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Conservative groups launch fund drives for North

Fired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North is emerging as a national hero of the right with the blessing of the White House and a good many members of Congress.

"He's one of us, " said Richard Viguerie, a leading conservative activist. "We know him. We have felt he was part of our family. As time goes on, you are going to see a lot of Ollie North defense committees. If there aren't now, hold your breath, there will be."

Viguerie and a wide spectrum of other conservatives said Wednesday that a virtual consensus has developed on the political right that North -- dismissed Nov. 25 as an aide to the National Security Council -- must be defended and portrayed as a hero.

In Miami Wednesday, Concerned Citizens for Democracy, a pro-Reagan organization, set up a legal defense fund for North in the event he faces criminal charges for his role in the Iran arms scandal.

The fund for North would cover legal fees for the fired administration official "in case he needs such defense, " said Carlos Perez, a Cuban-American businessman and president of Concerned Citizens for Democracy.

"We believe that the man is a patriot. We believe that the man is a hero. We are not condoning an illegal act, but everyone is innocent until proven guilty, " said Perez, who was himself called a "hero of the '80s" by President Reagan in the 1984 State of the Union address.

North was fired by Reagan after he was discovered to have played the key role as an NSC staff member in funneling to Nicaragua's rebels some profits from sales of U.S. arms to Iran.

Besides the Miami fund, at least two other defense funds for North have already been set up, including one by his 1968 classmates at the U.S. Naval Academy.

In Miami, Perez said that if North does not have to face legal action, the donations will go to the Jefferson Educational Foundation, a Washington-based group that brings young political leaders from Latin America to the United States, Perez said.

Herald staff writer Lourdes Meluza contributed to this report.

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