Bacon’s Rebellion

Bacon’s Rebellion

In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon led a group of planters, small landholders, indentured servants, and slaves first in defiance of, then in assault on the colonial government of Virginia.

Accusing the royal governor Sir William Berkeley, his cousin by marriage, of conspiring with hostile Native Americans to enrich himself and his cronies, Bacon and his adherents launched a campaign of genocidal violence along the frontier, plundered the estates of Berkeley’s supporters, and burned the colonial capital, Jamestown, to the ground.

Berkeley, who fled the capital and only returned when British troops arrived to restore order after the rebellion’s failure, accused his rebellious relation of a conspiracy to overthrow the government of Virginia.


As in most agrarian resistance movements in colonial America, Bacon’s Rebellion found its roots in a mix of economic, regional, and racial tensions. In the 1660s and 1670s, the pressure of former indentured servants migrating west in search of land and independence escalated social and political tensions along the colony’s western frontiers.

The context of falling tobacco prices, declining opportunities for landownership, high taxes, lack of political representation, and political favoritism in the Indian trade cemented an unlikely alliance of small landowners, frontier planters, indentured servants, and slaves. The depredations of the AngloDutch wars underscored a climate of violent political struggle. The resulting instability threatened dangerous consequences and opened the way for a demagogic insurrection.

In 1675, a dispute between indigenous Doegs and a frontier farmer touched off a series of bloody attacks, providing a catalyst for the conflicts and resentments within Virginia’s colonial population. Bacon forced a commission from Berkeley, raised a vigilante force, and launched a campaign of indiscriminate reprisals against indigenous people, butchering innocent Susquehannocks alongside enemy Doegs.

Threatened by Bacon’s disobedience, the governor called the colony’s first election in fifteen years. Bacon was elected to the House of Burgesses, but Berkeley had him arrested when he arrived in Jamestown to take his seat.

Berkeley soon released Bacon, sending him out to recruit an antiIndian militia and defend the frontiers. When Bacon took his commission as a mandate for the large-scale slaughter of the region’s native peoples, Berkeley reversed his position and declared Bacon a traitor.

Accusing Berkeley of sacrificing the safety of European settlers in the interest of kickbacks and profits from the Indian trade, and fearing that Berkeley and his followers were conspiring to assassinate him, Bacon made true his traitor’s label, turning his force on the capital.

His militias looted and pillaged the properties of Berkeley supporters, burning the capital to the ground in the process. Bacon and his men gained de facto control over the colony until his untimely death from dysentery in October 1676.

Bacon’s Rebellion proved the largest and most successful rebellion in colonial history before the American Revolution. Whether the act of a powerhungry political opportunist or a freedom fighter (albeit of a staunchly undemocratic character), Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion foreshadowed growing socioeconomic and political tensions in the developing colonies—an environment ripe for resistance, revolt, and intrigue.

Bank of England

Bank of England
Bank of England

Like the Bank of the United States and the Federal Reserve System, the Bank of England was the focus of numerous conspiracy theories almost from the time of its founding in 1694 through the Tonnage Act.

William of Orange, the king of England, who needed money for a war in France, authorized the formation of a bank under the act that had the authority to issue notes, using the loans against the crown as collateral. The Bank was privately owned, but, according to conspiracy theorists, the names of the founders were kept secret, although the names of all stock subscribers appeared in the subscription book.

A myriad of complaints about the Bank’s operations arose, and to even reference all of them would border on the impossible. Among the main criticisms by the conspiracy theorists were the supposed inconvertibility of the notes into gold and silver (“paper money created out of thin air,” as Pat Robertson claimed); connections with the Rothschild family; a pipeline to stolen gold supplied by Dutch thieves; and manipulations of the international financial system in concert with the Federal Reserve, Jews, and/or the Vatican.



Among the many attacks on the Bank of England were theories that the Bank was a pawn in the hands of a Jewish cabal whose intention was to split Christianity, or that the monarchy had simply confiscated the gold of the London goldsmiths.

One version included allegations that the king had obtained the capital from the Bank through taxation, while another claimed it was (as with other central banks) controlling the economy through its manipulation of the money supply, even as early as 1700. Through the Bank, then, secret groups could control the monarchy and thus control England.

In more recent years, the Bank of England has become one of the villains in the New World Order conspiracy theories, usually aligned with either the Federal Reserve, the Rockefellers/Rothschilds, or Jews. In this view, the Bank of England as early as 300 years ago had been used by conspirators to control international finances outside of parliamentary scrutiny (despite the fact that it was nationalized by the British government in 1946).

Even the nationalization of the Bank, though, has been viewed as a continuation of the conspiracy, with the Bank now powerful enough to demand that the government incorporate it into the official levers of power.

Eustace Mullins argues that the Federal Reserve was a puppet of an international banking elite tied to the Bank of England: “The most powerful men in the United States were themselves answerable to another power, a foreign power, and a power which had been steadfastly seeking to extend its control over the young republic since its very inception. The power was the financial power of England, centered in the London Branch of the House of Rothschild”.

Related to this view of the Bank of England is the notion that the Rockefellers, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderbergers, and others have used the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England to manipulate the money supplies of democratic nations.

According to these theories, which take several forms, the Rockefellers (and/or Trilateralists) have filled the boards of the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England with “their people” and thus control the supply of money, generating inflation to support political candidates or forcing deflation on the economy to benefit rich lenders.

These views, as seen in the web sites of J. Orlin Grabbe and Sherman Skolnick, often contain contradictory positions on gold, which has traditionally been seen by conspiracy theorists as the “firewall” against inflationary government spending.

Current conspiracy theorists have now sought to include gold manipulations by the Federal Reserve and/or Bank of England within the broader allegations about control of the money supply. In another version, the British royal family’s intermarriage to Jews gave the Rothschilds an open door to control the Bank of England, and hence the world’s financial structure.

Paranoia about the Bank of England led evangelist Pat Robertson, in his book The New World Order, to claim that the Bank was originally established to issue fiat money without genuine gold backing—money “created out of thin air,” as he said. In these charges, Robertson echoed the Depression-era Catholic radio priest, Father Charles Coughlin, who likewise distorted the nature and origins of the Bank of England.

Early Americans also feared that the Bank of England had secret investors in the First and Second Banks of the United States, or that it routinely caused panics or depressions in North America.

In fact, the panic of 1837 can indirectly be traced to the Bank of England, but only insofar as the Bank raised interest rates after silver shipments from Mexico to the United States dried up, thus diminishing the flow of silver from the United States to China, then on to England where the silver was held as a reserve. However, at worst the Bank was an unwilling actor in a drama that began in Mexico.

England was the last Western nation to leave the gold standard during the Great Depression, saving the United States, and by clinging to the gold standard the United States put its banking system in mortal danger—a threat that was only alleviated when Franklin Roosevelt took the country off gold in the 1930s.

Although the conspiracy-minded still see the Bank of England as a threat, the ascension of New York over London as the world’s money center in World War I and the creation of the Federal Reserve System have to a large degree provided a new source of conspiracy angst, the Federal Reserve. Modern conspiracy theorists must carefully weave the Bank of England’s shadowy power in with the more obvious role played by the Federal Reserve.

Bank of the United States

First Bank of the United States
First Bank of the United States

Seen as an instrument of British interests, the Bank of the United States (BUS) was the most powerful single financial institution in the nation, and thus was the target of those who suspected that foreigners, especially the British, engaged in “shadow control” of the bank.

After the First BUS had its charter expire, and was subsequently replaced by the Second BUS (1816), the new bank became the object of a different conspiracy view in which the “monied interests” sought control over the “common man” through the Bank.

As part of his Report on Public Credit, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton recommended creation of a national bank to hold the nation’s deposits, make loans to the new government of the United States, and to provide a source of stability for the nation’s money supply.


Based on the model of the Bank of North America, the Bank of the United States was chartered by Congress in January 1791 for twenty years with a capital stock of $10 million, of which $2 million was to be paid in gold. The government subscribed to one-fifth of the capital stock, and the remainder of the Bank’s ownership was in private hands.

In addition to holding government deposits, the BUS had another important advantage over all future privately owned banks, in that it was authorized to open branches in several states. Among the cities to obtain BUS branches were Norfolk, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Operations at the main branch in Philadelphia commenced in 1792.

It took only a few hours on 4 July 1791, for subscribers to snatch up shares of BUS stock. One-third were members of Congress, and many more were public officials. Thomas Willing, Robert Morris’s partner, was the president.

Second Bank of the United States
Second Bank of the United States

Despite the clear and obvious representation in ownership by powerful Americans, the Bank immediately came under suspicion of being in the control of “foreign interests.” These attacks remained particularly acute until 1800, when Thomas Jefferson was elected president.

Jefferson, an opponent of the Bank, nevertheless did not ask for repeal of the Bank charter with his new Republican Congress, nor did his allies introduce such a bill. Rather, he ordered the sale of all government interest in the bank, while at the same time he cut the national debt and thus diminished the Bank’s portfolio of government securities.

For the next several years, the BUS produced respectable earnings of 8–10 percent for its stockholders, kept a large reserve, and was operated effectively, if secretly. The Treasury had the authority to require regular reports, but did not, and none were offered. This secrecy, combined with growing anti-British feelings and the corollary suspicion that British investors controlled large portions of the stock, placed the recharter of the BUS in peril in 1811.

By that time, the new president of the United States, James Madison, who was a former Federalist, found himself in conflict with many of the Republicans in Congress. Tensions with England had grown so strong that the recharter bill narrowly failed in both houses despite support from the (by then many) state-chartered banks. Soon thereafter, the United States was again at war with Great Britain.

Following the War of 1812, banknote circulation rose from $45 million to $68 million, generated by some 246 state-chartered private banks. Pressures on reserves (in which banks had to redeem their paper banknotes in gold or silver “specie”) mounted until, in August 1814, the banks had to “suspend” specie payments—that is, refuse to pay gold and silver for notes.

Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Dallas, who had supported a new national bank, used the episode to argue for chartering a Second Bank of the United States. In January 1815, before the War of 1812 ended, Congress had passed a new charter, which Madison vetoed, contending that it did not meet the government’s needs for loans.

However, Congress redrafted the bill and in April 1816 submitted a new charter, which was similar to that of the First BUS. Important differences included a larger capital stock ($35 million) and there were new locations for branches, but the operations resembled the earlier bank’s.

Like the First BUS, the headquarters was in Philadelphia, and like the previous institution, the Second BUS was 80 percent privately owned. Stephen Girard of Philadelphia subscribed to $3 million and William Jones, a Republican from Pennsylvania, was the first president.

Jones’s leadership proved less than inspiring, and after the Bank found its liquid draining away, Congress investigated the operations and accused Jones of mismanagement. After Jones resigned in 1819, South Carolinian Langdon Cheves took over and immediately began calling in loans. Although a recession set in, Cheves managed to right the Bank and to put it on a firm footing, earning a number of enemies along the way.

Critics who favored “loose money” began to attack the bank—most notably Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who called it “the monster.” When Cheves was replaced by Philadelphian Nicholas Biddle in 1923, supporters of the Bank hoped the criticism would end.

Biddle managed the Bank well—perhaps too well, as the BUS gained influence and political power far beyond what the First BUS ever held. By 1828, when Tennessean Andrew Jackson was elected president, he had a history of antipathy toward banks.

Nevertheless, early indications were that he would not act unfavorably toward the Bank. Biddle, overestimating his own political support and underestimating Jackson’s popularity, dramatically sought to recharter the BUS in 1832, some four years before its renewal day.

He counted on the fact that Jackson would not risk the wrath of the public in an election year, but badly misjudged Jackson, who saw the Bank as his main campaign foil. Picking up the old “monster” tag, and using still other descriptions such as “the hydra,” Jackson vetoed the recharter bill and then made the veto stick. Furthermore, the public supported him.

Central to Jackson’s “war” on the BUS was his political rhetoric—whether he believed it or not remains a matter of controversy among historians—that the Bank represented the “elites” and involved undue foreign control. Jackson’s speeches touched a long-held U.S. suspicion of speculators and investors, especially if they were foreigners.

Playing to a British “conspiracy” to control U.S. financial markets, Jackson succeeded in withdrawing the deposits of the U.S. government from the BUS in 1833, depriving the Bank of one of its two primary advantages over other institutions.

When the Bank’s national charter expired, it got a charter from Pennsylvania, but with none of the power it once had. By 1840, the former Bank of the United States was out of business, and subsequent scholars have failed to identify any substantial foreign control that was exerted over its operations.

Bank War

Bank War
Bank War

Charges that the Second Bank of the United States (BUS) had fallen into the hands of “moneyed interests” (an unusual choice of labels, given that it was a bank) had led to growing hostility and opposition to the Bank by some Americans during the Jackson era.

There were already many who still remembered the panic of 1819 and the severe contraction initiated by the president of the Second BUS, Langdon Cheves, in an effort to save the institution.

He succeeded by calling in loans and foreclosing on property, then selling the land when prices returned. Cheves’s efforts, though, alienated many toward banks altogether. One of those who blamed banks for his own financial misdealings was Andrew Jackson, elected president in 1828.


Jackson, the “Hero of New Orleans,” had grown up with a hatred for the British, suffering a wound as a teenager from an English officer during the Revolution. Most of Jackson’s career had taken place in Tennessee courthouses or on campaigns with the army against American Indians or British troops.

He thus had orchestrated a strong anti-Washington sentiment in the nation, which he translated into a suspicion of anything big and powerful. In a sense, he was the first populist president, who saw evil in moneyed elites, big business, and above all large financial institutions.

Jackson’s understanding of economics and finances largely came from reading a book on the South Sea Bubble and from the advice of William Gouge in his Short History of Paper Money and Banking in the United States (1833). Gouge was convinced that paper money was an intrinsic evil, and that only “hard money,” or a gold circulating medium, would engender prosperity.

By the time Jackson won the presidency, the number of banks in the United States had grown almost geometrically. Under most circumstances, a bank received its charter (its right to conduct business) from the state legislature after submitting a petition from citizens explaining the “public good” such a business would bring to local communities.

Charters at the state level no longer automatically entailed monopoly status for the bearer, but did carry important advantages, such as limited liability and, for banks, the authority to issue paper “notes” or money.

Each bank could (in theory) print notes in proportion to its paid-in capital, which (again, in theory) consisted of gold and silver coin, called “specie.” But banks routinely issued far more notes than they had specie in their vaults. It was, after all, how they turned a profit, by issuing the notes in the form of loans whose repayments exceeded the small interest they paid on deposits.

Few—especially Jackson—understood banking as it operated at that time. Banks maintained some specie reserve, because at any time customers might demand their notes be “redeemed” in specie.

Any bank that could not redeem its notes was subject to immediate closure by the state legislature, although few banks were ever required to shut down, mostly because when one bank was in trouble, all of them were in trouble, and no legislatures (except Arkansas and Wisconsin, in 1837) banned banks altogether.

What kept the system running was trust in the bank’s notes, not the actual gold or silver in the safe. Thus, in an ironic twist, the healthier a bank, the lower its specie reserves, while banks that were more suspect to runs would have to maintain more specie in their vaults.

One exception to this state-governed structure stood out: the Second Bank of the United States, which, like its predecessor, had numerous important advantages over its state-level competitors. As the depository for the funds of the United States government, the BUS had an enormous deposit base, which meant that it had far more money to lend than any other bank.

It also was empowered to open branches in states designated by Congress: the Second BUS had branches in Chillicothe, Ohio, New Orleans, Louisiana, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New York, and so on. The advantages offered by branches were twofold. First, branches made the bank truly a national institution.

When it came to currency, this gave it a significant edge, in that, for example, a local New Orleans bank’s notes might trade “at par” (face value) in New Orleans and the surrounding area, but the further one got from the bank, the more difficult it became to redeem the notes, making them trade at a “discount.” This was not the case with BUS money.

Since BUS offices were relatively well distributed throughout the country, it was not difficult to redeem BUS notes in any region. Likewise, the ubiquity of BUS notes gave them more credibility and popularity than local banknotes, which added a premium to their value.

One might think that these advantages over state banks would have made the BUS an enemy of local institutions, and thus fair game for Andrew Jackson’s campaign to destroy it. In reality, however, most state banks saw the BUS as a source of stability that kept out poorly capitalized or badly run banks.

The BUS could police the system to a degree, by staging “raids” in which a local BUS cashier might, in the process of exchange, collect the notes of a state-chartered bank and then surprise the local bank’s staff by presenting a large amount of notes for redemption.

The local bank would have to have BUS notes or specie equal to the amount demanded, or risk charter revocation by the state legislature. Some have argued that the discipline brought on by this threat fostered hostility to the BUS by state-chartered banks, but the large numbers of petitions that came into Congress by such local banks during the Bank War testify to the contrary: by and large, local bankers liked the presence of the BUS.

Within this context, the actual causes of the Bank War lay in the personalities of Jackson and the president of the Second BUS, Philadelphian Nicholas Biddle, who had succeeded Cheves. Biddle had built the BUS into a powerful force, which made it a prominent target for Jackson.

An excellent banker, Biddle had the support of the most powerful men in the Senate—Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Calhoun—but misjudged the popular appeal that Jackson could muster against an “elite” institution. Thinking Jackson, in an election year, would not dare oppose a solid institution that had meant much to U.S. business, Biddle’s supporters submitted a recharter bill for the Bank four years before the charter expired.

Where Biddle saw economic reason and common sense, the emotion-driven Jackson saw an election issue. He vetoed the recharter bill, calling the Bank a “monster.” Claiming that “The bank, Mr. Van Buren, is trying to kill me, but I will kill it,” he railed against “monopolies and exclusive privileges”.


Playing on popular sentiment against “moneyed men,” Jackson claimed that Clay, among others, had received BUS loans, while other Jackson supporters raised the canard used against the First Bank of the United States that control of the Bank was in the hands of “foreign” (largely British) investors. Cartoons portrayed Jackson as the champion of the common man battling a many-headed hydra of wealthy-looking men in top hats.

The stunned Bank forces found that they did not have the votes to override Jackson’s veto, and while they were still reeling from that setback, Jackson delivered another. He withdrew all government deposits from the Bank, stripping it of its most important competitive advantage.

Jackson stuffed those funds in state banks whose management was loyal to him, known as “Pet Banks.” Now a shell, the BUS could do little, and in 1836, when its national charter expired, Biddle obtained a charter from the State of Pennsylvania, only to have the bank hammered in the panic of 1837, and eventually close.

For more than a century, pundits and historians accepted that what happened next was the result of Jackson’s “war.” Land prices shot up, which scholars attributed to the inflationary issues by the local banks now unrestrained by the threat of BUS “raids.”

Jackson responded to this inflation by passing the Specie Circular (1836), which required that all federal land be paid for in specie. This, in turn (according to the long-held view) caused a crash in land values and brought on the panic of 1837. The story was internally consistent, and was generally accepted by virtually all U.S. historians well into the 1960s.

Indeed, Robert Remini’s classic on the affair, Andrew Jackson and the Bank War, still accepted this view as late as 1967, even when other evidence had become available. In the early 1960s, new economics approaches, called econometrics, that used large data samples manipulated by computers, made it possible to examine the claims about the BUS and Jackson’s role with statistical evidence.

Richard Timberlake, Jr., and then Peter Temin discovered independently that the inflation had occurred completely apart from the activities of the Bank War—that Mexican silver imports that formed the specie reserve in banks had soared in the early 1830s. Likewise, they showed, those silver inflows dried up quickly by 1836, instigating the panic.

The Bank War made good theater, and enabled pro-Jackson historians such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Robert Remini to create a myth about Jackson fighting for the common man, but it was only that, a myth.

Jackson favored a large central government as much as his predecessor, John Quincy Adams, but wanted the levers of government in the hands of the Democrats, not the Whigs or Federalists. He greatly expanded executive power at the federal level, and his forces in Congress sought to enact sweeping new laws against currency issue by any bank.

In the end, Jackson did not hate banks, but only banks that were not under the control of his party. Nevertheless, the image of a swordwielding Jackson, slashing away at an octopus representing “big business” and “big money,” remains a popular one to this day.

Abbé Barruel

Abbé Augustin de Barruel
Abbé Augustin de Barruel
French ex-Jesuit Abbé Augustin de Barruel (1741– 1820) has the dubious honor of being the father of modern conspiracy theory. His four-volume Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism contains all the elements that continue to characterize conspiracy narratives today including “evidence” of a shadowy cabal orchestrating world events behind the scenes and “proof” of a direct lineage of malfeasance stretching from antiquity to the present.

According to David Brion Davis, Barruel’s Memoirs represent the first “rigorous” application of conspiracy theories, and as such were highly influential on his and subsequent generations.

Barruel became a Jesuit in 1756, but by 1762 anti-Jesuit feeling in France had become so strong he was to leave his homeland to travel for several years, returning only in 1773 when he left the church at the time the order was suppressed. The events of the French Revolution caused him to take refuge in England in 1792, during which time he met John Robison, the Scottish scientist whose Proofs of a Conspiracy would be published the same year as the first volume of Barruel’s Memoirs in 1798.

In the Memoirs, Barruel claimed the French Revolution was brought about intentionally by secret societies, which included the Jacobins, the Freemasons, and the Illuminati and Enlightenment thinkers, including Voltaire, Diderot, and the philosophes.


In Barruel’s mind, the antimonarchy, anticlergy philosophes were the direct descendents of the secret medieval guilds who made up the order of the Freemasons. Presenting an accessible explanation for the causes of the French Revolution, the Memoirs were extremely influential and were translated into nine languages by 1812; the French edition remained continuously in print until 1837.

The first two volumes of the Memoirs lay the blame for the French Revolution specifically at the feet of the French Enlightenment thinkers, whose alarming philosophy espoused, among other things, a breaking down of national boundaries, overthrowing the monarchy, and establishing a democracy based on merit.

Volumes three and four trace the historical antecedents for these schools of thought, finding that the Illuminati ultimately pull the strings: The secrets of the Lodges constitute the basis of the Revolution under the title of the Rights of Man. The first article declares man to be equal and free; that the principle of all sovereignty essentially resides in the people; and that law is nothing more than the expression of the general will.

Such had been for nearly half a century the doctrines of Argenson, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Voltaire. These principles of pride and revolt had long since been the ground-work of the mysteries of every class of Sophister, Occult Mason, or Illuminee; and now they decorate the title page of the revolutionary code.

This fear of Enlightenment thinking struck a particular chord in the nascent United States, where Barruel’s and Robison’s texts were cited as proof, indeed, of the dangers threatening the new republic. New England clergyman Rev. Jedidiah Morse was instrumental in bringing anti-Illuminati feeling into the political sphere with his series of sermons in 1797–1799, which cited the French Revolution as proof of the dangers of radical thought, and neatly aligned Jeffersonian politics with the Illuminati.

Although later Barruel’s position would change, the first edition of the Memoirs is not antisemitic, nor does it contain any reference to Judaism; at the time the Jewish community in France was marginalized, with no political influence, and therefore was not perceived as a threat.

Events after the revolution would change that: the French National Assembly in 1791 ended legal restrictions on Jews, which was seen by many as incontestable proof that, as the revolution directly benefited the Jewish community, it must have been caused by Jewish plotting.

At this time Barruel’s antisemitic views had not been published, but such was his profile and influence that his verbal endorsement of them was enough to guarantee their acceptance as truth. Jews began to be seen as the ultimate power behind all secret societies, leading to the confused notion that the Freemasons were Jewish, and, ultimately, to the creation in the early twentieth century of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forged document purporting to outline secret Jewish rituals.

Barruel was not without his detractors, but responded to his critics using many of the tactics of later conspiracist thinking. The preface to volume four defends his position at length, using the very fact of his critics’ existence as further proof of the Jacobin/Illumanti plot (an argument along the lines of “you think that because that’s what the Jacobins want you to think”); if all else failed, Barruel simply accused his critics of being members of the Illuminati themselves. In a series of letters defending his position against the philosopher Montesquieu, Barruel concludes the philosopher is clearly an Illuminee for disagreeing with him.

Barruel’s text was vastly influential and impossible for his contemporaries to ignore; even his detractors were forced to take him seriously enough to refute his arguments at length, and the Memoirs were written about and discussed by leading literary and philosophical figures of the day, including Shelly, Thomas de Quincey and Edmund Burke in England, and George Sand and Gerard de Nerval in France.

As Pipes states, the book’s combination of secret societies and antisemitism set the “template” for conspiracy fears that exists to this day. The book has rarely been out of print, and continues to have its supporters among right-wing conspiracist groups such as the John Birch Society.

Its most recent publishers market the book as an accurate historical document, and describe Barruel as “one of the few authors on the French Revolution to be specific in the people he names, the intrigues he recounts, and the supporting documentation he provides”. However, the last word should be given to Thomas Jefferson, who, on reading the book when it was first published, dismissed it as “the ravings of a Bedlamite.”

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Failed Bay of Pigs Invasion
Failed Bay of Pigs Invasion

Situated on the southern coast of Cuba, the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) was the location on 17 April 1961 of a failed invasion of the island by Cuban exiles hostile to the “Marxist” government of Fidel Castro, which had taken power in January 1959.

The invasion, which was orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and approved by President John F. Kennedy, was just one episode in the broader “conspiracy” to provoke confrontation with Cuba that had been initiated under Kennedy’s predecessor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and that continued to operate, after the Bay of Pigs, through and beyond the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Intending to raise support among the islanders and lead a coup against Castro, the invasion force instead encountered heavy resistance from the Cuban army, and was defeated within two days. Commentators disagree on the number of casualties involved, but most accounts agree that around 100 of the Cuban exiles were killed, and that around 1,200 were taken prisoner.


“Bay of Pigs” quickly became a byword for the most embarrassing incident in the history of the U.S. intelligence organizations. Indeed, in a secret memorandum by Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin that was made public in 2001, Goodwin noted a conversation with the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, who had thanked him for the “great political victory” the CIA had handed the Castro regime.

CIA plans for an invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro exiles had been under way for some time before Eisenhower suspended diplomatic relations with Castro in January 1961. By March 1960 Eisenhower had resolved to overthrow the Cuban government, and had formally endorsed a CIA plan (“A Program of Covert Action against the Castro Regime”) whose aim was to oust Castro in such a manner as to avoid the appearance of U.S. intervention.

In keeping with the objectives of the “Program of Covert Action,” the Bay of Pigs invasion was modeled on a previous coup staged by the CIA in Guatemala in 1954, where U.S.-led aggression against the left-wing President Jacobo Arbenz was presented as the work of disgruntled exiles, and where U.S. forces made extensive use of radio propaganda to mobilize local support for the coup.

Despite the acute embarrassment caused by the Bay of Pigs, the U.S. military and intelligence services followed the failed invasion with an astonishing set of covert initiatives designed to discredit Castro and provoke military confrontation with Cuba.

These initiatives, code-named Operation Northwoods, included plans to assassinate Cuban exiles, attack the U.S. Navy, and commit acts of terrorism in major U.S. cities, in order to blame the aggression on Cuba and generate support for military action against the Castro regime.

Operation Northwoods was formally endorsed by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, but was rejected by the Kennedy administration in 1962. Determined to reverse their humiliation at the Bay of Pigs, however, the Joint Chiefs of Staff continued to plot scenarios (or “pretexts”) that would justify U.S. action against Cuba.

These included plans to provoke the shooting down of U.S. spy planes over Cuban air space, the possibility of stimulating a Cuban attack on U.S. forces stationed on the island at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, and forcing other Latin American countries into armed confrontation with Castro.

The Bay of Pigs and the Assassination of JFK

The Bay of Pigs has been linked with two of the most momentous U.S. conspiracy theories of the twentieth century: the conspiracy (or multiple conspiracies) to assassinate President John F. Kennedy, and the Watergate conspiracy, which would lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Among the CIA operatives who helped plan the Bay of Pigs was E. Howard Hunt, who would later be sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for his part in the break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building.

In the early days of the Watergate investigation, Hunt’s involvement, and rumors that the break-in was staged by anti-Castro Cubans monitoring the “proCastro” stance of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, led to links being established in some conspiracy theories between the Bay of Pigs and Watergate.

More enduring links have been explored between the Bay of Pigs and the Kennedy assassination. Although Kennedy followed Eisenhower in approving plans for the invasion of Cuba, his reluctance to deploy U.S. air-power in support of the operation made him enemies in the military and the CIA, where his caution, and his desire to avoid implicating the United States in the attack, were seen as the principal factors behind the dismal failure of the mission.

One conspiracy theory about the Kennedy assassination, a version famously played out in Don DeLillo’s novel Libra and Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, suggests that Kennedy was killed by the CIA and/or by anti-Castro exiles, who were resentful of the manner in which the president had dealt with the Cuban issue during and after the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Another version views Kennedy’s assassination as a revenge-killing carried out by agents of the Castro regime in response to the attempted invasion of their island and the numerous U.S. plots to kill Castro.

Louis Beam

Louis Beam
Louis Beam

Louis Beam first came to public attention in 1981 during a conflict between white and Vietnamese fishermen in Galveston Bay, Texas. The Texas Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, led by Beam, became involved in the conflict and, following a court case in which the Klan was instructed to cease harassing the Vietnamese, Beam became increasingly active nationally as an advocate of what he described as the “Fifth Era Klan.”

The most recent period of Klan activity, which Beam defined as the fourth era, had failed, he argued, because its leaders did not understand that the only hope of bringing about racial victory was to abandon the idea of a mass movement and return to its roots as an armed underground organization.

Beam’s writings on the subject, which included the outline of a points system to be awarded depending on the importance of the individual assassinated, raised his profile within the extreme Right and in the late 1980s he was among those tried unsuccessfully for seditious conspiracy in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He continued, however, to espouse the need for political violence and in 1992, in the final issue of his magazine, The Seditionist, published what would prove to be his most important article, “Leaderless Resistance.”


The article argued that the only way to defeat the federal government was to avoid centralized organizations as these were easily infiltrated. Instead militants should return to the approach pioneered in the original American Revolution, in which the committees of correspondence that had organized resistance to the British had functioned as independent cells. A second American Revolution would once again need to take up leaderless resistance.

Coming as it did immediately before the killing of Christian Identity believer Vicki Weaver by an FBI sniper, the article was the subject of discussion at a gathering of “Christian men” organized by Identity leader Pete Peters later in the year. In 1993, Beam, himself an Identity adherent, was at Waco, Texas, during the FBI siege of the Branch Davidian religious community that culminated in the burning to death of over seventy adults and children. Two subsequent events were to raise Beam’s profile still further.

First, following the emergence of the citizen militias in 1994, his article on leaderless resistance began to enjoy an increased circulation. More importantly, the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma the following year led to the claim that it had been the result of a conspiracy involving a group following Beam’s strategy.

This claim was not only made by critics of the militias but also circulated among sections of the Patriot movement. Beam himself, however, saw the most likely explanation of the Oklahoma bombing in the same light as did many Patriots, as a federal government conspiracy intended to crush opposition and bring about a police state.

An early exponent of the notion of a Zionist Occupation Government, Beam told the court during the Fort Smith trial that his writings had been intended to expose the conspiracy that controlled the United States. Writing in the 1990s, he claimed that multiculturalism was being used by the same bankers who had sponsored the Bolshevik Revolution in order to destroy national identity and create a New World Order.

Despite ill-health and suggestions that he has become less committed to antisemitism, he has continued to be active, and in 1999 declared his support for antiglobalization protesters at Seattle. New alliances, he predicted, would form between those who had described themselves as conservatives and those who had seen themselves as progressives. “The New American Patriot will be neither left nor right, just a freeman fighting for liberty.”