Intellectual “Safe Spaces,” the Scariest Spaces of All: Lessons Learned From G. Gordon Liddy

Gayle Leslie
9 min readSep 10, 2019

When I was in college in the 1980s G. Gordon Liddy was booked at our campus lecture hall . Liddy had just spent nearly fifty-two months in federal prison for conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping for his role as chief architect of the Watergate break-in; and for refusing to testify before the Senate committee investigating Watergate back in the halcyon days when government officials actually went to jail for breaking the law. By the Reagan era of the eighties he’d done his time and was out and about trying to re-establish himself as a public speaker and an authority of sorts — I really don’t know on what — but there he was at my school, the former FBI operative and New York State prosecutor, the guy who planned the Watergate break-in, ostensibly to protect Richard Nixon’s political ambitions, and he had gotten caught.

My political science professor at this very conservative, private institution of higher learning, deep in the heart of Texas, had strongly recommended we attend the lecture and write about it. So I went with a few fellow theater majors. The college had a good theater program; the most promising of us in the department there on a scholarship. There was no way we could have afforded that, even back then, costly education without it, and I was notably among the last people the State of Texas ever gave a full ride to that university.

This is all by way of saying that I would never — not in a million years — have sought out a lecture by G. Gordan Liddy otherwise. But rich Southern, white conservatives were different than me, he was just their cup of tea.

One of my professors, who was also a Dean, summed it up perfectly when I’d asked her how the school had weathered the counterculture storms of the 1960s. Without a hint of either shame or irony, she matter-of-factly said that the sixties had passed by little noticed, leaving the campus essentially unscathed. Even at twenty-one, this pretty much clarified to me that these people were not my tribe.

In all his recalling of why he was who he was that night — and in every interview and all the biographical reporting over the decades…