Hey, remember the time Freemasons secretly took over Italy? Or that homeless woman who shot the CIA's disgraced financier? Or when Richard Nixon tried to end the Vietnam War by pretending to be crazy? Good stuff, right? Well don't worry, a bunch of sneaky idiots run this planet, so we will never run out of crazy, baffling, incredibly stupid real history to share with you.
From the late '60s to the early '80s, the Soviet Union ran a secret campaign to paint America as a hotbed of racism. (We know, what a far-fetched scheme, right?) For example, before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the KGB sent fake letters from the KKK to African countries, declaring the Olympics were "for the whites only," and warning "we are preparing for the Olympic games by shooting at black moving targets ... we'll give you a reception you'll never forget." The forged letters made front-page headlines around the world, and not just so people could laugh about how shitty an all-white Olympics would be.
The height of the campaign came in the early '70s, when the KGB wanted to spark a war between the Jewish Defense League (JDL), and Black Power groups. As part of Operation PANDORA, the KGB produced fake JDL pamphlets calling for a war against "black mongrels" who were supposedly attacking and looting Jewish businesses. They sent the pamphlets to dozens of Black Power groups, then followed them up with fake letters from African-Americans describing JDL attacks and begging for revenge.
The letters may have raised tensions, but they didn't produce the all-out street war the KGB was hoping for, probably because '70s America was not in fact run by those costumed gangs from The Warriors. So the frustrated Soviets decided that if no one was buying their fake racist attacks, they would have to carry out a real racist attack. After all, if you want racism done right, you have to do it yourself.
In 1971, high-ranking KGB officer Anatoli Kireyev ordered agents to plant a bomb in "the Negro section of New York." After the bomb went off, the agents were supposed to make anonymous phone calls claiming JDL responsibility. Fortunately the plan didn't happen, although the reasons for this are unclear (accessible KGB archive material only contains the orders from Kireyev, not any responses). Given that this was the summer of 1971, maybe nervous KGB agents had just seen Shaft and didn't want to risk it.
Actively trying to screw people out of their right to vote is as American as apple pie. Take the 2012 Wisconsin recall election, when a group backed by the Koch brothers sent Democratic voters mail-in ballots filled with the wrong information in an apparent attempt to trick them into disqualifying their votes. But if you're going to hatch a secret conspiracy to subvert democracy, you should try not to fuck up as badly as the Bush campaign did in 2004.
Back in the Hoobastank days, a Republican National Committee researcher sent an email to his boss and copied in the Florida director of George Bush's reelection campaign, who had an email address at georgewbush.com. The email was titled "Caging," and contained a list of 1,886 mostly African-American voters in Florida. Republicans had been blanketing Democratic-leaning areas with campaign literature sent by first-class mail, and anyone whose mail was returned to sender had their name added to a "caging list" of votes, which could be challenged on the grounds that their registered address was incorrect.
But the researcher typed georgewbush.org instead of .com, possibly because he sucked at his job. The .org site was a parody page run by domain squatter John Wooden, who sent the email to the BBC. A BBC investigation inferred that the Bush campaign intended to use the lists to challenge massive numbers of black voters on Election Day. The GOP denied the accusations, obviously, but couldn't explain why the leaflets were sent by first-class mail (campaigns generally never do this, as it's expensive and serves no purpose ... unless you want undelivered mail returned), nor why "useless" information about returned mail in Florida was being sent to the RNC research director in Washington. So the next time you screw up and accidentally copy a surprise party recipient on the planning email, console yourself with this story.
The caging plan went ahead in Ohio, where returned letters were used to challenge the votes of 23,000 citizens, including soldiers serving in Iraq, homeless people, and a large number of voters with a minor typo in their addresses. Federal courts threw the mass challenge out, but it's still good that they didn't succeed in Florida, because it's quite possible that the state would still be arguing about it today.
After the Russian Revolution, British diplomat R. H. Bruce Lockhart was sent to Moscow with the task of keeping Russia in World War I by any means necessary. So when Lenin opened negotiations with the Germans, Lockhart decided he needed to come down with a bad case of coup. He turned to "Ace of Spies" Sidney Reilly, a sociopathic criminal and serial murderer who had become the most legendary spy in British history, since sociopathic murdering is quite helpful in the espionage industry.
In 1918, Reilly contacted the Latvian Rifles, a troop which guarded Moscow but not-so-secretly longed to return to a home that was drifting out of the Russian sphere of influence. A Latvian commander, Colonel Eduard Berzin, held secret meetings with Lockhart, where he admitted that the Latvians had grown disillusioned with the Bolsheviks. In return for a huge bribe and promises of British assistance, Berzin soon agreed to stage a dramatic coup. The plan was to seize Moscow's famous Bolshoi Theater, where the Soviet government was meeting. The Latvians would bar the exits and march onto the stage, at which point Reilly would basically act out the climax of Inglourious Basterds.
A British spy named George Hill later wrote that they wanted to capture Lenin and Trotsky, then parade them through the streets in their underwear so that no one would ever take them seriously again. But Hill may have been covering Britain's ass, because there was one tiny problem with the plan: Berzin was a double agent, and ratted the whole thing out. The Soviets decided to let the plot unspool while they collected evidence, but then Lenin was shot in an unrelated assassination attempt, and the panicking Russians arrested Lockhart, smashed their way into the British embassy, and killed a diplomat in a gunfight. Reilly made it across the Finnish border in disguise as a Soviet secret policeman, but the Soviets managed to lure him back in a 1925 sting operation that ended with him executed in a forest outside Moscow.
Just in case you needed yet another reminder that Russians tend to hold grudges.
The Chagos Archipelago is a tiny string of isolated islands in the Indian Ocean. With limited resources available, islanders would visit the nearby Mauritius for medical treatment and other services, then return with news and goods from abroad. But in the late '60s, people who left the Chagos stopped coming back. Family members who left to look for the missing never returned either.
So ... Deep Ones were kidnapping them, right? Weird that the history books never mentioned that particular '60s trend.
In reality, the Chagossians were facing something far more sprawling and sinister than eldritch fish monsters: Cold War bureaucracy.
The Chagos were technically a British colony, although Western presence was thin. Unbeknownst to the islanders, in 1967, Britain gave the islands to the U.S. in exchange for a $14 million discount on some nukes. The American admiral in charge wrote that the native population "absolutely must go" so the U.S. could turn the islands into a military base, and the British agreed that "a few Tarzans and Man Fridays" shouldn't hold up the plan. So whenever a Chagossian arrived in Mauritius, the British authorities would stop them from returning, leaving them stranded in another country with no way of contacting home.
To avoid protests back home, the U.S. and British governments simply lied and claimed the Chagossians were migrant workers with no actual connection to the islands. Internal documents reveal that everyone knew this was a "fiction," and the islanders were not crazy-eyed hobo drifters who only turned up last week. But that didn't stop officials from deliberately misleading the U.S. Senate.
The Chagossians didn't know any of this; they just knew that everyone who left vanished without a trace. Then, in 1971, by the time they were probably starting to suspect some sort of curse, the islanders were informed that they'd all have to leave. To prove they were serious, American soldiers shot and gassed all pet dogs on the island, in what the history books have recorded as "a real dick move."
Meanwhile, the British cut off all supplies, including vital medicine, and the last islanders were forcibly removed in 1973. Many died of what the Chagossians called sagren (sorrow), to the point that the WHO had to recognize it as a serious local medical problem. Their descendants continue to seek a return to the islands, and the U.S. and Britain continue to block them, because it's important to uphold tradition, even if that tradition is "being evil assholes."
Aginter Press appeared to be a harmless European press agency. They were based in Portugal, and had correspondents across Europe, Africa, and South America. What a completely normal and non-terrifying business which was ... an ultra-right-wing mercenary organization backed by the Portuguese secret police and founded by members of the French terrorist group OAS, who fled to Portugal after failing to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.
Aginter's "correspondents" were spies, giving the agency "a network of informers equal to, if not better than, the secret service of a medium-sized country" (suck it, Denmark). One Aginter operation infiltrated the European left by setting up a fake Maoist newspaper and political party in Switzerland, and were so convincing that they got funding from the Chinese government.
An Italian investigation established that Aginter also produced propaganda, recruited and trained mercenaries, and carried out assassinations, amongst other covert activities. They were especially active in Portugal's African colonies, where rebel groups were fighting for independence from, well, having to put up with Aginter's sort of creepy bullshit. Aginter used its fake Swiss paper to gain access to territory held by left-wing rebels, who had no idea their journalist comrades were Portuguese spies.
But perhaps Aginter's most disturbing work was in Italy, where it played a key role in developing the "Strategy of Tension," which saw far-right groups commit terror attacks to create support for a dictatorship. Aginter held conferences attended by many future terrorists, including Stefano delle Chiaie, who traveled to South America for various nasty purposes using Aginter press credentials, and later became Italy's most wanted man after the Piazza Fontana bombing, which killed 17.
Aginter collapsed after Portugal's dictatorship was overthrown, and its activities were largely exposed during the 1984 trial of Vincenzo Vinciguerra, an Aginter-affiliated fascist who killed three Italian police officers with a car bomb in 1972. This was one of those times when the press could accurately be described as enemies of the people.
The Lyndon LaRouche organization started out as a left-wing U.S. political movement and presidential campaign, then gradually transitioned into a bizarre cult which encouraged members to break contact with their families and dedicate themselves to LaRouche. The group is known for promoting conspiracy theories, including the idea that the queen of England secretly runs a massive international drug trafficking cartel, even though everyone knows the royals haven't done that since Edward VII. There's also a lot of antisemitism involved, because antisemitism is like the French fries of shady conspiracies -- it just comes on the side.
In Europe, the movement is grouped around the Schiller Institute, a German think tank founded by LaRouche's wife Helga Zepp-LaRouche (they presumably bonded over their ridiculous names). To give you an example of Helga's beliefs, in 2017, she wrote a paper that argues climate change is a "Satanic swindle" whose proponents (led by that dastardly queen) want to establish a "global eco-dictatorship," and exterminate six billion people. The Institute became notorious after a young Jewish student died in Netflix-documentary-level suspicious circumstances while attending a 2004 conference. But before that, the Institute ran a secret global campaign to ... uh, lower musical pitch?
Clearly, this minor tuning discrepancy is the most insidious plot of our age.
For most of history, musicians all over Europe tuned their instruments to wildly different pitches, meaning that the sound of classical music varied from "vuvuzela" to "kazoo," depending on what country you were in. There were various diplomatic attempts to resolve this issue, which was considered so important that it's even in the Treaty of Versailles. The issue was supposedly resolved for good in 1939, when an international conference set standard pitch at A=440 hz.
All of that is very boring, unless you're in the LaRouche movement, in which case it was the beginning of the apocalypse. See, Nazi Germany participated in the 1939 conference, and LaRouche claims that Joseph Goebbels secretly masterminded the adoption of a higher pitch to subconsciously encourage fascism. The Schiller Institute backs this up by touting "research" showing that humans feel more aggressive after listening to music at 440 hz, which is no doubt why people are always flying into uncontrollable rages after listening to Vivaldi.
And so the LaRouche movement started a propaganda campaign to get standard pitch lowered. It was weirdly successful in Italy, where LaRouche recruited classical superstars like Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti to petition parliament. Opera legend Renata Tebaldi even ran for Parliament on a LaRouche platform. There's no telling how far things might have gone if LaRouche hadn't been arrested for financial fraud in the U.S., badly damaging his movement around the world. Instead, the Italian proposal was defeated, probably because all the legislators had been brainwashed by the wicked pitch of the West.
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