidavits. On June 23, 1988, U.S. District Court Judge James King dismissed the Christics’ lawsuit and all charges. The Institute soon found itself under fire, even on the Left.
The Boston Globe blasted the Institute as a “far-left, celebrity-fueled conspiracy boutique” and The Nation and Mother Jones saw fit to unload on Sheehan. Likewise, a congressional subcommittee headed by John Kerry concluded there was no evidence the CIA participated in the cocaine trade.
On January 13, 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Christic Institute had to pay more than $1 million in compensation to the victims of its bogus lawsuit. That pretty much took down the Christics, but their conspiracy theory lives on. It was the basis for Gary Webb’s 1996 discredited “Dark Alliance” series in the San Jose Mercury News, which charged that the CIA was behind the flow of crack cocaine into America’s inner cities. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was Webb’s biggest fan and even wrote a foreword to the book version.
Meanwhile, the Christic Institute was reborn in the Santa Cruz-based Romero Institute, headed by Sheehan and Nelson and touting “justice by sacred means.” As the new Institute explains, “The Christic Institute inspired all of us with their dedication and unrelenting pursuit for (sic) the truth.”
Daniel Sheehan even teaches classes at UC Santa Cruz, including “The Trajectory of Justice” and “Alternative Theories of the JFK Assassination.” UC Santa Cruz is the same school that hired Angela Davis, who in 1980 and 1984 ran for vice-president on the Communist Party ticket with white Stalinist Gus Hall. To paraphrase Louise in “Being There,” in America all you have to be is a Leftist to get anything you want.
Now comes “American Made,” starring Tom Cruise and the Christics’ totally discredited story. With assets like that, the film is certain to bag many awards.