6 Grand Mastermind Coups (That Fell Apart Immediately)
The craziest part about being a conspiracy nut isn't believing that the Bilderberg Group hacked your fillings or replaced Ariana Grande with a vampire clone during the VMAs. It's the naive belief that human beings are capable of actually pulling off sinister schemes on such a scale. If history has taught us anything, it's that even with all the money and power in the world, most conspiracies fall apart as quickly and pathetically as an IKEA closet in a divorced dad's studio apartment. For example ...
Suriname's Anti-Terrorism Czar Tried To Rent Out Military Bases As Terrorist Training Camps
Desi Bouterse is currently the democratically elected president of Suriname. Which is crazy. And not because Bouterse is also currently wanted in the Netherlands for drug trafficking, or because he pardoned his foster son for murdering a Chinese national and throwing a hand grenade into an ambassador's home, or because he was the country's military dictator from 1980 to 1987, or even because he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for kidnapping and murdering 15 of his political opponents.
What's really bizarre is that Bouterse isn't even the worst government official in his family. That honor goes to his other son, Dino. As the head of the country's anti-terrorism efforts, Dino should've been the scourge of terrorists, but instead he tried to become their landlord. In 2013, some friendly Mexican cartel kingpins introduced Dino to representatives of Hezbollah. Dino pitched them a plan wherein he would Airbnb out a military base for them to train "30-60" new militants at for the low, low price of $2 million. This was a deal he was very proud of, since evidence later showed he texted "we hit the jackpot" to some buddies in the middle of the negotiations.
Except Dino never met with any Hezbollah leaders, or cartel bosses for that matter. Everyone at those meetings except for him was working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. They even goaded him into throwing rocket launchers, explosives, and drugs into the deal, just to rack up more charges. But before they could get him on tape promising Hezbollah a death ray, Dino was arrested and extradited to the U.S., where he's currently serving a modest 16-year sentence after a judge decided that his whole schtick was so pathetic that it couldn't possibly count as inciting actual terror.
A Texas Real Estate Developer Staged A Coup In The Gambia
Gambian "President" Yahya Jammeh is a bad guy straight out of an '80s action movie. During his decades-long reign of terror, he proved to be the special kind of insane -- the type that thinks he's immortal, can personally cure AIDS, and once declared war on sorcerers. But when a U.S. action hero finally decided to ride in guns blazing, it wasn't Rambo, but some middle-aged bureaucrat from Texas.
As a young man, Cherno Njie emigrated from The Gambia to the equally tropical Austin. There he fulfilled the American Dream by becoming a shady government official, then cashing out and making millions in private housing. But becoming a millionaire real estate developer may have gone to Njie's head, because his next project was to mastermind a coup against Jammeh and take over the tiny river nation. That seems a little more complex than negotiating with drywall contractors, who generally won't shoot you if things go bad. Not even in Texas.
Together with a gung-ho former Kentucky national guardsman named Njaga Jagne, Njie established the Gambia Freedom League, an elite team of ... 10 middle-aged Gambian expats with very little military training. While Jagne concocted the plot, Njie put himself in charge of morale, insisting that the team only refer to each other by code names like "Bandit" and "Fox." He also took care of admin, maintaining a careful spreadsheet of his coup expenses, which included notes like how spending money on sniper rifles was "NOT really necessary."
In 2014, using a vacation as cover, this a-couple-short-of a-dirty-dozen landed in The Gambia with few weapons, fewer strategies, and one guy who even brought his wife and children (he couldn't think of a reason not to invite them along). Still, the team had been assured by a former colonel and former head of Jammeh's Presidential Guard that the palace soldiers would surrender as soon as the first shots were fired.
And the coup did end after the first volley ... from Jammeh's guards. Tipped off by Senegal (which may have been tipped off by the FBI), they immediately opened fire, killing four of the suburban commandos before they could flee. Once they returned home, the FBI raided the homes of all GFL members. When Njie arrived back in Texas, he was arrested for the heinous crime of trying to overthrow a tyrant the United States didn't want overthrown.
American Libertarians Funded A Cult's Attempt To Take Over An Island
Back in the 1970s, America's brave libertarian millionaires, led by Nevada real estate wang Michael Oliver and witch doctor John Hospers, formed the Phoenix Foundation to fight the tide of "fascist socialism." (We all remember that, right?) When jackbooted thugs sought to impose intolerable strictures like healthcare and a minimum wage on the American people, it was the mission of the Phoenix Foundation to rise up against the oppressors ... by putting on their own jackboots and going somewhere else.
The Foundation's plan was as simple and undercooked as their understanding of economics. They'd take over some island inhabited by nobodies (read: brown people) and reboot their capitalist dream of living without taxes or age of consent laws. But starting your own utopia is a lot harder than Gilligan's Island made it look. We've already talked about their first attempt, which ended when the King of Tonga kicked them out of Oceania after they tried to squat on one of his reefs. But like good anarcho-capitalists, they wouldn't let a little chaos get in the way of their dumb plans. So next they tried to fund and arm a separatist movement in the Bahamian islands of Abaco, which failed when their gun runner out-libertarianed them and sold the guns to another bidder.
In a final, desperate attempt to found Ayn Randland, Phoenix set its sights on the newly independent nation of Vanuatu, which was having trouble with a cult trying to take over. The cult was led by Jimmy Stevens, an ultra-religious onetime bulldozer operator who dubbed himself "Moses" (not very libertarian), wore a long white beard and flowing robes (not libertarian at all), and maintained a harem of 23 wives (there it is).
The Phoenix Foundation allied with the cult, of course. They sealed an agreement with Stevens in a Melbourne hotel and started running guns onto the island. They also coordinated his rallies and made passports, flags, and gold coins with his face on them. (These people were super into gold.) The Foundation later estimated that it spent $250,000 on the project, which at the time was basically all the money in the South Pacific.
The rebellion finally broke out in 1980, and would've worked if the Foundation hadn't been struck down by libertarian kryptonite, i.e. international governmental cooperation. Outgunned, Vanuatu simply called Papua New Guinea, which sent them some troops. Stevens himself surrendered after his son was killed with a hand grenade. Afterward, the Phoenix Foundation faded away, because sometimes "rising from the ashes" is just you running away after tripping into a fire you started.
New Zealand's Spy Agency Tried To Use An Idiot's Fake Nazi Plot To Impose Martial Law
New Zealand's Great Nazi Spy Fiasco started with two bungling con men and an incredible coincidence, and it only got more like a Coen brothers movie from there. During World War II, Sydney Ross and Alfred Remmers became best buds while serving time in a New Zealand prison. But Remmers was dying of leukemia, so he bequeathed to Ross his greatest treasure. No, not the location of a buried bank safe, but an idea for a scam. Ross, he proposed, should turn himself in as a Nazi spy, offer to become a double agent, and start cashing in those fat government paychecks.
This con was, of course, incredibly stupid, and would have fallen apart immediately ... or should have fallen apart immediately. Instead Ross got exceptionally lucky. When he got out of jail, he met with the prime minister (which you can apparently just do in New Zealand) and explained that he was a Nazi spy, but eager to turn his coat. As luck would have it, the PM had recently been informed of a real Nazi plot that very day, so instead of booting this bogus bogun, he tasked the Security Intelligence Bureau with investigating the claim.
And it turned out Ross wasn't merely blessed with good luck, but also had a guardian angel in the form of New Zealand's megalomaniac spymaster, Major Kenneth Folkes. Folkes realized he could use this obvious scam to further his own agenda. The SIB even added more crazy lies to the con, convincing the terrified government that Nazi sleeper cells were embedded across the country, and that the only way to stop these phantom fascists was to make Folkes New Zealand's dictator, allowing him to impose martial law, install curfews, and even arrest citizens indefinitely without charge.
Luckily, the government decided to run things by the police before turning New Zealand into the most genteel tyranny in history. That's when the stupid con finally fell apart and Ross and the SIB were found out. Backed into a corner, the SIB pulled one last Hail Mary and helped Ross fake an abduction and torture by Nazi spies. But his very real wounds failed to convince anybody, Folkes was forced to leave the country, and the entire SIB was disbanded in disgrace. So anyway, that's one of the very few times when fighting Nazis was the wrong thing to do.
A Hague Court Tried To Capture Joseph Kony By Inviting Him To Dinner With Angelina JolieJoseph Kony is a warlord who can't decide if he prefers to make children his soldiers or to just make children (he has 42). He came to international attention in 2012, after a short documentary highlighting his atrocities went viral. Suddenly Kony was the hottest name on every country's most wanted list. And one organization figured that the only way to catch a celebrity is with another celebrity.
Louis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor of The Hague's International Criminal Court, hoped to get Kony starstruck enough to come out of his palace fortress. And the celebrity Ocampo wanted for this was Angelina Jolie. Unsurprisingly, Angelina "I sleep with knives" Jolie was immediately onboard, as an excited Ocampo later wrote: "Forget other celebrities, she is the one. She loves to arrest Kony. She is ready. Probably Brad will go also."
The plan was as follows: Jolie and Pitt (if he decided to tag along) would lure the warlord out of hiding by inviting him to dinner. Unable to resist an evening with the star of Salt, Kony would then emerge from his stronghold. Ocampo assured Jolie that U.S. special forces would nab him before they even got to the fish course.
But the plan never went ahead, and some sources claim it was because Jolie was getting freaked out. Not by the prospect of meeting Kony, but by Ocampo, who allegedly had become Jennifer Aniston levels of obsessed with her. According to The Sunday Times, the internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer started writing her emails like "Dear Angie, I hope you are well. I miss you," and started stalking her assistant when the actress stopped replying.
Jolie ghosted Ocampo long enough that his term at the ICC came to an end with Kony still at large. Though we hear that the new guy at the ICC is concocting a plan to triangulate his location by getting Jennifer Lawrence to email some dirty feet pics.
An Italian Fascist Coup Was Cancelled And Replaced By A Spaghetti Dinner
On December 8, 1970, Valerio "The Black Prince" Borghese launched a daring coup on the Italian government ... and by "daring," we mean the most hilariously bumbling attempt since the Three Stooges tried to seize the Kremlin. It all started appropriately Italian: At midnight on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, armed men would storm the government in Rome, destroy the republic, and install Borghese as dictator. But right before the bells tolled, they received a frantic message from Borghese telling them to put the pins back in their grenades and abort because it was "raining too heavily." Instead they were to retreat to Borghese's house, have a nice spaghetti meal, and fuggedaboutit.
That was a little awkward, because one unit had already broken into the Interior Ministry and looted the armory. When they heard the bad news, these assassins had to race through the streets to put it all back as if nothing had happened. They even cobbled together a new machine pistol out of spare parts to replace one they lost, like a bunch of naughty boys standing next to a hastily glued Ming vase. Meanwhile, another retreating team had gotten stuck in the apartment elevator of the police chief they were supposed to kidnap, and had to sit there until morning, putting on their best "not a death squad" smiles when a suspicious concierge lifted them out.
Despite bungling the coup so badly that the Italian government insisted it didn't even qualify as an attempt, the Black Prince did have to flee Italy for Spain. He spent four years in exile there before dying of apparent arsenic poisoning, or possibly embarrassment.
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