Long before Jerome Corsi became a target for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, or one of the country’s most prominent birthers, or a conduit for the swift boat attacks against John Kerry, he wrote a children’s book. Called The King, the Dragon, and the Witch, the 1972 picture book by Corsi imagined a universe where a king and his friend, a dragon, “devise a plot to rid themselves of a wicked witch.”
It was a whimsical world, one personified by the book’s cover, which shows the king and the dragon holding bouquets of flowers in a forest while the witch jumps in the background. And it reflects a part of Corsi’s biography that many people—especially those just now being acquainted with the man—probably didn’t imagine existed.
For those who have followed his career, Corsi is one of the country’s most enduring conspiracy theorists, forever at the heart of the obscene sagas that often show politics at its most cringe-worthy. He’s found himself there yet again during the Trump era, becoming the latest character to take a leading turn in the special counsel probe into Russia’s election meddling.
Corsi is alleged to have been a conduit for Trump confidant Roger Stone and Wikileaks during the 2016 campaign, at the time when the latter was gearing up to publish hacked Clinton campaign emails. Corsi nearly pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with Stone before, apparently, changing his mind about cooperating with Robert Mueller. Instead, this week, he has shared a draft of the charge against him to the media—and, on Wednesday, declared grimly that he’d rather die in prison rather than cut a deal.
If that is, indeed, the outcome, it would be a capstone to a life filled with twists. Among other things, Corsi is almost assuredly the only man who can claim to have both been inspired by Barack Obama’s mentor Laurence Tribe and question Obama’s birthplace.
Corsi declined to comment for this piece.
Corsi grew up in Ohio, the son of a liberal union executive. Despite his father’s politics, he turned to Republican activism when he was still young. In 1967, while still at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University, Corsi agreed to “bird-dog” the mayoral bid of Democrat Carl Stokes. In an early version of today’s campaign trackers, Corsi started attending each of Stokes’s rallies and speeches, counting the crowd and reporting back to his employer on how audiences reacted to Stokes’s speeches.
At Case Western, Corsi earned a reputation for cutthroat tactics on the college debate circuit. And he brought that with him to Harvard. Tribe, who encountered Corsi on the college debate circuit, told The Daily Beast that Corsi had a reputation for “nasty and unprincipled” tactics in debate tournaments.
“Hearing Corsi’s name always conjured nothing but negatives,” Tribe said, though he couldn’t specify what exactly Corsi did in debates to spark that conjuring.
Corsi also crossed paths on the debate circuit with Bob Shrum, who later became one of the Democratic Party’s most high-profiles campaign strategists. Shrum, who judged some of Corsi’s matches, describes Corsi as an “OK” debater.
“I also had the sense that Corsi went from being a left-wing conspiracy theory person to being a right-wing conspiracy theorist,” Shrum said.
Shortly after he left college, Corsi began to write the first of his many future books. The early material featured little of the conspiracies and paranoia that would mark his later work.
In 1968, he co-wrote Shoot-out in Cleveland, the book-length version of a government study on a Cleveland showdown between black nationalists and police. It presented a nuanced portrayal of race relations, including criticism of the police for their handling of tensions with the public.
At Harvard, Corsi earned a doctorate in political science and, with it, the “Ph.D.” after his name that would prove crucial to his credibility when he began pushing conspiracy theories decades later. In his Harvard dissertation on how governments should handle free speech issues, Corsi mentioned a liberal Harvard professor Michael Walzer, and thanked Tribe.
Tribe told The Daily Beast he had not known that “the deceitful Jerome Corsi” had mentioned him in the dissertation and he didn’t appear particularly moved by the news. “The fellow is a crackpot,” Tribe said, “and a sleazy one to boot.”
In the 1980’s, Corsi moved from teaching into banking and insurance, writing several articles and books about the industry. He appears to have been affiliated with various insurance companies, but mostly as an independent financial adviser. But in 1995, Corsi created the kind of wild-eyed project that foreshadowed his future political hoaxes.
That year, Corsi led a group of investors, mostly from Minnesota, who had collected $1.2 million to create a mutual fund to invest in post-communist Poland. Once Corsi and the other lead investors got to Poland, though, Corsi disappeared from the rest of the group, according to The Boston Globe. The other investors eventually realized that the money they had sent to Poland was gone. The FBI launched an investigation, according to investors who told the Globe they were interviewed by agents, but no charges were filed.
“It was a sad story for a lot of people,” one investor told the Globe.
By that point in time, Corsi had begun developing an interest in foreign affairs and Islam that he said was sparked by 1979’s Iranian revolution. By 2004, Corsi was posting on the conservative web forum Free Republic, a Bush-era hive of right-wing internet activity, and accusing Muslims and Catholics of being pedophiles and, in the case of Muslims, “ragheads.”
"RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters,” Corsi wrote. “It all goes together.”
It’s unclear what precisely prompted Corsi to start involving himself in these communities. But he quickly became deeply versed in the world of right-wing internet commenters, regularly dropping pejorative nicknames for prominent Democrats. After deciding Al Gore was soft of Islamic terror, for example, Corsi dubbed him “Mullah Ali-Gore-ah.”
Corsi truly came to national attention in 2004 by co-authoring Unfit for Command, a book filled with inaccurate smears about then-Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s service in the Vietnam War. He tried to leverage the controversy surrounding the book, which he co-authored with a college debate pal who had long been a Kerry foil, into a political career, claiming at one point that he would move from New Jersey to Massachusetts to challenge Kerry for his Senate seat.
But that never happened. Instead, Corsi established himself as a personality on the fringes of right-wing publishing and soon became synonymous with the worst impulses of conservative media.
“‘In the world of putrid right-wing pond scum, Corsi is one of the biggest bottom-feeders of them all,” Democratic strategist James Carville said in 2004.
Corsi secured columnist jobs at right-wing outlets like WorldNetDaily and InfoWars where, among other things, he suggested that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job. He also authored a flurry of books on everything from the Kennedy assassination (surprisingly, he doesn’t believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone) to “new scientific evidence” that Adolf Hitler survived World War II.
Now living in New Jersey, Corsi eagerly attached himself to the birther conspiracy theory surrounding Obama. And as one of the country’s most prominent birthers, Corsi was in contact with Donald Trump, promising him a copy of his book “proving” Obama’s birth certificate was fake and explaining the details of the conspiracy theory to the future president.
With Trump’s election, Corsi has not slowed down. During the past few years he has promoted a wide variety of outlandish conspiracies, including the QAnon conspiracy theory (before the anonymous poster behind QAnon denounced him).
As Corsi faces pressure from Mueller, his one-time allies have turned on him, suggesting that he is obviously too unstable or senile to be believed. Stone dismissed Corsi last week by saying Corsi thinks the 1969 moon landing was staged—an idea that Corsi denies, and that appears to derive from a satirical 2011 Esquire article about Corsi.
Stone and InfoWars boss Alex Jones, who fired Corsi as InfoWars’s Washington bureau chief earlier this year, fumed on air about Corsi on Monday. Jones said Corsi was “senile” and drinking heavily, claiming that he had to call an ambulance for Corsi when they appeared together in Washington in April.
“He didn’t know who he was the next day,” Jones said.
Though he didn’t respond to requests for comment about his background, Corsi did offer up a response to his former boss, saying that—contra Jones’ claims—an ambulance was never called.
“Judge for yourself,” Corsi said.