‘American Made’: Leftist Conspiracy Cinema

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.


About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

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9 responses to “‘American Made’: Leftist Conspiracy Cinema”

  1. Except it bombed. Just like the NFL, Hollywood is going to learn that alienating half your audience is a lousy business model.

  2. No mention of Bill Clinton? Although there were a lot of small planes packed with drugs landing at small Arkansas airports, and at the time Clinton did have a real problem with cocaine addiction. Some say Clinton was making quite a bit of money on his cut for allowing those airports to be used by the cartel. I’m betting they’re right!

  3. Barry Seal makes an appearance in the Netflix series “Narcos” as a pilot cocaine smuggler for Escobar’s Medellin cocaine cartel–introduced as a former CIA asset. Though he gets jammed up by US DEA because he was making refueling stops in Cuba. The veracity of these stories is difficult to ascertain as the presentation is qualified with the disclaimer that some aspects of the account are a fictionalized dramatization of historic events. I guess that’s called creative license–an agenda regarding the truth.

  4. I’ve not seen the movie yet but plan to, in part because one of Seal’s airplanes was a Piper Navajo I use to fly. As for the article, I’m not so sure I’d go along with it. For one thing, there is no doubt that Seal was recruited by the DEA and the CIA used him to gather evidence that the Sandinistas were involved in the drug trade. There is something else – Barry Seal was but one of a number of drug-smuggling operations carried out by former military personnel who all claimed they were “good guys” working for the CIA. Whether they were or not is unclear. Since I’ve not seen the movie, I don’t know if there is any allusion to the Clintons but it’s a fact that Seal was smuggling drugs into Mena. The question is who was distributing them. As for Mena being a base for CIA training operations, I don’t know because my personal experiences with Mena came later. There is quite a bit about Seal in British journalist Ambrose Pritchard-Evan’s The Secret Life of Bill Clinton. As for Clinton’s cocaine addiction, that’s not the story – the story is that the Clinton was being paid off.

  5. This article is complete BS. shame that this article is just propaganda vs thoughtful writing I usually find on AG.

    Barry Seal was used by Clinton to run the strip out of AK…as Sam has mentioned below. A lot of arkensides took place because of Mena-clinton connections.

    This is a good overview and includes a lot of reference materials. http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/RANCHO/POLITICS/MENA/mena.php

    This is not a left vs right story but deep state vs America story.