Nick Walash lined the students in a semi-circle as they warmed up to perform in “Bel Canto,” a 17th-century Italian style of singing.
“Start singing like women, and stop singing like girls,” Walash joked.
For this group, classical singing is a must after a five-hour discussion of mathematical proofs and the works of eminent philosophers like Hegel and Kant.
For several hours each day, the 30 college-aged youths file into a nondescript business suite in Downtown Oakland to discuss the coming collapse of the world’s financial system and the one man who they believe can save it.
That man is eight-time presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche.
Mostly in their late teens or early 20s, the members wear typical khakis or jeans and eat the staples of a college diet—Top Ramen noodles, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
They table on Sproul Plaza almost daily, but most have dropped out of school—some even severing contact with friends and family—all to spread the message of a man they have never met.
“We are in a complete breakdown of the financial system and we know that,” said Jason Ross, 23. “We can use our time in a more appropriate manner than going to school.”
Ross dropped out of Stanford University his junior year to join the campaign.
LaRouche, a convicted felon, launched a national youth movement a year and a half ago.
On the West Coast, the movement has collected about 100 young people from Los Angeles to Oakland, mostly through tabling on university campuses.
Members travel to dozens of college campuses aggressively recruiting members and not hesitating to ask newcomers to quit school.
After attending just one meeting, UC Berkeley freshman Andrew Lai was asked to drop out and become a full-fledged organizer.
Like many LaRouche members, Lai was first introduced to the youth movement by the organizers who frequent Sproul Plaza and North Gate.
After his first stop by the table, several members called Lai and persuaded him to go to a meeting.
“I figured I would give it a shot,” Lai said. “They might say something interesting, and I think people should keep an open mind about these things.”
As a non-student organization, the LaRouche members are prohibited from tabling on campus, but the group still comes on weekdays and weekends, eager to recruit new members.
They are not involved with any Office of Student Life sponsored groups either.
“I’m sure we have had contact with some student groups in the past, but a lot of them aren’t serious about organizing the population like we are,” said member John Minihan, 18, who dropped out of an art institute six months ago.
Once they join, along with the rigorous recruiting schedule, members attend conventions between youth centers in different cities and “Cadres Schools,” or weekend camping excursions where they learn more about LaRouche and his ideas.
But members would not reveal where they lived or what they did on an average day.
“We are trying to get America out of a Dark Age and build a Renaissance,” Minihan said.
In their meetings, the members turn away from conventional academics and traditional notions of philosophy and history.
They focus on dissecting mathematical proofs—the intellectual center of their work is Gauss’ Fundamental Theorem of Algebra from 1799.
And members put their own strange spin on history. One of LaRouche’s recent writings pinned Queen Elizabeth II as the center of a drug conspiracy, and another criticized the “pagan worship” of Sir Isaac Newton.
“It’s a philosophical fight that we are in,” said Ricky Lopez, 20, who dropped out of San Francisco State University.
But members dismissed any notions that the LaRouche youth movement was a cult.
“All the people think that because anything that is not acceptable to the popular opinion pantheon is cult-like to them,” said longtime organizer Charlie Spies, 27, who gave up his career ambition of a being a stand-up comedian to join the movement.