The 7 Most Heroic Con Artists of All Time

#3. Themistocles

Ancient Persia sure had a hate-boner for Greece back in the 5th Century BC. Having already tried to invade once, the Persians were gearing up for a second shot at the title, and the Greeks might all have been speaking Persian before long if not for the crafty antics of one popular politician, Themistocles.

Via Wikipedia

Themistocles knew that Persia was probably planning a second attack, and what was more, Greece didn't have the naval power to fight them off this time. Problem was, nobody believed him. His political rivals believed that Persia was too distant a threat to be concerned with, and the people were at best apathetic. As luck would have it, the Greeks were in the midst of a silver mining rush, but the citizens were much more interested in having a bunch of silver in their pockets than they were with building some lousy ships.

So Themistocles invoked the kind of political stunt that McCarthy would make famous millennia later -- disregarding the threat from Persia, he suddenly started talking up the menace of Greece's closer rival, Aegina. Though Aegina wasn't really a threat at all, the Greeks hated the shit out of them and their dumb pottery, so tantalized with the idea of blowing those jerks off the map once and for all, the people changed their tune and voted for the ships.


Knowing ancient Greece and Naval tradition, those things must have been floating orgies.

Sure enough, to the surprise of everyone except Themistocles, the Persians suddenly showed up and started kicking ass. If you've seen 300, you already know a highly inaccurate version of what happened next. But what you didn't see was the way Themistocles messed with the Persians behind the scenes.


Xerxes' shirt wasn't the only thing the movie left out.

While the Spartans were chopping heads off on the front line, Themistocles was sending demotivational messages to Xerxes to make him question the loyalty of his allies the Ionians, as well as trying to assure him that the Allied navy was falling apart (it wasn't) and that he could basically just sail right through and take Greece (he couldn't). He was basically Lucy with the football throughout the entire damn war.

#2. Mohammed Al-Fayed

If you've heard of Mohammed Al-Fayed, it probably has something to do with his son, Dodi, the guy who got killed in a car alongside Princess Di. But Mohammed is better known to many as the incredibly slick businessman who took an insane voodoo dictator for all he was worth, and got away with it.


Throw a monocle on there and he's the Arab Monopoly Guy.

Al-Fayed was a self-made Egyptian businessman who worked his way up over the years from Coca-Cola salesman to a shipping magnate, but for some reason (boredom, perhaps) he decided to try taking over a small Caribbean nation. After throwing a dart at a world map, he caught a chartered plane over to Haiti, where he started claiming to be a rich sheikh from Kuwait. Before long, he was introduced to "Papa Doc" Duvalier, the Haitian dictator best known for being completely batshit insane.


Also, according to this picture, he had a giant head and was best buds with Hitler.

It helped that nobody in Haiti had actually heard of Kuwait, so he might as well have claimed to be the President of Fakeistan. Nevertheless, he set about wooing the paranoid dictator with extravagant and stomach-turning zeal, repeatedly sending flowers to Duvalier's palace. According to a journalist, "Papa Doc was spellbound, blinded by Fayed."

Charm was really all it takes when you're talking about a guy almost too crazy to tie his own shoelaces. Duvalier soon offered Fayed a 50 year contract to dig up all of the oil in Haiti (after cancelling a similar contract he made with the last guy who charmed his pants off). Not only that, but Fayed was put in charge of shipping, and eventually, even got into the pants of Papa Doc's daughter and almost became heir to the goddamn throne. He probably could have asked for Port Au Prince to be renamed "Fayedville" and gotten away with it.


Papa Doc wasn't Al-Fayed's only friend in a high place.

How did the scam end? Papa Doc got into financial difficulty and asked Fayed for a measly gift of $30,000. Fayed immediately booked it on the next plane out, with the entire port fund in his personal bank account. We like to think Papa Doc tried to strike back with voodoo, but just couldn't fashion a doll with big enough balls.

#1. Wilhelm Canaris

Once more we have to come back to Hitler and the Nazis, who apparently spawned the golden age of Schindler-style heroic bullshit artists.

Wilhelm Canaris was a German rebel, ardently opposed to Hitler, and involved in numerous plots to take the Fuhrer out. He also happened to be in charge of the Abwehr -- the German military intelligence service. Hitler should really have checked the guy's resume.

Via the German Federal Archive
He had a better poker face than James Bond and Will Riker combined.

The fact that Canaris was in charge of the agency tasked with sniffing out and arresting rebel conspirators was a massive relief to all the rebel conspirators hiding out in Hitler's ranks. But more than that, Canaris was chiefly responsible for the rest of the world knowing exactly what was going on in the secretive Nazi regime. He smuggled detailed reports of Nazi atrocities to the Vatican, as well as warning France and Britain about impending invasions. That didn't work out so well for France, but at least he was partly to thank for Britain's ass not being swiftly handed to them through a surprise offensive.


Throughout his short career as Germany's head spy, Canaris was actively involved in several campaigns within Germany and abroad to assassinate Hitler. Unfortunately, Hitler had the luck of an Irishman with an entire stadium of four-leaved clovers, so when that never panned out, Canaris went right ahead and tried to broker a peace treaty with the Allies behind the Fuhrer's back. Though British Intelligence was right on board with the deal, President Roosevelt flatly refused to negotiate with "these East German Junkers."


FDR: Surprisingly, specifically racist?

Hitler didn't catch on that his head intelligence agent was screwing him over until July 1944, when Canaris' final attempt to take Hitler out failed spectacularly, but even after being tortured for a year, he just kept up the ruse while Hitler was left to wonder why so many people didn't seem to like him. We'll say this about HItler: salesmen must have loved seeing the guy walk onto the lot.

Dan Seitz is a professional writer living in New England. You can also find him at gammasquad.com and funnycrave.com

For more amazing bullshit artists, check out The 5 Ballsiest Con Artists of All Time.

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