Review by Thomas J. Breidenbach, Brooklyn, New York
"Deep politics" is scholar Peter Dale Scott's term for historical machinations such as drug-running and assassinations which form covert if systemic features of the contemporary state and which are all-too naively dismissed as "conspiracy theories." A number of people who study such matters seriously have long suspected that the scandal centering on Omaha, Nebraska's Franklin Credit Union in the 1970s and '80s forms the conceptual linchpin to a truly critical understanding of the perverse, brutal and predatory nature of power in late-imperial America. Having read former Nebraska State Senator John DeCamp's brave if somewhat desultory 1992 book on the subject, THE FRANKLIN COVER-UP, and watched the unaired British television documentary CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE on the internet, we have also sensed, with a certain despair, that the nature and details of this scandal were so shocking, ugly, confusing and strange as to forever defy broader public credulity and scrutiny. It is with a profound sense of relief, admiration and gratitude, then, that one reads Nick Bryant's THE FRANKLIN SCANDAL, which accomplishes the seemingly impossible: an eminently gripping, thorough and accessible account of perhaps the grimmest aspect of contemporary U. S. history.
It is amusing to see the sole negative reviewer on these pages (as of this writing) suggest that Bryant has gullibly relied only on the apparent victims of the scandal, when in fact the author has taken pains to bolster accusations voiced in his book with the testimony of law-enforcement, governmental, mental health, legal and social-service officials, as well as journalists and others whose professions and/or personal relationships brought them into the orbit of this lurid story.
Anything but the ramblings of a susceptible naïf, Bryant's book appears as a model of journalistic integrity and a triumph of the investigative craft. Relying on official court and law enforcement documents and an extensive array of interviews with those involved in a variety of aspects of the scandal, it conveys a massive amount of carefully corroborated and meticulously researched data while maintaining all the tension and drama of the very best true-crime narratives. Bryant's own natural skepticism allows him to ultimately ground what appear to be Franklin's most far-fetched elements--Satanism, mind control, and the trafficking of children among our nation's elite for the purpose of sex--in an historical context that casts these admittedly outlandish phenomena in an intelligible and empirical light. Bryant's treatment of these subjects is deft, and his light touch and firm command of the overall material combine to a disarming effect that is sure to challenge all but the most recalcitrant of doubters.
While it provides well over a hundred pages of documentation in support of its disturbing thesis that there appears to be validity to the wrenching accusations of gravely scurrilous behavior on the part of an elite element in our society, among the other merits of Bryant's book is that it dispels certain myths that have accrued about Franklin over the years, even as it deepens our understanding of little-appreciated aspects of the story, such as Alicia Owen's protracted legal nightmare. The author's treatment of the scandal is highly comprehensive, but also circumspect; aficionados will want to consult DeCamp's THE FRANKLIN COVER-UP to fill in the names of certain apparent perpetrators, a few of whose identities Bryant--unable to finally track down every source he pursued over the several years he has worked on this story--only alludes to. (As the skeptical reader will no doubt appreciate, Bryant does not overstep his bounds, though given the vast amount of information he has collected, he hardly needs to.) There are certain other details found in DeCamp's book, pertaining, for example, to the exact nature of the extreme abuse apparently suffered by certain victims, which Bryant does not reiterate; given the acute nature of these violations, Bryant's overall eschewal of the sensational, and his palpable concern and respect for the victims' dignity, this elision appears understandable, especially as these horrific accounts have found a life of their own on the Web. This said, the author's description of the abuse conveys its iniquity, and there is much in this book that will be new to readers of DeCamp, who as an attorney close to the case lacks Bryant's journalistic precision, clarity, sense of narrative structure, and critical distance. This is not said to detract from DeCamp's compelling book, but to point out that Bryant brings a great deal that is new to this important story.
In all, this is an enraging book, and toward its conclusion the reader reels in disgust at its main point: the subsequent abuse suffered by victims when they were subjected to the federal and state legal systems during the cover-up phase of the scandal. What this suggests about the state of our public institutions is one of the most disturbing aspects of this book. Still, aside from a cast of shameless villains there are heroes and heroines who emerge in the story, whose efforts in the face of obdurate corruption, selfishness and cruelty are--though it might seem a trite word in this context--inspiring. That these examples of human fortitude and decency finally have the chronicler in Mr. Bryant that they deserve is enough to reaffirm the faith in our species that this book otherwise shakes to its core.
Bryant's account of the Franklin scandal joins David Ray Griffin's extensive analyses of 9/11 and James Bamford's exposures of military-industrial and intelligence agency malfeasance as one of the most important historical documents of our time. In its own way, given the extremities of the depravity it confronts THE FRANKLIN SCANDAL is, if possible, even bolder than those valiant efforts. It is most highly recommended to anyone willing to face vicious realities that too many others remain too complacent, timorous or arrogant to acknowledge. It is must-reading for those seeking to comprehend the madness of our cultural moment, and who yearn for an example of a meaningful and courageous response to it.