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. The Equal Rights Party formed as a splinter faction of the Democrats in 1835. They were pro-labor and anti-“the government having anything to do with banking,” but for this story, the most relevant part of their platform is their opposition to the corrupt Tammany Hall machine. Political skirmishes with Tammany Hall led to a signal moment in political branding that was not matched at least until Warren Harding’s perfectly uninspirational promise of “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. Just a year earlier, a new type of match had been invented, and the inventor—trading on the popularity of locomotives—called them locofocos. The story goes that, with the gas jets plunging their meeting into darkness, the Equal Righters lit candles, using locofoco matches, to continue the discussion. And that is how the generically-named Equal Rights Party earned the infinitely sexier and more mysterious moniker of the Locofocos.
Unfortunately their political clout never came close to the greatness of their name: by 1840, “Locofoco” was mostly just an insult levied by Whigs against Democrats they didn’t like. When William Henry Harrison—a Whig—was elected, the Locofocos folded up shop, if not in name then in practice. Many of the jettisoned members joined the Barnburner Democrats.
It’s not suprising that a group named the Locofocos held within its ranks some great names. Among them were Henry Bangs and Levi D. Slamm, the latter the editor of the radical zine Daily Plebeian. The nominal pairing led newspapers to refer to the group colloquially as “Slamm, Bang, and Company.” The best name was reserved for one of their most prominent opponents: Preserved Fish. The son of Preserved Fish and grandson of Preserved Fish, the anti-Loco Fish was a shipping magnate made rich off whale oil and the grand poobah of the Tammany machine. And, I repeat: his name was Preserved Fish.
Some great presidential campaign slogans:
- “Who is James K. Polk (Henry Clay, 1844)
- “Vote as You Shot” (US Grant, 1868; blunt, effective)
- “Ma Ma, Where’s my Pa” (James Blaine, 1884; referred to Cleveland’s rumored illegitimate child)
- “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.”
- I promise I already had this written before The Toast “stole” it.
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:
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. There have been better ideas. Wooden basketball floors were often simply laid down over the ice, causing games to be cancelled due to “puddles.” Those that weren’t still forced spectators to bundle up and huddle together for warmth, though there were no recorded instances of hypothermia or cannibalism.
Four teams folded after the BAA’s first year. The Baltimore Bullets were added, and won the championship in year two. Now, the BAA Bullets, who folded in 1954, are unrelated to the NBA’s Washington Wizards, who were once the Washington Bullets, and prior to that the Baltimore Bullets. Those Baltimore Bullets began life as the Chicago Packers in 1961, renamed the Zephyrs before moving to Baltimore in 1963.
In year three, the National Basketball League (NBL), a 12-year-old semi-pro midwestern league, sent four of its teams to the BAA. One was the Rochester Royals, who dated back to 1923, born then as the Rochester Seagrams. They are now the Sacramento Kings. Also joining the BAA were the Fort Wayne Pistons and their weirdo anthropomorphic Stay-Puft Piston Man of a mascot:
After that third season, the BAA and NBL merged and formed the NBA. The 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. Finally, a story about a “pseudo-Masonic” Italian group called Propaganda Due or P2. Back in the 1930s, Mussolini outlawed freemasonry in Italy, but in the 1950s and 60s it came back in the guise of a virulently anti-communist Eurovision quasi-John Birch Society. Fitting directly into this archetype was the P2 lodge, founded in 1966 by banker / former Black Shirt Licio Gelli. The lodge was stripped of official Freemason sanction in 1976, but that did not stop them from doing…whatever it was they were doing, which was definitely untoward.
What exactly were they doing? Allegations include: bombings, false flag operations, transnational intelligence operations under the guise of the Cold War’s “strategy of tension” (this during Italy’s violent and ominously named Years of Lead). They may have orchestrated a misinformation campaign that alleged ties between Qaddafi and Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy, hoping to crush Carter’s re-election. Basically, lots of weird black-bag shadow government global politics.
Public discovery of P2 various nefarious dealings came in the wake of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal. The BA, run by P2 members Gelli and Roberto Calvi, was accused of funneling money to the Nicaraguan Contras via the Vatican Bank. Calvi, in fact, was nicknamed “God’s Banker” for his close ties to the Vatican. By some conspiracy theories he was behind the assassination of John Paul I, who was planning 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 unaccounted for. The Vatican later paid more than $200 million to creditors to settle the debts (it goes all the way to the Vatican!).
Police raided Gelli’s home in the wake of the scandal and found a master list of P2 members, which turned out to be a who’s who of nearly 1000 high-level spooks, generals, bankers, journalists, politicians (future laughably corrupt PM Silvio Berlusconi), and heads of multiple intelligence agencies. More ominously, they turned up a document called “Plan for a Democratic Rebirth,” including 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 merely for the appearance of having delayed release of the names on the list.
Gelli, in legal jeopardy, fled to Switzerland where he was captured while trying to withdraw $10 million from his Swiss bank account. Somehow he escaped again, fled to South America (of course South America), and was not extradited until 1987. A staggering number of charges, court dates, trials, and appeals followed—the sum total of which was a twelve year sentence handed down in 1998. He promptly escaped again 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, besides, I guess…unease?