Time for a roundup of groups, clubs, clans, cults, sects, bands, factions, tribes, assemblages, conglomerates, passels, platoons, posses, and syndicates…
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1. A splinter faction of the Democrats, the Equal Rights Party was formed in 1835. They were pro-labor and anti-“the government having anything to do with banking,” but most relevant for this story is their opposition to the corrupt Tammany Hall machine. That opposition led to a signal moment in political branding probably not paralleled until Harding’s inspirational promise for “A Return to Normalcy” in 1920.
The story begins with Tammany muscle attempting to sabotage an Equal Rights meeting by turning off the gas jets. Only a year earlier, a new type of match had been developed, and the inventor—trading on the popularity of locomotives—called them locofocos. The apocryphal sounding story goes that, with the gas jets turned off, the party lit candles with locofoco matches to continue the meeting. Thus did the generically-named Equal Rights Party became the infinitely sexier and more mysterious Locofocos.
The political clout never equalled the greatness of their name: by 1840, “Locofoco” was essentially a generic insult levied by Whigs against Democrats they didn’t like. When the Whig William Henry Harrison was elected, the Locofocos essentially disbanded, many of the jettisoned members joined the Barnburner Democrats.
Unsurprisingly, a group called the Locofocs had some great names among its members, including Henry Bangs and Levi D. Slamm, the latter the editor of the radical zine Daily Plebeian. The nominal pairing led local papers to refer to the group colloquially as “Slamm, Bang, and Company.” Still, the best name was saved for one of their opponents: Preserved Fish. The son of…Preserved Fish, and grandson of…Preserved Fish, and cousin of Stuyvesant Fish, the anti-Locofocoite Fish was a shipping magnate specializing in whale oil, grand poobah of the Tammany machine, and, I stress: was named Preserved Fish.
Some great presidential campaign slogans include: “Who is James K. Polk (Henry Clay, 1844) • “Vote as You Shot” (US Grant, 1868; blunt and effective) • “Ma Ma, Where’s my Pa” (James Blaine, 1884; referred to the possible illegitimate child of Grover Cleveland) • “Let Well Enough Alone” (McKinley’s re-election, 1900; peak milquetoast) • “Remember Hoover!” (FDR, 1936; vicious and cold-blooded, I love it) • “I Like Ike” (Eisenhower, 1952, changed to “I Still Like Ike” for 1956) • “Not Just Peanuts” (Carter, 1976). The greatest is Franklin Pierce’s 1852 slogan: “We Polked You in ‘44, We Shall Pierce you in ‘52.” Also, I promise I already had this written before The Toast “stole” it.
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2. The Golden State Warriors, recent NBA champions, trace their lineage back to the 1946 inaugural season of the Basketball Association of America (BAA). Then, they were the Philadelphia Warriors, and claimed the league’s first championship over the Chicago Stags:
Though I still prefer the Providence Steamrollers:
Because the BAA was formed as a sort of companion to an existing semi-pro hockey league, many of its games were played in hockey arenas. Often, wooden floors were simply laid down on the ice, and many games were cancelled due to inclement puddles. Those that weren’t still required spectators to bundle up and huddle together for warmth, though records do not indicate any incidences of cannibalism.
Four teams folded after that first year. The Baltimore Bullets were added, and won the championship in year two. The BAA Baltimore Bullets are unrelated to the NBA’s Washington Wizards, who were once the Washington Bullets, and before that the Baltimore Bullets, but started as the Chicago Packers in 1961 and renamed the Zephyrs before moving to Baltimore in 1963; the original BAA version of the team had folded in 1954.
In year three, the National Basketball League (NBL), a twelve-year old quasi-pro midwestern league, sent four of its teams to the BAA, including the Rochester Royals. The Royals date back to 1923, when they were the Rochester Seagrams; they are now the Sacramento Kings. Also joining were the Fort Wayne Pistons, and their Stay-Puft Piston Man of a mascot:
After that third season, the BAA and NBL merged and formed the NBA. That first NBA season featured small-town teams like the Waterloo Hawks (folded 1951), Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now the Atlanta Hawks), and the Sheboygan Racial Slurs (folded 1951). The Warriors, meanwhile, moved to San Francisco in 1962 and became Golden State in 1971. They went on to draft a) Wilt Chamberlain, 2) a bald hall of famer who shot his free throws underhanded, and d) Joe Barry Carroll, an aloof and indifferent seven footer with a worse reputation than he deserves, but whose demeanor earned him my favorite derisive nickname ever: Joe Barely Cares. They were also the NBA home of Latrell Sprewell, who holds an NBA record for being the only guy to choke his coach.
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3. Here’s a story about a “pseudo-Masonic” Italian group called Propaganda Due, aka P2. Way back in the 1930s, Mussolini outlawed freemasonry, but in the 1950s and 60s it came back in the guise of a virulently anti-communist Euro-style John Birch Society. The P2 lodge was founded in 1966 by banker and former Black Shirter Licio Gelli. They were stripped of official Freemason sanction in 1976, but that did not stop…whatever it was they were doing.
What exactly were they doing? They may or may not have been involved with bombings, false flag operations, and transnational intelligence operations under the guise of the Cold War’s “strategy of tension” (all this happened during Italy’s violent and ominously named Years of Lead). They may have been involved in a disinformation campaign alleging ties between Qaddafi and Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy, hoping to crush Carter’s reelection.
Public discovery of P2 and its doings came in the wake of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal. The BA was run by P2 members Gelli and Roberto Calvi, and was accused of funneling money to the Nicaraguan Contras via the Vatican Bank. Calvi, in fact, was nicknamed “God’s Banker” for his ties to the Vatican, and by some conspiracy theories he orchestrated the assassination of John Paul I, who had planned to sever the Vatican’s ties to the bank. Calvi himself was assassinated in 1982, after authorities discovered more than $1 billion of BA money was unaccounted for. The Vatican later paid more than $200 million to creditors to settle the debts.
Following the bank scandal, police raided Gelli’s home and found a master list of P2 members: a who’s who of nearly 1000 high-level spooks, generals, bankers, journalists, politicians, as well as Silvio Berlusconi and the heads of multiple intelligence agencies. More distressingly, they found a document called “Plan for a Democratic Rebirth” which included a point-by-point strategy for taking over the country and rewriting the constitution. The documents were taken seriously enough that Italy banned all secret associations, and the Prime Minister resigned in scandal after appearing to have delayed release of names on the list.
Gelli fled to Switzerland, where he was captured trying to remove $10 million from a Swiss bank. He escaped again, fled to South America, and wasn’t brought back until 1987, whence a truly staggering number of charges, court dates, appeals, and trials followed—the sum total of which was a twelve year sentence handed down in 1998. He promptly escaped from house arrest on the eve of his imprisonment, and wasn’t found until a year later in the French Riviera. He’s still alive, having served his prison time.
I have no earthly idea what to make of this story.