In 2009, when Nick Bryant’s book, The Franklin Scandal: A Story of Powerbrokers, Child Abuse and Betrayal came out, I immediately ordered a copy. When it arrived, more than 600 pages of it, I dove in with excited anticipation which all too quickly became a slow slog. Its complexity, its journalistic imperative, and its fastidious attention to detail—all the things that name it authentic and critically important—stopped me in my tracks. My survivor mind couldn’t cope with its objectivity, its compelling and sequential truth. My cognitive allegiance was to the survivors and the inchoate and inarticulate truth of their struggle. Bryant was writing about the legal logistics of horrendous crimes against children and the resulting cover-up. In the Franklin Scandal he details the real-time unfolding of the attempts, heroic and dogged on the parts of those who tried to bring justice to light, as well as on the parts of those doing everything possible to thwart justice and destroy survivors. It is a legal playbook that illuminates shocking miscarriages of justice and callous and conniving cover-up. But I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t track it.
I recognized this inability for what it was—a resistance to believe in organized evil. The very resistance that saved my life as a child made it very difficult for me to absorb the evil in the real world as an adult. This is a continuing challenge for me—as a survivor. I am so busy surviving what happened to me as a child that waking up to the details of what’s going on in my adult world stays strangely distant. In order to survive, we dissociate—broadly and inclusively—and it is a disservice to others, to those surviving atrocities right now, and to their advocates—people like Nick Bryant who are dedicating their lives to exposing truth and fighting for justice.
All this became painfully clear to me when I heard Nick Bryant speak at a conference in 2013. It was a brisk lesson in growing up and taking in truth beyond my own. Nick Bryant is a journalist—the old fashioned kind. The kind that spends seven years researching and writing about crimes and cover-up on a journey that is as convoluted as it is dangerous. As he spoke about the case and its ramifications, first of all I was struck by the fact that Nick Bryant is a hero. When he took on writing “The Franklin Scandal” he had no idea that his life would be threatened, people would die, his commitment to the unfolding story would ruin his livelihood, he would be marginalized within his own profession, and his life forever changed.
Bryant is tall, perhaps the word “rangy” most applies. For his conference presentation he looked collegiate in his sports coat and tie. He brought an occasionally disconcerting humor to his Franklin Scandal talk which explored the depths of criminal system injustice, criminal behavior on the parts of prominent politicians and businessmen, an organized pedophilia organization, a massive cover-up, mysterious deaths, and ultimately courage—the courage of Gary Caradori, who died in the process of investigating the Franklin scandal, and victim, Alisha Owens, who became a heroic survivor of its ordeal. During Bryant’s presentation, one thing became perfectly clear: His own courage in persisting through the years of research and seeing through the writing of The Franklin Scandal is epic.
When I got home from the conference, I immediately dove back into the book, this time with a real-life and real-time sense of Bryant’s presence and commitment. Because he was now real to me, the people he wrote about and their experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly—became real on the page. The relentless attention to detail that had been such an obstacle became compelling and at times excruciating. It was a page-turner; and I could not turn away from its truth.
As an introduction to Nick Bryant, and to his book, The Franklin Scandal, the following is an excerpt from an article about Bryant written by the highly esteemed late journalist, Charles M. Young, originally published in Counterpunch.
Still Evil After All These Years
The Franklin Scandal and Pedophilia in High Places
by Charles M. Young
I have known Nick Bryant since 1995. He was new to New York from Minnesota then, and looking to make a jump from science reporting in technical journals to writing for a mass audience. I noticed that he was persistent and ethically motivated and I thought, “He might be a good reporter.” We got to be friends, and had many long discussions about the nature of evil, which was his preferred subject matter as he tried to make a move into general circulation magazines. When he wasn’t chasing doctors at AIDS conferences, he was chasing outlaw bikers and Satanists.
On one such foray in 2002, he stumbled on a scandal that I had never heard of. The scandal centered around the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union, which was created to serve a poor black neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska. During the 70s and 80s, its manager, a man named Larry King (not the talk show host), ran the Franklin as a Ponzi scheme and looted over $40 million, which he spent on an opulent lifestyle and Republican fundraising. King sang the National Anthem at the Republican convention in 1984 and served on several committees of the National Black Republican Council. He had a townhouse in Washington, DC, where he threw parties with many prominent guests. In August 1988, he threw a $100,000 party at the Republican convention, and appeared in a video in which he and Jack Kemp urged blacks to vote for George H. W. Bush. In November 1988, his Ponzi scheme crashed and the Franklin was shut down by the National Credit Union Association and the FBI.
All run-of-the-mill scandal stuff, and uncontroversial in the basic facts, except that as King was climbing into the upper levels of the national Republican hierarchy, Omaha was boiling over with rumors that he was also running a pedophile ring, pandering children out to rich and powerful men in Omaha, even flying the children to Washington, Los Angeles and New York for orgiastic, abusive parties with even richer and more powerful men.
Continue reading at Counterpunch…
Nick Bryant Interview
JT: How did your peers respond to The Franklin Scandal?
Nick Bryant: I didn’t get a lot of help from my fellow journalists. That’s one of the things about writing The Franklin Scandal that I found to be very, very difficult. People in mainstream journalism did not want to touch this story. They didn’t want to touch it as an article and they didn’t want to touch it as a book. They would rather not believe what I wrote about in The Franklin Scandal.
JT: Have things changed since the atmosphere around abuse has changed?
Nick Bryant: When Sandusky broke I was getting a lot of radio interviews from mainstream radio stations and the sales of The Franklin Scandal spiked. But after that died down the radio interviews died down. That was unfortunate. Sandusky raised awareness of just how far institutions are willing to go to protect their power, and their prestige, and their money. By covering up child abuse. We’ve seen that also in the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. Penn State put it right in front of everybody’s face.
JT: There is a lot that goes into the suppression of information. How did you see this play out with the Franklin cover-up?
Nick Bryant: There are a lot of factors that allow a Franklin-like pedophile network to exist. Blackmail was certainly one of them. There are people in positions of power that are blackmailed. In Franklin you see state and local law enforcement covering it up in Nebraska. And when the legislative committee investigating Franklin saw a lot more evidence, state and local law enforcement weren’t powerful enough to cover it up. Ultimately it was a cover-up by the Department of Justice and the FBI. It was the Secret Service that did all the dirty work in D.C. and the FBI who did all the dirty work in Nebraska.
JT: What impact did Caradori’s plane accident have on you and your research?
Nick Bryant: I came to this story about 12 years after Gary Caradori’s death. It was devastating of course for his family. It was also devastating for those who were advocates for the victims and the people who’d worked with him for so long. There’s an old Chinese proverb: “Kill a man and silence a thousand men.” Kill a man and his child and you silence thousands. The Franklin Scandal is an extension of Gary Caradori’s work. I got a lot of my information from people who were affiliated with Gary Caradori. I also acquired the sealed grand jury documents from someone who trusted me enough to give it to me. But the moral transgressions were so egregious that I felt a moral imperative to publish. Especially because the grand jury was so corrupt.
JT: Have you felt threatened because of publishing material that was supposed to be secret?
Nick Bryant: I could be arrested any day for publishing that material. I could be put in front of a judge and asked, “Where did you get that material?” I would say that I respectfully decline to answer that and could get slapped with 18 months for contempt.
JT: How do you deal with the stress about it all?
Nick Bryant: I run. I meditate. I play softball. I’m kind of a jock at heart. I’m a pretty footloose and fancy-free guy but the Franklin scandal definitely imbued my life with a certain gravitas. I’ve written about some pretty heavy duty stuff before but nothing comes close to what I investigated in the Franklin scandal.
JT: Do you remember the moment you decided you were going to dive into this book?
Nick Bryant: I came across that U.S. Customs report about the Finders. (A 1987 case involving a group known as the “Finders” that was allegedly involved with the trafficking of children.) One thing I’ve learned is to approach my work with an open mind to documentation. With this Finders report you’ve got a weird cult doing really bad things to children. Then all of a sudden the CIA squashes the investigation and the kids are given back to the cult. If somebody had told me that, and I hadn’t seen the document, I really would have been incredulous. When I saw that document I knew something was seriously awry. It inspired me to go to Nebraska. And when I went to Nebraska I took a lot of heat, including a death threat, and that really showed me I was on the right path. I knew that something had come down in Nebraska but the Franklin scandal eclipsed everything I’d investigated previously.
JT: Did you ever come close to saying, “This is too much. I can’t go any further?”
Nick Bryant: No, I never did. Once I decided to go for it, I never came close to giving in. I always have a lot of skepticism. But once I realized it was real—and all these children had been destroyed with impunity—that was it. I decided I had to go for it. I never looked back.
JT: When did you end up with the support of a publisher?
Nick Bryant: I was represented by a very prestigious literary agent and after working on the book for four years, I gave them a book proposal. They dropped me as a client in two weeks. I found another agent. He’s a pretty gutsy guy who’s sold a lot of controversial books. He tried to sell it, and he couldn’t. Then Trine Day heard about me. They flew me out to Oregon and checked me out. They realized I was a good guy and I did have the story. The eventually gave me a contract to publish the book.
JT: Have you seen any change in the New York publishing agency?
Nick Bryant: The Franklin Scandal has been given to every publisher in New York. To Oprah’s producers, to Rachel Maddow’s producers. It’s been given to everybody. None of them will touch it. It shows the hypocrisy and it’s truly unfortunate.
JT: Have you stayed in touch with the Franklin victims you met during your research?
Nick Bryant: Many of them are drug addicts and it’s impossible to stay in touch with them. The ones that are not drug addicts—I’ve kept in touch with them. And I’ve built friendship with some of them. I took 13 trips to Nebraska and spent a total of about seven or eight months there while I was researching the Franklin Scandal.
JT: You continue to live in New York. It must be a challenge.
Nick Bryant: It’s been very difficult and frustrating. I have lots of friends in publishing here who refuse to touch the material, including a friend who’s got three children. That’s been very difficult for me. The utter spinelessness of people in publishing.
JT: From your experience with the male survivors of the Franklin Scandal, how do you see the ways in which it affected their lives?
Nick Bryant: If they were predisposed to drug addiction, or alcoholism, they’re completely destroyed. If they aren’t, they have a chance to recover. That’s the most salient variable that I’ve seen. These were kids who were turned on to drugs and alcohol in early adolescence. If they don’t have a solidified ego before using drugs and alcohol, that’s a profound variable regarding their recovery.
JT: What does their recovery look like?
Nick Bryant: One is married and has three children and has been able to put a life together. There’s one who’s had a lot of legal problems but no addictions or alcoholism. I’m very proud of him. Some of the victims, I’m the first person they ever told about the abuse. They are haunted by the fact that they were preyed upon by men when they were children. The abuse of young boys is a pretty nasty little secret. And so is the trans-continental trafficking of children. That is the message of the Franklin Scandal. And people don’t want to hear that their government is—in the very least—covering up child trafficking networks. And while that denial exists, this problem is going to continue to exist.
JT: How do you keep yourself free of fear regarding your work?
Nick Bryant: Fear is a ubiquitous part of most humans. Our society is run by fear. And when you step into the alternate universe of Franklin, there’s definitely fear. At some point I realized something about having to deal with the fear. Generally in life you know what the wrong thing to do is—cheating, stealing, and lying. Very seldom in life do you know that what you are doing is absolutely right. And with Franklin I’ve never doubted that what I was doing was absolutely right. It was important for me to develop an ethos when I worked on this story but I never doubted that it was categorically and unequivocally right. That gave me a lot of strength.
JT: What is it in your life that gave you the courage of your convictions?
Nick Bryant: That’s an interesting question. I’ve always been a rebel. I’ve always marched to the tune of my own drummer—for better or for worse. And from a pretty young age—junior high school. I’ve taken on the machine before. In various ways. That helped quite a bit.
JT: Are you aware of when you are being intimidated by the atmosphere of fear?
Nick Bryant: I’ve certainly experienced various levels of intimidation throughout the course of franklin, without a doubt. But when I signed up for Franklin I knew that it could impact my longevity.
There are a lot of noble people throughout the course of history who have given their lives for causes. If I have to give my life for this, I’m willing to do that. I don’t think I could have succeeded with Franklin if I hadn’t considered that question. If I’d gone there, into the fear, I would have been paralyzed about doing it.
I can be a pretty stubborn guy when I set my mind to do something.But I have to be pretty confident that what I’m doing is right if I’m going to throw myself into something. What happened with Franklin was so evil that for me writing a book about it was the right thing to do. I never wavered on the book but I’d be lying if I said I never experienced fear. And anxiety. But courage isn’t an absence of fear, it’s triumph over fear. When I felt a lot of fear I was very fortunate that I was able to muster the courage to continue.
JT: Have you had witnesses to this? People who appreciate and understand what the depth of your commitment has been?
Nick Bryant: I get emails all the time. I just got an email from someone in Nebraska who wrote a very laudatory email thanking me for what I’d done. That feels good. But I don’t need that. I’m completely cool with what I did and I feel like I did a good job.
I’ve been very happy with how the people who’ve read the book have received it. It’s troubling that the mainstream media looks upon children being abused and does so little. But I think there’s a lot of fear there. It’s a very unique story. You have the Catholic Church covering up child abuse. You’ve got the Boy Scouts covering up child abuse. You’ve got Penn State covering up. But the Franklin scandal is completely different because you’ve got the government of the United States of America covering up child abuse. And that’s a message that people are very reluctant to hear. They are very frightened of that message. We live in a society where people are very frightened to lose what they have. I think this fear kicks in with the media. And that stymies them. There are people who I pitched Franklin to who looked at me with unbridled skepticism because their minds just cannot permit them to accept the message of the Franklin scandal. But there are people I pitched the book to who believed me. That’s sad. A very salient hypocrisy.
JT: Do you confront them with their hypocrisy?
Nick Bryant: Sometimes I do. But they get snippety and then they shut down. I was pitching the Franklin Scandal to a former Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and he said to me, “What politicians have been compromised?” I said I’d really like to talk about the children first. Because there were a lot of children who were destroyed by this. And he said to me, “The children are inconsequential.” Then I reminded him that he had two little boys. And he said, “Nick I’m really insulted by that.” I was calling him out on his hypocrisy.
JT: What about your friendships. Has the book affected them?
Nick Bryant: It has affected my friendships, but ultimately, if it affects those friendships what were worth anyway? That’s a lesson that’s learned. But the vast majority of my friends are still my friends in spite of this weird, weird world I am in called the Franklin Scandal. I get a lot of support from a lot of people. A lot of my friends give me a tremendous amount of support. And I’m really grateful for that. Without their support it would have been exponentially harder.
JT: Does being in the “normal” world every day help you with writing about the abnormal world?
Nick Bryant: I’ve been a freelance writer for 17 years so I am in my own world much of the time. I do have to interact with the corporate or corporal world, but I’ve always been my own man. It’s very difficult for me to be obsequious to anyone and it’s impossible for me to be obsequious with anyone I disagree with and that goes back to my nature of being a rebel. I was an outraged human being about what happened with Franklin but without having a background of taking on the machine I never would have been able to pull it off. Without a doubt.