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 was formed in 1835 as a splinter faction of the Democrats. The group was pro-labor and anti-“the government having anything to do with banking” (making them, economically, Andrew Jackson devotees). Most relevant for their story, though, is their opposition to the corrupt Tammany Hall machine, which led to a great moment in political branding and nomenclature that wasn’t surpassed until Warren G. Harding’s inspirational promise for “A Return to Normalcy” in 1920.
Tammany muscle tried to close down a contentious Equal Rights meeting by turning off the gas jets, forcing them to continue the meeting by candlelight. 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 they lit the candles using locofoco matches, and the generically-named Equal Rights Party became the infinitely sexier and more mysterious Locofocos.
They didn’t last long or have much impact: by 1840, “Locofoco” was a generic insult levied by Whigs against Democrats, and when William Henry Harrison (a Whig) was elected, the Locofocos essentially disbanded (many later attached themselves to the Barnburner Democrats; in a perfect world the others would have founded Fomoco and Conoco). Perhaps unsurprisingly, a group called the Locofocos had some great names among its members, including Henry Bangs and Levi D. Slamm, the latter the editor of the radical magazine Daily Plebeian. That nominal pairing led local papers to refer to the group as “Slamm, Bang, and Company.”
The best, though, was the anti-Locofocoite Preserved Fish. Son of…Preserved Fish, grandson of…Preserved Fish, cousin of Stuyvesant Fish, Fish was a shipping magnate specializing in whale oil and a grand poobah of the Tammany machine, and that was actually his name.
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 bit 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 stately-logoed 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 year, and the Baltimore Bullets were added; they won the championship in year two. (Side note: the BAA Baltimore Bullets are unrelated to the NBA’s Washington Wizards, who were once the Washington / Baltimore Bullets, but actually started off as the Chicago Packers in 1961, then were renamed the Zephyrs—still a great name—then moved to Baltimore and became the “new” Bullets in 1963; the original team had folded in 1954).
Year three saw the National Basketball League (NBL), a twelve-year old quasi-pro midwestern league, send four of its teams to the BAA, including the Rochester Royals (the Royals dated 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.
3. Here’s a story about a “pseudo-Masonic” Italian group called Propaganda Due, aka P2. Mussolini outlawed freemasonry in Italy, and it eventually came back in the guise of a virulently anti-communist, Euro John Birch Society. The P2 lodge was founded in 1966 by banker and one-time Black Shirter Licio Gelli, but was stripped of its official Freemason sanction a decade later. That evidently did not stop…whatever it was they were doing.
What were they doing, exactly? Depends on how deep you want to get. They may or may not have been involved with several bombings, false flag operations, and other transnational intelligence operations under the guise of the Cold War’s “strategy of tension” (this all during the Italy’s ominously named Years of Lead). Also, it’s been suggested that they engaged in a disinformation campaign alleging ties between Qaddafi and Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy, hoping to crush Carter’s reelection.
The public discovery of the P2 was in the wake of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal. BA was run by P2 members Gelli and Roberto Calvi and was accused of funnelling money to the Nicaraguan Contras via the Vatican Bank. Calvi, in fact, was nicknamed “God’s Banker” for his deep ties to the Vatican, and conspiracy theory holds that he orchestrated the murder of Pope John Paul I, who planned to sever ties with the bank. Calvi himself was assassinated in 1982, this after authorities discovered more than $1 billion in Banco Ambrosiano money was unaccounted for. The Vatican later paid more than $200 million to creditors to settle the debts.
Following the scandal, police raided Gelli’s home and found the master list of P2 members, a who’s who of nearly 1000 high-level spooks, generals, bankers, journalists, politicians. Also Silvio Berlusconi and the heads of multiple intelligence agencies. Also a document called “Plan for a Democratic Rebirth” which, ho-hum, included things like union-busting and rewriting the constitution. The documents were taken seriously enough that Italy banned all secret associations, and the Prime Minister resigned after appearing to have delayed release of the names on the list.
Gelli fled to Switzerland, was captured trying to remove $10 million from a Swiss bank (what, like he wasn’t going to have that much money stashed away?). 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.