By Omkar Ratnaparkhi
On Tuesday March 30th, George Gordon Battle Liddy passed away at the age of 90. Liddy is most well known for masterminding the Watergate hotel break-in and the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s (the man who leaked the Vietnam Papers) psychiatrist’s office. A lesser known fact about Liddy is that he is both an alum of Fordham College Rose Hill and Fordham Law School. Liddy was also a member of a Fordham club I am currently part of–Pershing Rifles Company D-8. Other notable alumni of Company D-8 include: Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Jack Keane (FCRH ‘66), and other alumni who have served honorably in the military and federal government.
Born on November 30, 1930 to parents of Irish and Italian descent, Liddy was named after George Gordon Battle, a leader in the Tammany Hall political machine. Liddy graduated from Fordham University in 1952 and, like most Pershing Rifles alumni, served in the US Army upon graduation. Although the Korean War was taking place, Liddy served as an artillery officer in an anti-aircraft unit in Brooklyn due to medical reasons. After finishing two years of service in the Army, Liddy attended Fordham University School of Law and was a member of the Fordham Law Review. Upon graduation, Liddy joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a special agent.
At the FBI, Liddy displayed some of the initial signs of his future role in the Nixon Administration. Other FBI agents viewed him as cavalier and even reckless as a field agent. Despite his fellow agents viewing him as reckless, Liddy was an effective special agent and even apprehended Ernest Tait — a man who is one of only two people to be on the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitive list twice during their lifetime. Rising quickly through the ranks of the FBI, Liddy became the youngest Bureau Supervisor in FBI Headquarters Washington, D.C. at just 29 years old.
In 1962, Liddy left the FBI in order to work in private law and then became a prosecutor. After working as a prosecutor, Liddy took a stab at politics and ran as Republican for district attorney as well as Congress. Unfortunately, none of these campaigns were successful. Each campaign featured Liddy as a tough on crime persona with slogans such as, “Gordon Liddy doesn’t bail them out; he puts them in.” After being a county organizer for the successful 1968 Presidential Campaign of Richard Nixon, Liddy received the opportunity to join the Nixon Administration in various law enforcement positions.
Despite leading a life of public service and having a tough on crime persona, Liddy would go on to commit crimes that would implicate President Nixon into having to resign after being impeached by the House of Representatives. Liddy was part of a small group of covert operatives known as the “White House Plumbers” and he led the infamous break in of the Watergate Hotel Democratic National Committee Headquarters during President Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. The full scope of the break in is disputed even today, however, it was clear that the burglars took photos of confidential documents and placed wiretaps. After the botched coverup, Liddy was arrested and eventually convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. His sentence was commuted by Democratic President Jimmy Carter to just 8 years in 1977 in order to maintain fairness, due to the fact that the other conspirators were given lesser sentences.
After prison, G. Gordon Liddy wrote multiple books based on his time in public service and his account of the Watergate scandal. His books garnered great popularity, and he is revered by many conservatives and supporters of President Nixon. Some journalists have even described him as relishing in his own notoriety. When asked by the Los Angeles Times why he never testified during the Watergate hearings or his own trial, Liddy responded, “My father didn’t raise a snitch or a rat.” In 1980, Liddy was promoting his autobiography on the NPR Fresh Air show, and stated that he was a very fearful child growing up and he decided to emulate the traditions of Native Americans and Zulus who according to Liddy would “consume the heart, the brains and the genitalia” of their enemies. In order to overcome his childhood fear of rats, he claimed on the broadcast, “I cooked and consumed part of the rat. And thereafter, I had no fear of rats.” Later in life, Liddy transitioned to various villain roles in TV such as William Maynard in Miami Vice.
G. Gordon Liddy’s life shows that Fordham alumni can and will continue to shape the world around us. His life also serves as a warning for those of us who are interested in public service. Putting one person’s interests (loyalty to President Nixon) over the democratic process is a dangerous trap, and loyalty is an important character trait, but is no substitute for integrity and faithfulness to the rule of law.