5 Successful People Who Everyone Forgets Are Exposed Frauds

#2. David Barton

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

David Barton has perfected the tricky art of being a renowned, best-selling historical author while having absolutely no credentials in history whatsoever. Through his organization WallBuilders, Barton established a goal of "historical reclamation," insisting that his research into American history has built a strikingly different timeline from the one we were all taught in schools (which, incidentally, is the correct one).

Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Unfortunately, his is less National Treasure bullshit and more "uncle who makes everyone uncomfortable at Thanksgiving" bullshit.

Namely, Barton claims that the Founding Fathers created the United States as an exclusively Christian nation (there was never a separation of church and state), that Joseph McCarthy was totally right about everything, and that civil rights icons such as Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. should be disregarded because "only majorities can expand political rights," which as you may have noticed is just another way of saying "only white people matter." This has turned him into a superstar in some circles, and he has been consulted to help rewrite the textbooks your kids will be using.

The Fraud:

Actual historians will tell you that Barton distorts quotes, cherry-picks information, cites fraudulent sources, and straight-up fictionalizes history to serve his political goals. This was never more evident than when he managed to publish his book The Jefferson Lies, which portrayed Thomas Jefferson as a Christian fighting for the rights of slaves, and which was immediately voted "the least credible history book in print" by historians, professors, and Christian scholars (the publisher quickly yanked it off the shelves in response).

David Barton
If he'd known this was coming, Jefferson would've rolled his eyes for that portrait.

So not only does Barton have the support of precisely zero historians, but the bullshittedness of some of his claims is obvious to anyone with a lick of common sense and possibly a calculator. He claims that the American Revolutionary War was fought to end slavery, despite the easily verifiable facts that the majority of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, Britain abolished slavery decades before the United States did, and the United States took another century to add the abolishment of slavery to the Constitution. Barton also claims that the Founding Fathers settled the creationism debate long ago, despite the crippling handicap of not being scientists and having all died before Darwin published his theory of evolution.

Where Is He Now?

Despite having the distinction of literally writing the worst history book of the modern era, Barton was helping draft the Republican Party's 2012 platform a month after his fanciful storybook had been discontinued. That might not be terribly surprising, so here's something even worse -- Barton is an adviser to the Texas State Board of Education and was instrumental in convincing them to rewrite their history textbooks to make them "more conservative and Christian-friendly." That's right -- he's putting the bullshit that was too ridiculous to be sold in stores into textbooks to teach history to children.

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Young adult fiction was a lot more fun when it had wizards.

Barton has similarly advised on the curriculum of several other states, whose altered textbooks could very easily spread to schools around the country (textbook publishers like to keep the editions as unified as possible to save costs -- if you force the changes through in a few large markets, they'll turn up elsewhere). And speaking of books, Barton's discredited opus, Christian Warrior Jefferson, Hero of Slaves, wasn't destined to stay out of print for long -- Glenn Beck stepped in to bring it back to life, because Glenn Beck is a wealthy fan of dangerous misinformation.

#1. Peter Popoff

Ankh Infinitus, via YouTube

Peter Popoff, a televangelist faith healer and self-proclaimed Christian prophet with the voice of an angry cartoon character, became famous for his miraculous ability to guess the names, addresses, and illnesses of complete strangers during his sermons and cure them through the power of God Almighty. This includes making old people throw away their walkers and start tremble-dancing like malfunctioning robots and having parishioners claim to receive "miracle money, transferred into their accounts supernaturally," which is a direct quote from Popoff's television program:

The Fraud:

Popoff's abilities were so unbelievable that, in the late '80s, the aforementioned gunslinger skeptic James Randi decided to investigate. Randi infiltrated one of Popoff's faith-healing revivals and monitored the airwaves, discovering that Popoff's wife was feeding him information about the audience through a wireless earpiece (every attendee was required to fill out a "prayer card" with their name, address, and primary source of woe, which Popoff's wife would simply read back to him). Randi even went so far as to have a male friend dress in drag and pretend to have ovarian cancer, which Popoff miraculously healed (we assume the remedy was using the divine powers of Christ to travel back in time and ensure that Randi's friend was born a man).

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"Praise the Lord!"

Randi reported his findings on The Tonight Show, and Popoff quickly found himself in bankruptcy court without an earpiece to help him. More than two decades later, this guy's probably just a long-forgotten blip on the televangelist radar.

Where Is He Now?

Ha, no. Bankruptcy apparently only served to give Peter Popoff even more ideas on how to beguile desperate people. He bounced back with an admittedly incredible scheme -- he now sells debt-curing prayers for regular installments of cash that gradually increase over time. People who participate in this amazing plan receive holy debt-curing talismans such as bottled water and an eraser with a picture of money on it, packed with clumsily written assurances that Popoff is praying just as hard as he fucking can. And this is just his most recent scam -- Popoff has a long history of swindling people with a ridiculous scheme, seeing that scheme thoroughly debunked, and responding with an even more ridiculous scheme.

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To really be specific in praying for your credit card debt, please include your card number and expiration date.

Because Popoff's organization is considered "religious" and therefore tax exempt, it is difficult to determine exactly how rich his scams have made him; however, back in 2005 (the last year his company was still paying taxes), his ministry earned $24.5 million and owned property in excess of $5 million. When asked about Popoff's comeback, James Randi responded, "Flimflam is his profession ... he's very good at it, and naturally he's going to go back to it." Even so, we wouldn't be surprised to learn that Popoff actually has some kind of supernatural power, because he has been able to convince people to spend millions of dollars on magic water while they are drowning in debt.


Follow Sammy on his tumblr, pretty please.

For more famous frauds, check out The 5 Most Ridiculous Lies Ever Published as Non-Fiction and 6 Famous Documentaries That Were Shockingly Full of Crap.

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