Jon Basil Utley – A Hero For Our Times

by | Mar 24, 2020


Jon Utley saved my life. While I hadn’t literally fallen into a well and had him pull me out, in a figurative sense that is exactly what he did. Having just spent most of the 1990s living and working abroad in Hungary, I found myself back in Washington, DC, in a well-known neoconservative think tank. It’s a long story, but much of that strange situation had to do with a combination of disorientation and lack of political contacts after so long overseas.

As anyone in those DC circles would recall from that time, Wednesday mornings were set aside for “coalition” meetings chaired by Grover Norquist, where representatives of the so-called conservative think tanks would each give their updates to the delight of those “coalition members” lucky enough to be in attendance.

These organizations were all solidly neoconservative and were all somehow connected with the massive direct mail rip-off known as “Conservatism, Inc.” Terrify the rubes in flyover country into kicking in a few bucks to fight the enemy of the day who was about to destroy us. More than a couple mansions in the tony DC suburbs were built from the pennies of pensioners frightened by conjured hobgoblins.

My second fondest memory of those meetings was the superb pumpernickel bagels they served along with cream cheese. An authentic bagel is hard to come by, even in the big city, and though I cannot recall whence they acquired these excellent treats, I was grateful.

My fondest memory, however, came several months into my employment in said think tank, when it was becoming painfully obvious that I was very much in the wrong place – and with a young family to support. Naïve having been so long overseas, I openly touted in the office my being published on and Those were not favored outlets among the neocons.

Silent snoops in the office were building a case against me and I was oblivious.

I dutifully accompanied my boss to one of those Wednesday conservative coalition meetings and all of a sudden I spotted a character darting in and out of the crowd handing out fliers at a lightening pace. I accepted one of those fliers and could not believe the content! “Against Bombing!” “Against War!” “Against Empire!”

Surely it was just an illusion, an apparition appearing to me in my increasing despair at my agonized situation in the belly of the beast. It could not be real!

I immediately engaged this remarkable and fearless figure, who had descended into the lion’s den to preach the gospel of peace. “This is wonderful! This is fantastic!” Everyone else at the meeting treated him as a leper, as a Hare Krishna in a 1970s airport. Someone to be avoided, pitied. They seemed embarrassed.

Jon Basil Utley could not have been more nonplussed. He literally did not give a crap that they all hated him. He was every bit as conservative as they were. In fact he was far more conservative than they. He understood that war and empire was the greatest threat to the old order, to decency, to actual patriotism, to our country.

So I approached him no doubt looking like a poor soul desperately in need of a friend. He asked me where I worked and as soon as I told him he said, “don’t be seen with me. It’s dangerous for you. Call me later and we’ll meet.”

Cloak and dagger!

Call him I did. It was, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. From our first lunch I knew he was a kindred spirit. We dined al fresco near his Georgetown townhouse and I laid my desperate situation bare before him. He listened and offered condolences and encouragement. He was a rock as I was adrift on shifting sands. He told me of his fascinating family background and how looking communism straight in the eye set him on course toward anti-communism and eventual anti-state conservatism.

When I was eventually fired from my position – a mercy-killing – Jon stood solidly behind me and would meet me regularly to brainstorm on how I could pick up the pieces. When I told him of our plans to found the Ron Paul Institute he was supportive.

Anyone who knew Jon Utley will undoubtedly best recall his most prominent feature: a smile that seemed a million miles wide. That animated his entire face and elevated the space around him. That made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Jon was absolutely magnetic.

Sadly we drifted apart a bit in the intervening years. There were some differences in perspective in areas like the Ukraine coup and Venezuela, etc. But it was an absolute delight and triumph to suddenly see Jon Basil Utley in attendance at the Ron Paul Institute’s 2019 Washington conference. I hadn’t seen Jon in a few years and he indeed looked suddenly frail and old. But the smile was as ever. A supernova.

I was never quite sure he bought in to what we were doing with the Ron Paul Institute – pure non-interventionism – and that saddened me a little. But seeing Jon last August at our conference and so supportive meant so very much to me. I felt it a vote of confidence from someone I admired and whose approval I so valued. Sadly that was the last time I saw Jon. Dammit I should have sent him an email after the conference thanking him. Reconnecting. That’s the bloody thing about death. It is the final last call. The swift strike of the grim reaper ends all possibilities.

Jon you were a great man who made a difference. The world is a gloomier place without you. I am honored to have been counted among your friends. Requiescat in pace.

h/t Phil Giraldi for title, from Turgenev.


  • Daniel McAdams

    Executive Director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity and co-Producer/co-Host, Ron Paul Liberty Report. Daniel served as the foreign affairs, civil liberties, and defense/intel policy advisor to U.S. Congressman Ron Paul, MD (R-Texas) from 2001 until Dr. Paul’s retirement at the end of 2012. From 1993-1999 he worked as a journalist based in Budapest, Hungary, and traveled through the former communist bloc as a human rights monitor and election observer.

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