Dec 16, 2013

Wisconsin Native, Peace Activist Tom Laughlin Dies at 82

Update: NYT: Tom Laughlin, 82, Star of ‘Billy Jack’ Movie Series, Dies

No cause for grief or sorrow.

Work for peace and justice, as Laughlin until his death.

In an interview by phone in 2005 Laughlin recalled to me old high school football games in Milwaukee (Milwaukee's Washington High School) during which he often got into fights during games after the opposing teams' players called his teammates, "niggers," a common occurrence in Milwaukee at the time. Laughlin never did like racists, in real life and in film.

Reprinted below is a 2005 piece, during the depths of the Iraq Invasion.

By Jackie Captain and Michael Leon

In 1951 an intense young man named Tom Laughlin was a brilliant student-athlete at UW-Madison after UW coaches talked the Milwaukee native into transferring from Indiana to play football for the Badgers the night before the Indiana-Wisconsin game in Bloomington.

Twenty years later Laughlin made cinematic history producing and starring in the anti-racism, peace film Billy Jack that for decades was the most successful independent film ever produced.

The iconic Billy Jack title character played by Laughlin became a model for the martial-arts Norris-Stallone-Seagal portrayals of the solitary hero inclined to kick the crap out of all manner of bigoted, war-mongering, corporate bad guys.

Now, as the American peace movement is criticized as for its lack of vibrancy, Laughlin is producing a sequel to Billy Jack while simultaneously launching a nationwide campaign with the express purpose of alerting the nation to the dangers the Bush administration poses to the republic and halting the war in Iraq.

Before you smile inside and think “Yea, good luck,” know that the man and his people are deadly serious, and that from a marketing perspective, Laughlin is considered a pioneering whiz whose innovations in marketing the Billy Jack series have been adopted as routine by an initially-skeptical Hollywood.

“Laughlin has broken box office records on long shots. The conditions are perfect for Laughlin’s Iraq campaign. Bush politically is as weak as he ever has been. Delay and Rove are scandals waiting to explode. The majority of Americans for the first time realize they have been lied to, and even congressional Republicans are beginning to see Iraq as a political liability,” said Michael Victor, an activist hosting a meet-up of investors in the Billy Jack sequel in Madison on July 22, 23. “Laughlin can capture imaginations in a way that few artists can. And the brand value of Billy Jack is gold worldwide. The movie is a slam dunk; ending the war, no kidding, is fifty/fifty.”

The focus of a fawning June 20 New York Times 1,162-word feature by Sharon Waxman, Laughlin - reached by phone for two one-hour interviews from his California home outside of Los Angeles on July 4th weekend - sounds like one-third filmmaker, one-third peace activist, and one-third, controlled-but-very-angry citizen resembling in some ways his Billy Jack character of the 1970s.

“Let me be real clear. We are out now fighting for America. This is a war, what’s going on in this country is terrifying beyond terrifying. We are going to take this country back,” said Laughlin, emphasizing every syllable and sounding with his crisp diction like a beefy Carl Sagan.

The still-handsome 73-year-old writer activist defied industry experts 34 years ago and demolished every production and creative obstacle to his stunning cinematic success, and has dedicated his work to peace as he and his wife Delores Taylor are taking a final grand swing for the fences.

Ending the Iraq War

Laughlin and his organization plan to demonstrate conclusively to mainstream America that Bush lied America into war, launch a full-fledged, intricate campaign to end the war and hold Bush accountable for what he asserts are Bush’s lies.

Following the campaign he will release the film, and is now raising $12 million through his website and, where details on his peace plan can also be found.

“What we are doing is we are starting this national crusade end the war in Iraq and to bring the troops home by Christmas. To prove to the American people that it is incredibly doable, that it’s not silly, that it’s not wild-eyed. The bottom line we are doing a five-step national event program, taking full-page ads, TV spots, sending out DVDs, proving beyond any question that this war was to occupy Iraq as an oil colony,” said Laughlin.

Laughlin’ peace plan:

  • Demonstrate that Bush invaded Iraq to establish an oil colony through publishing six full page national ads of meticulously-researched facts, and an aggressive media campaign.
  • Hold a 10-million, 100-city End the War rally on Patriots Day, 9/1Hold a nationally-televised People’s Hearing on the war 
  • Consolidate the internet peace movementAnd expand outreach through the worldwide, simultaneous release of the movie “Billy’s Jack’s Crusade to the End the War and Restore America to Its Moral Purpose” 
Laughlin is preaching to the choir worldwide and the majority of Americans nationally; and his ambition is that come Christmas, public opinion will overwhelm an already-weak presidency, forcing Bush to succumb to domestic and worldwide demands.

Child Activist Becomes Intellectual and Filmmaker

Since junior-high school when he became best friends with the only black kid in school in what remains the most segregated city in America - a racist-infected Milwaukee - Laughlin has taken on the odds and befriended the underdog in what he sees as the American way.

“For me, this is not a matter of working for peace and justice as if peace and justice were some sort of a separate arena. Peace is nothing more than respecting the rights of others,” said Laughlin who identifies himself closely with what he sees as America’s revolutionary and spiritual origins. ‘Peace is nothing more than what makes the true American. The ultimate test of what makes a true American is not freedom of speech, other countries have that. It is my determination, ‘though I detest what you say,’ as Patrick Henry said, ‘I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ Peace is the necessary dialogue that must take place with criticism and dissent in a peaceful, respectful way.”

Laughlin says that George W. Bush/Karl Rove - aligned with what he views as rapacious corporate interests and the religious right – attack dissent and criticism in a manner that comprises a threat to America more calamitous than even McCarthyism and Richard Nixon.

“I lived through McCarthy; I was at Madison during that time. But this is the worst, this is truly frightening,” said Laughlin. “We’re out now desperately trying put this together. Raising money for the film, raising money for the campaign. McCarthy was nothing compared to Bush and Rove. We’re out of time. We need patriots to act now to save this country.”

Laughlin’s sense of urgency is obvious in his voice especially when the self-taught Jungian scholar talks about George Bush personally. He sees the American president as suffering from a personality disorder stemming from inadequacy and believes Bush to be a genuinely delusional person, isolated in the presidential cocoon.

“Bush is really a paranoid personality. He has the most dangerous inferiority complex. He is a guy who is desperate to be king, but there is nothing royal in him. The ‘mother complex’ in Bush is frightening. Everything he is doing is he is trying to prove he is a man. To him, really and truly, he is so delusional that he thinks war is a video game, and he’s John Wayne. And worse is the evil Karl Rove behind Bush,“ said Laughlin.

Laughlin brands the Bush administration as anti-American politics incarnate, eroding the right to dissent in America, and the right of Americans to fulfill themselves in an era where smearing gays and peace activists is the predominant mode of communication in the Republican Party.

“I think America is the only truly liberated society on earth. By liberated, I mean you are able to develop your capacity to the fullest without interference. It is the only country in the world that was formed specifically for a moral purpose, that every person had this right. That has been taken away by a thousand forms of corruption, all that have gotten much worse under Bush. We have no time left,” said Laughlin.

As a young man, athletics came to bore Laughlin [Laughlin calls himself a “tramp athlete” back then] and so did school, and he went into filmmaking, bringing with him his commitment to protecting the rights of others honed since grade school.

Now, Laughlin speaks of his country as one of his earliest inspirations.

Jefferson Memorial
“Way back in my 20s, I had made my first film and I was in Washington showing it. I went over to the Jefferson Memorial, and I went into that monument about midnight, no one was there. I read on the top of that monument: ‘I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man’. That was like Paul on the way to the Damascus. I was struck dumb. I stayed there for at least three hours. I wept. I read all of the stuff and just said ‘Who is this guy? Who is this guy? He is America,’” said Laughlin.

Those wishing to contribute to the film and the peace campaign can visit the and websites for more information.

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