• U.S.

Olympics: We Were Responsible

3 minute read

“When we began, everyone said we could not get the Soviet Union out,” exults David Balsiger, national executive director of the Ban the Soviets Coalition. “But we did it against great odds. We were responsible for them dropping out.” Balsiger is like the rain maker who, after a downpour happens along, claims credit for it. Nevertheless, the buzz and bother stirred up by his group seemed to give credence to the security concerns that the Soviets used as an excuse for staying home. Peter Ueberroth, president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, pulls no punches when he talks about Balsiger’s organization. “I called them nutty,” he said, referring to a remark made last month, “and didn’t offer an apology. I would consider an apology if they rename their group the Coalition to Hurt Athletes or the Coalition to Play into the Hands of the Soviet Union.”

Balsiger, 38, began his crusade last fall, after the Soviets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007. He claims 165 affiliate groups and organizations; he says that 35 of them insist on anonymity. Among the confederates listed by the coalition are a communications firm run by right-wing Publisher Richard Viguerie and the Elderly Korean-American Association of Orange County. Balsiger’s group planned to organize demonstrations near 100 Olympic sites and to distribute 500,000 leaflets. A small squadron of propaganda planes was to buzz the city, each pulling a banner having 5-ft.-high letters, with exhortations like STOP THE GENOCIDE IN AFGHANISTAN or REMEMBER KAL 007. The coalition planned to rent billboards to encourage Soviet defections (“Wish to defect? Telephone …”), and some 500 “safe houses” in the Los Angeles area were said to be ready to receive the defectors.

The Soviet press wondered why the U.S. Government declined to do what the Kremlin would not hesitate to do: simply dispatch the pesky protesters to some remote place for the duration of the Games. Indeed, many foreigners do not quite understand that U.S. civil liberties protections would rule out such a roundup of trouble makers. Soviet editorialists suggested an untoward affinity, even close links, between the L.A. protesters and the U.S. “ruling circles.” Last week the Reagan Administration emphatically denied any affiliation. Balsiger had dispatched several letters and Mailgrams to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver last winter, urging that the Administration discourage the Soviet Olympic contingent from attending; in early January Deaver sent back a standard, innocuous reply, explaining that “the U.S. will welcome athletes from all nations.” The only other connection, almost as tenuous, was a speech last March in Los Angeles by Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams to the Baltic-American Freedom League, a member of Balsiger’s coalition.

Who is David Balsiger, and why does he hate the Soviets so? An Orange County advertising executive, he co-authored two improbable books (The Lincoln Conspiracy and In Search of Noah’s Ark) that were made into movies by conservative Sunn Classic Pictures. In 1982 a California superior court ordered him to stop marketing securities without a license. He soon filed for bankruptcy, declaring debts of $200,000. His view of the Soviet Union is downright demonic: he claims that in the course of a 1968 trip through the Soviet countryside, he was chased by a farmer with a pitchfork simply because he was an American. Although delighted that the Soviets are not coming to Los Angeles, Balsiger is a little rueful too. “We had hoped to help more than 200 people defect from the Eastern bloc to freedom here in the West.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com