There is no fanfare, just a biographical introduction. He is a retired Marine lieutenant colonel. Wounded twice in Vietnam. Won Silver Star and Bronze Star. Married. Four children. Planned the Grenada rescue. (Applause.) Involved in apprehending the Achille Lauro hijackers. (Applause.) Helped plan the raid on Libya. (Applause.)
Ladies and Gentlemen, Oliver North.As one, the audience rises and waves. A woman holds up an American flag. A man with a flag in his lapel lifts his son so he can see better. A few women wipe their eyes.
North steps on the stage. It has been just seven days since a jury convicted him of three felonies and he is about to make his third $25,000 speech in two days.
"I never considered myself to be a hero," he says. "I stand before you this evening as a frail and flawed human being like the rest of you."
The words this evening, before a near-capacity audience of 3,000 in the Front Row Theater in this Cleveland suburb, sound spontaneous. They aren't. He said them at a morning appearance at the same theater and in Kansas City the day before.
This is Oliver North on the lecture circuit, making profitable use of his time while he awaits sentencing June 23. To enter the hall, he had to pass demonstrators who chant "Ollie, Bush, Reagan, Partners in Crime" and "Jail Ollie, Jail to the Chief," as well as those who praise him as an American hero, a la Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
North speaks to mostly friendly audiences. In Kansas City, at a feed industry association meeting, his talk on "Commitment, Trust and Family" was part of a convention package. This evening's audience paid $18.75 a ticket, this morning's $17.75.
He speaks about the dangers to the young posed by drugs, about meddling by Congress, about his faith in God and his absolute belief that everything will turn out all right for him back "at that sad swamp along the Potomac." The harshest words are reserved for the news media, especially CBS and Dan Rather.
"We have been told by the media, those great thinkers, that Mickey Gorbachev's a good guy," he says at one point. "The American people are fairer and wiser than perhaps CBS and the Washington Post would have us believe," he says at another.
North is polished and impassioned, not much different from the way he testified before Congress two years ago and at his trial, which ended May 4 with guilty verdicts on three charges and acquittals on nine.
His podium here was in a theater-in-the-round and the stage made one complete circuit every 13 minutes. "I noticed I'm going to the left," said North. "It may be the only time in my life I'm turning left."
Rex Runyon, a vice president at the American Feed Industries Association, said North was booked last year for $25,000. He called North "the hottest property on the public-speaking circuit today."
He makes no bones about his conservative views:
-"The government has a responsibility to promote the general welfare, not to provide welfare to the general public."
-"We have now an imperial Congress trying to usurp the presidency."
-"We have a Congress totally opposed to giving the Nicaraguan freedom fighters anything but Band-Aids and doughnuts . . . If we are going to have a constitutional amendment that limits the term of the president of the United States, we ought to have an amendment that limits the terms of Congress."
That last line gets applause every time.
He answers questions until the master of ceremonies calls a halt. North says goodbye with the Marine motto: "Semper Fidelis" - Always Faithful.
Again there is a standing ovation. North's two bodyguards rush down and lead him out of the theater. And North heads for his chartered jet and back to the "sad swamp."