Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots

Khalid Elhassan - September 21, 2022

Government power is often on such a scale that is hard to conceptualize. There is nothing – not even giant multinational mega corporations – to compare it to. Government is so powerful it can literally kill you, and go about its merry way without even noticing what it had done. So when governments screw up – or deliberately act badly – the negative consequences can be quite severe. Take the time Georgia officials turned a blind eye to racist rioters who ethnically cleansed an entire county of its black population. Or the centuries throughout which the Russian government deliberately promoted widespread alcoholism among the population because it relied heavily upon vodka taxes. Below are thirty things about those and other government missteps, screw-ups, and downright evil acts.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Lake Lanier today is a scenic spot, frequented by millions of visitors each year. C-Vent

A Beautiful Lake Whose Waters Cover an Ugly Past

Lake Lanier is a 38,000 acre artificial lake about 45 miles north of Atlanta, GA, that was filled when the Chattahoochee River was dammed in the 1950s. It was originally created by the US government to provide hydroelectricity, ease navigation, and help with flood control. Its reservoir, a significant water source for Atlanta’s burgeoning population, supplies not just Georgia residents, but those of Florida and Alabama as well. With a shoreline of almost 700 miles, the lake has become a scenic spot that attracts about ten million tourists per year. Few of them know that its waters cover a tragic story. Lanier lies atop what had once been a thriving black community, whose members were violently forced out of their homes in the early twentieth century.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Some of Oscarville’s black children. History Network

In 1912, Oscarville, in Forsyth County, GA, was a thriving black community of about 1100 souls. It included farmers who owned or rented their land, craftsmen, and other laborers. Over 300 black kids were enrolled in a local school. Churches collected tithes, organized picnics, and overall, Oscarville was a relatively prosperous community. That prosperity annoyed many of Forsyth County’s whites. One such wrote the local newspaper to decry the fact that so many black kids attended school, while many white children did not. He feared that black children who attended school might become eligible to vote, while the children of white farmers who did not attend school might become ineligible to vote. As seen below, such resentments eventually exploded into violence, that culminated in the ethnic cleansing of Oscarville.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Georgia Water Park in Lake Lanier. Lanier Islands

The Government Did Nothing to Halt the Ethnic Cleansing of Forsyth County

The resentment of many white Forsyth County residents against Oscarville’s black members simmered for years, before it erupted in widespread mayhem. On September 5th, 1912, a white woman reported that she had been assaulted by two black men. Two black men were duly arrested shortly thereafter. When a black preacher suggested that she might have had a consensual relationship with one of them, a white mob attacked and beat him. The sheriff put him in jail to protect him from angry whites eager to lynch him. A few days later, the corpse of a teenage white girl was found in the woods near Oscarville. Several black men were named as suspects, and one of them reportedly confessed and implicated others. He was transferred to Atlanta for his own safety. That did not stop a white mob from descending on the local jail, where another black man was held.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Black residents of Oscarville were forced out by racist white mobs. 11 Alive

A lynch mob broke into the jail, and beat the black prisoner to death. Thousands of whites then began to attack the county’s black residents. Black victims were beaten up, bullets were fired into their residences, their homes and barns were torched or dynamited, and their livestock were killed. They were threatened with worse, if they did not leave Forsyth County. The government did nothing to halt the campaign of terror. Within weeks, 98% of the county’s black population, including all of Oscarville’s residents, had fled. They were never able to return. Some managed to sell their land for pennies on the dollar, but many others simply had their farms seized by whites. Decades later, when the US government created Lake Lanier, its waters covered what had once been the thriving black community of Oscarville. Few of its expelled residents or their heirs were ever compensated for their property.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Ship full of returning WWII GIs. National WWII Museum

An Extremely Corrupt Local Government

Athens, Tennessee, was a small town between Knoxville and Chattanooga. Athens was home to around 7,000 people in the 1940s. The seat of rural McMinn County, Athens was a community that the modern world had seemingly passed. Most streets were still unpaved, and most houses still lacked electricity. The backwards county and its seat exuded bucolic serenity, but beneath the seemingly placid surface, trouble seethed. In the 1930s, new local and regional political machines had cropped up in rural East Tennessee. They lacked the sophistication and finesse of urban political machines. Instead, McMinn’s machine relied on violence and intimidation to control its constituents.

They got away with it for some time, until the end of World War II. That was when returned young veterans, many of whom had experienced combat, decided to stand up to their local oppressors. At the end of WWII, American veterans were often welcomed home with parades and the warm embrace of a grateful nation. Not so the veterans of Athens, Tennessee. The GIs who had left Athens to fight the fascist abroad returned home to the nightmare of a corrupt local Sheriff, Paul Cantrell. The head of the local dirty political machine, he was dirty even by the standards of southern local governments.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Sheriff Paul Cantrell ran roughshod over McMinn County. Revue

A Cartoonishly Evil Southern Sheriff

Sheriff Cantrell and his goons brazenly abused the locals. Cantrell’s income depended on the number of prisoners in his jail, so he used predatory policing to keep his jail full. People were routinely victimized by deputies who looked for any excuse to lock them up. If the badged thugs were unable to pin a criminal offense on somebody, they would simply beat him up, then toss him in jail for “resisting arrest”. When deputies subjected returning veterans to the same treatment, it backfired. They had recently crushed tyrannies overseas, and were not about to submit to tyranny at home. They took up arms and went to war.

As the veterans saw it, violence was the only way to vindicate their rights in McMinn County. Complaints about law enforcement abuses went nowhere, as local officials and the local judge were corrupt. The entire government machinery was on the take. It got a cut from various illicit activities, from moonshine stills to misappropriation of public funds. Presiding over it all was Sheriff Cantrell, who turned a blind eye to official corruption, and acted as enforcer to intimidate dissenters. Things got worse during WWII. With nearly the entire fit male population in uniform and away, the Sheriff’s deputies had a free run of McMinn County’s females.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Headquarters of the GI Nonpartisan Party. Tennessee Overhill

A Corrupt Government Machine That Tried to Punk WWII Veterans

As they endured their sheriff’s depredations, “wait ’til the boys get back!” became a mantra amongst McMinn County’s locals. As the vets drifted back home, they determined to change things. So they formed “The GI Nonpartisan Party” to contest the elections scheduled for August 2nd, 1946. With all county government offices on the line, especially that of sheriff, the stakes were high. The veterans were confident that their GI Nonpartisan Party would sweep to victory. However, the incumbents were equally confident that they would win. Sheriff Cantrell and his political machine knew that who counts the votes matters more than who votes. So all they had to do was control the ballot boxes.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Returning McMinn County veterans went to war at home in the Battle of Athens. Pinterest

Thus, the election hinged on poll watchers: sheriff’s deputies for the incumbents, and veterans for the challengers. Trouble began when a black man tried to vote at an Athens precinct, only for deputies to shoot him on the spot. The deputies then shut down the precinct, and held the veterans’ poll watchers captive. Soon, Sheriff Cantrell and other deputies arrived, sirens blazing, to seize the ballot boxes and move them to the jail. Word then spread throughout McMinn County that voting was to be cancelled, and all ballot boxes were to be taken to the jail. As Sheriff Cantrell and about 200 deputized henchmen barricaded themselves with the ballot boxes in the fortress-like county jail, it was put up or shut up time. The veterans decided to put up.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Corrupt McMinn County sheriff deputies locked up in their own jail. Imgur

The Only Successful American Rebellion Against a Government Since the Revolutionary War

About forty five supporters of the GI Nonpartisan Party headed to the local armory, and seized it and the weapons contained therein. Armed, they headed to the jail for a showdown. Although heavily outnumbered, the veterans had the advantage of military training, and many had recent combat experience. So they seized the tactical advantage and occupied a ridge that overlooked the jail. When night fell, gunfire suddenly erupted from the jail, and what came to be known as “The Battle of Athens” commenced.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
WWII veteran and newly elected sheriff Knox Henry, center, being congratulated on his electoral victory after the Battle of Athens. Imgur

The violence escalated when a veteran blew up the jail’s front with dynamite. That was when the goons inside realized that they were faced with a level of violence that their years of bullying defenseless civilians had not prepared them for. White flags were stuck out of the jail’s windows, and the corrupt government officials and their henchmen surrendered. The ballot boxes were recaptured, and by sunrise the next day, they had been counted: the GI Nonpartisan Party won in a landslide.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
American troops on patrol in Vietnam. ThoughtCo

A Shameful Government Scheme

When President Lyndon B. Johnson assumed office following JFK’s assassination in 1963, America had 16,000 troops in Vietnam. In 1964, the figure grew slightly to 23,000. In 1965, however, in response to requests from American commanders in Vietnam for ever more troops, the figure mushroomed to 185,000. By 1966 America was stuck in a quagmire, as the troop count more than doubled from the preceding year to 385,000. The insatiable demand for ever more American troops put the government in a bind.

Specifically, the administration had to figure out where to get more troops, without a public backlash. The answer was to cut corners – drastically so – to send unfit draftees to Vietnam. The way the draft system was set up back then, college students got deferments. An end to student deferments would furnish enough bodies to meet the military’s manpower shortage. However, college students were predominately the kids of the middle and upper classes. That is, the people whose opinion counted the most with Congress and the media.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara points at a map of Vietnam in 1965. Library of Congress

An Administration’s Desperation for Manpower to Send to Vietnam

Without the support of America’s middle and upper classes, or at least their acquiescence, the country’s involvement in Vietnam could not continue. Such support or acquiescence would not last long if their kids’ student deferments were cancelled, and they were drafted and sent to fight and die in a far off country most Americans could not place on a map. The mobilization of reservists could also furnish enough bodies. However, that posed a similar dilemma: the reserves and National Guard were overwhelmingly filled with the children of the well-off and connected.

To send the children of the well-heeled to fight and possibly die in Vietnam would produce a fierce backlash. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara thus had to solve a conundrum: find more bodies, but not those of middle and upper class Americans’ kids. He came up with a shameful brainchild: Project 100,000. It was touted as a Great Society program that would help impoverished and disadvantaged youth, teach them valuable skills in the military, and thus break the cycle of poverty. As seen below, the program’s reality differed greatly from how the government billed it to the public.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
The US government deliberately sent the real life equivalents of Forrest Gump and Bubba to fight in Vietnam. Pinterest

The Unfortunate Moron Corps

In reality, contra how the US government portrayed it, Project 100,000’s only goal was to find bodies to for the military, and to do that, it lowered or abandoned minimal military recruitment standards. The goal was to simply sign up as many as possible of those who had previously been rejected by the draft as mentally or physically unfit. Recruiters swept through Southern backwaters and urban ghettoes, to sign up anybody with a pulse. That included at least one recruit with an IQ of 62. In all, 354,000 were recruited. They were not given any special skills or training.

Once they signed on the dotted line, “McNamara’s Morons”, or “the Moron Corps”, as they were derisively called by other soldiers, were rushed through training, then sent to Vietnam in disproportionate numbers. Once in Vietnam, they were sent into combat in disproportionate numbers. In combat, the mental and physical limitations that had caused the Project 100,000 recruits to be rejected by the draft ensured that they were wounded and killed in disproportionate numbers. The toll fell particularly heavily on black youths: 41 percent of Project 100,000’s recruits were black, compared to 12 percent in the US military as a whole.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
King Frederick William I of Prussia. Prussian Archives

The Monarch Who Got His Government to Breed Giant Soldiers

Frederick William I (1688 – 1740) was Prussia’s king from 1713 until his death in 1740. The country he inherited was a backwards and second rate power. An ascetic, he rejected the frippery of the glamorous court in which he was raised, and dedicated himself to the enhancement of Prussia’s stature. He eventually transformed his country into an efficiently well-run and prosperous state. His son and successor Frederick II the Great built on that, and catapulted Prussia into the ranks of Europe’s major military powers. Frederick William was fascinated with the military, and he assiduously sought to enhance Prussia’s armed might. So much so that he was nicknamed Soldatenkonig, or the “Soldier King”.

When Frederick William was crowned, Prussia had 38,000 soldiers, supported mostly by foreign subsidies. By the time he died in 1740, the army had grown to 83,000 out of a population of 2.2 million. Prussia was financially independent, and had become Europe’s third military power, behind France and Russia. It was a big army for such a small kingdom, and gave rise to a quip that Prussia was not a country with an army, but an army with a country. Frederick William’s fixation on the military took him in weird directions at times, such as his lifelong quest for super soldiers. He collected giant soldiers, and tried to breed giants for his army.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Frederick William I inspects his giant soldiers. The Irish Times

The King’s “Long Fellows”

Even by the significantly lower height standards of his era, King Frederick William I was a short man. He stood a mere 5 feet 3 inches, but despite that – or perhaps precisely because of that – he developed a passion for tall soldiers. As he expanded his military, Prussia’s monarch paid special attention to the recruitment of big and tall men, whom he placed in a special regiment, The Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam. The only requirement to join was that they stand at least 6 feet 2 inches tall. They became commonly known as the Potsdam Giants, or as his subjects nicknamed them, the Lang Kerle, or “Long Fellows”.

The king’s passion for tall soldiers knew no bounds. As he once told a diplomat: “The most beautiful girl or woman in the world would be a matter of indifference to me, but tall soldiers – they are my weakness“. He outfitted them in fine gold-laced blue jackets, scarlet breeches and vest, white gaiters, and an eighteen-inch grenadier cap atop their heads to make them look even taller. They were well-housed, and given the best food. Pay was determined by height: the taller they were, the more they were paid. They never saw combat, because Frederick William loved them too much to risk their lives. Prussia’s government went to great lengths to get tall men. If they willingly enlisted, all well and good. If not, as seen below, Frederick William simply had them kidnapped and forcibly added to his regiment.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
King Frederick William I of Prussia inspects the Potsdam Giants. Russia Beyond the Horizon

The Prussian Government Kidnapped Big Men from All Over Europe and Beyond

Every day, Frederick William drilled and trained his Potsdam Giants, whom he often showed off to foreign dignitaries to impress them. Whenever he was depressed and needed some cheer, he held a parade of his super soldiers, preceded by tall, turbaned Moors with cymbals and trumpets and the grenadiers mascot, an enormous bear. When he fell ill, he had them march through his bedroom past his sickbed. He often painted them from memory. Aware of that passion, the emperors of Russia, Austria, and the Ottoman Sultan sent him tall soldiers to encourage friendly relations. However, although the giants made the king happy, many of them were unhappy – especially those forcibly recruited. Tall men who did not want to join the Potsdam Giant were simply kidnapped. Not just in Prussia, but across Europe.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
James Kirkland, one of the Potsdam Giants’ tallest soldiers. Wikimedia

One such was James Kirkland, an Irish giant who stood 7 feet 2 inches, who was hired as a footman by Prussia’s ambassador in London. It was a ruse: Kirkland was sent to a Prussian ship moored in Portsmouth, where he was seized, bound, gagged, and sent to Prussia. The king even tried to kidnap an unusually tall Austrian diplomat – an incident that strained relationships with the Austrian government. In an attempt to make his tall soldiers even taller, he stretched them on racks, and supervised the painful procedure as he ate lunch. He eventually gave up after too many died. He also turned to eugenics and tried to breed super soldiers by pairing his giants with tall women. When the king died in 1740, the regiment had 2500 men. His successor Frederick the Great did not share his father’s passion for tall soldiers, and promptly dispersed most of them to active combat units.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Kissing Rite, Feast at the Boyar Morozov, by K. E. Makovsky. Flickr

Russia’s Long Association With Vodka

No country is as closely associated with a particular alcoholic drink as Russia is associated with vodka. The drink has become as symbolic of Russia as brown bears, caviar, and matryoshka dolls. The British Royal Navy and rum aside, no military in the world is as closely associated with a particular drink as the Russian military is associated with vodka. It is not just one of those popular perceptions that turn out to be based on little more than myth and legend. Russian armies and alcohol do go back a long way.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A Russian Vodka museum in Leningrad Oblast. Wikimedia

From the perspective of military leaders, one of alcohol’s greatest positive effects is its ability to give troops with super courage. However, to strike the right balance between enough alcohol for liquid courage, and not go overboard, can be tricky. In 1223, a relatively small Mongol army inflicted a massive defeat upon a much larger Rus army at the Battle of the Kalka River. Much of the credit for the victory goes to the military genius of the Mongols’ commanders, Subutai and Jebe. However, alcohol played a role: much of the Rus army had gotten drunk, then launched itself at the Mongols in a reckless charge that ended in disaster.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A nineteenth century vodka distillery owned by the Russian government. Russia Beyond the Horizon

The Russian Government Deliberately Promoted and Encouraged Widespread Alcoholism

In the 1500s, Russia’s Tsars began to set up establishments to distill and sell vodka. By the 1640s, vodka had become a government monopoly. The Tsarist tax system was regressive, in that it fell proportionally heaviest not upon the richest, but upon the poorest. Much of that tax revenue came from sales taxes. By the 1850s, nearly half of Russia’s government revenue came from the taxes and duties on vodka sales. By the start of the twentieth century, the Smirnoff Vodka brand alone accounted for a full third of the Russian army’s budget.

Because of its vodka monopoly, the Tsarist government encouraged vodka consumption for generations, even at the price of widespread alcoholism among their subjects. Tsar Peter the Great reportedly decreed that the wives of peasants should be whipped if they dared to try and drag their inebriated husbands out of taverns before they were ready to leave. He also used alcoholism to help with military recruitment: those who drank themselves into debt could avoid debtors’ prison if they enlisted in the Russian army for 25 years.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
WWII Soviet soldiers and their vodka ration. Voices From Russia

Even a Revolution Didn’t Stop Russia’s Government from Promoting Alcoholism

Russia’s government was never known for enlightenment, and the Russian authorities’ attitudes towards vodka did not grow more enlightened with the passage of time. In the twentieth century, the Tsarist government was overthrown and replaced with a communist one, but the encouragement of alcoholism continued. The communist Red Army issued its soldiers a daily vodka ration of 100 grams. It was not enough to get wasted on, but a few days’ ration could be saved for a good drunk. It was also relatively easy for soldiers to get their hands on more than the official ration. In the Winter War of 1939 – 1940, there were reports of wild drunken charges by Soviet soldiers.

In WWII, the daily ration of vodka was increased, and the military authorities actively encouraged its distribution and consumption. The Soviets’ sheer grit and super courage played a key role in their triumph over the Nazi “super men” to close out the war. However, that courage was surely boosted by the rivers of vodka that helped fuel the Red Army’s soldiers and kept them well lubricated. In their reminisces of the war, quite a few of them described the daily vodka ration as having been: “as important as Katyusha rockets in the victory of Nazism“.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
British Army Intelligence Corps badge. British Military Badges

The Unexpected Rise of a Spy Chief

In 1905, Kenneth Barnard Thomas Folkes was born in Gloucester, England. When WWII began, he had twelve years’ experience as a law clerk for a firm that handled many criminal cases, plus a stint with a carpet manufacturer in the Midlands. In 1940, he enlisted as a private with the Corps of Military Police, but mentioned only the legal work in his background questionnaire. Between that, a keen mind, and a fair knowledge of French, he was transferred to the Intelligence Corps and commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Folkes was a tireless self-promoter. He claimed that within just a few months into his military career, he had interrogated a prisoner of war and outsmarted him “until he told me what he wanted to hide“. In what in hindsight turned out to be a blunder, nobody questioned his claims. In late 1940, he was offered command of New Zealand’s fledgling Security Intelligence Bureau (SIB), and a promotion to major. Once in Wellington, Folkes conflated and inflated his employment background of law clerk and Midlands carpet manufacturer employee. He presented himself to the locals as a former Midlands lawyer, now devoted to the security of New Zealand’s war secrets.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
New Zealand WWII recruitment posters. Pinterest

The Inept Spy Chief Who Almost Got a Government to Place an Entire Country Under Martial Law

Kenneth Folkes wanted to earn a reputation, and a he did – but not one he wanted. His name would forever be linked to Sydney Ross, a small time criminal and conman. Born in 1909, Ross held a series of short term jobs, mostly as a laborer, and in the 1930s, he piled up 17 criminal convictions and did time behind bars for theft, burglary, false pretenses, fraud. In 1939, he was sentenced to nearly four years for breaking and entering and theft. In this prison stint, he befriended an older convict, Alfred Remmers, a former policeman who had been fired for burglaries committed while on night beat duty, and was now behind bars for forgery.

Ross was released from prison on March 28th, 1942, with nothing but a battered briefcase, some clothes, and a train ticket. A day later, he had met New Zealand’s Prime Minister, had a car, money, accommodations, and the undivided attention of Major Folkes. The SIB head saw in the released convict an answer to his prayers, and unwisely, trusted him. Between the spy catcher and conman, New Zealand’s government almost declared martial law. Forever after, the country retained a healthy skepticism of its intelligence services.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service, successor to the Security Intelligence Bureau, which was discredited in WWII. Wikimedia

A Snob Who Couldn’t Hide His Disdain for the Locals

Kenneth Folkes’ career in military intelligence had begun spectacularly well. He had enlisted as a private, and in less than a year, had risen to major and was in charge of an entire country’s counterintelligence. To be sure, New Zealand was a small and out of the way country, but still – it was a rapid rise. Once he got to New Zealand, however, things began to turn sour. Folkes saw the New Zealanders as backwards colonial bumpkins, ignorant of basic security practices, and resistant to change. In reality, his contempt for New Zealand’s practices was a reflection of his own intellectual laziness and unjustified arrogance.

Folkes had been trained in British military intelligence practices for only a few months, had limited experience, and held an imperialistic worldview that saw New Zealanders as inferior to the English. That mix was toxic. It left Folkes unable to grasp that there might be ways to do things other than what he had learned in his brief training back in Britain. That was bad, but in a blunder that made things worse, Major Folkes let his disdain for the locals show. Unsurprisingly, the locals resented that, and repaid his contempt for them antagonism of their own.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
New Zealand’s press compared Kenneth Folkes, center, to Heinrich Himmler. The New Zealand Observer

The Hapless Security Intelligence Bureau

Kenneth Folks’ New Zealander colleagues saw him as “aggressive, discourteous, and impertinent“. They leaked those assessments to the press, and within a few months of his arrival, local newspapers ran editorials that compared him to Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler, whom he slightly resembled physically. Newspapers also questioned whether Folkes’ Security Intelligence Bureau (SIB) was too much like the Gestapo – and an inept one at that. SIB men were derided as mediocrities, draft dodgers, and incompetent snoops given to blunder after blunder.

In one episode, SIB men subjected an innocent American in charge of geophysical survey work to “stealthy pursuit” that was not stealthy at all. In another bungled endeavor, they conducted a five-day sting to try and “trap a suspected spy” at a Wellington hotel, that was an open secret to “the innocent suspect, the hotel staff, and half the town“. The SIB and its head were widely ridiculed as hapless spy catchers who futilely spun their wheels in out of the way New Zealand with no spies to catch. Then salvation and serious work seemed to arrive in the form of career criminal Sydney Ross.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Sydney Ross, alias Captain Calder. The New Zealand Truth

When a Conman Met the Head of Government

On March 29th, 1942, just one day after he was released from prison broke, homeless, and without prospects, Sydney Ross met with the Minister of National Service, Robert Semple. He told the minister that a Nazi agent, recently landed by submarine, had tried to recruit him to join a sabotage cell. It was part of a vast network whose tentacles stretched across the country. Semple immediately took Ross to see Prime Minister Peter Fraser – apparently, it was real easy back then to meet the head honchos of New Zealand’s government.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Reports of a spy network in Australia made a similar one in New Zealand seem plausible. Radio New Zealand

As it happened, Fraser had just received classified reports from Australia, where real spy rings had been uncovered. He was thus primed to accept that his country could have similar rings. The prime minister referred Ross to Major Kenneth Folkes, and the head of the SIB saw the recently released felon as a godsend. Finally, here was a real threat and an opportunity for his men to round up real spies and shut up the critics. Folkes gave Ross money, a car, and accommodations, and set him up as an undercover agent with the alias “Captain Calder” to gather intelligence on the Nazi network.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Prime Minister Peter Fraser in 1942. Library of Congress

A Spy Agency Taken In by a Crook

Sydney Ross reported back to Major Folkes about the results of his undercover work. Over a three months span, he gave the SIB head alarming information, which Folkes passed in turn on to New Zealand’s government. Apparently, enemy subversives were more widespread and dangerous than anybody had imagined. They planned to blow up key targets, kidnap or assassinate Prime Minister Fraser, Minister of National Service Semple, and other cabinet members, all as a prelude to a Japanese invasion. Ross claimed that the network was headed by his prison pal Alfred Remmers, now in the last stages of leukemia, and that Remmers’ house in Wellington was the conspirators’ base of operations.

In July, 1942, Folkes demanded that the government supply him with troops, declare martial law, and grant his SIB emergency powers to arrest and detain suspects without trial. Before he suspended civil rights throughout New Zealand, Fraser asked the police to investigate. In no time, they discovered that the supposed “Nazi headquarters” was occupied by an elderly government clerk, a dry cleaners, and three nurses. All were innocent of any foreign contacts, let alone subversion and espionage. To Folkes’ horror, it began to dawn on him that the SIB might have committed yet another blunder, this one the worst yet.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
The press had a field day going after Kenneth Folkes and the SIB. The New Zealand Truth

The Collapse of a Scam That Wrecked the Credibility of New Zealand’s Spies

As his scam began to unravel, Sydney Ross grew desperate to hang on to his employment as an “undercover agent” and the gravy train that went with it. To keep the hoax alive, he resorted to yet another elaborate hoax to bolster his story. He dug a deep hole in a forest, lacerated his back with barbed wire, then staggered to the roadside, where he gave a passing driver £10 to summon help. He then claimed to have been tortured by Nazis and forced to dig his own grave at gunpoint, before he miraculously escaped. However, doctors who inspected his wounds figured out that they were self-inflicted. The story of the “Impudent Jailbird” who had hoaxed Major Kenneth Folkes and the Security Intelligence Bureau, whose men had been “blatantly hoodwinked” hit the newspapers in late July, 1942.

The SIB’s latest blunder was the final straw. The embarrassed organization was taken over by the commissioner of police, and the now-thoroughly-discredited Major Kenneth Folkes was sent back to Britain in disgrace. Ross returned to prison, where he remained until his release in 1946, shortly before his death at age 37 of tuberculosis. It was an anticlimactic end for a man who had almost brought martial law to, and the ended the rule of law in, New Zealand. After the war, Folkes returned to his job with a Midlands carpet manufacturer, and died in obscurity in 1975. A self-promoter and fabulist to the end, his headstone described him as a recipient of the Distinguished Service Order. There is no record that he had ever received such an award.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Alcohol getting poured out in the street during Prohibition. Mashable

The Problem of Industrial Alcohol’s Diversion During Prohibition

Throughout the recent pandemic, many health professionals thought that the government did little to combat Covid-19. They especially thought that the enforcement of the restrictions and regulations necessary to combat the virus’ spread was too lax. About a century ago, back in the 1920s, the case was the opposite. Then, many health professionals thought that the government had done too much – as in way, way, too much – and had exhibited excessive vigor in its fight against the consumption of alcohol. An example of such excess was Uncle Sam’s deliberate poisoning of alcohol stocks it knew would end up consumed by the public.

It began as the Holiday Season approached in 1926, and the administration of President Calvin Coolidge was determined to force celebrants to abide by Prohibition. The federal ban on the sale of alcohol had opened the floodgates for organized crime to smuggle alcohol from abroad into the US, and for bootleggers to distribute it throughout the country. However, there was also a major domestic source of booze: industrial alcohol. Bootleggers routinely diverted it from its intended uses and into liquor. Some eager beaver government officials decided to do something about that.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A policeman next to a seized bootlegger’s car and its illegal alcohol. RAV Magazine

When the US Government Decided to Poison Booze

The diversion of industrial alcohol to booze got under the skins of some zealots in the US Treasury Department, responsible for the enforcement of Prohibition. So they decided to doctor the industrial alcohol supply with dangerous substances such as methanol. At least 10,000 people died as a result, and many more were blinded or suffered other serious injuries. Despite Prohibition, America saw a rise in the consumption of alcohol in the mid-1920s. The law was openly flouted, with too many speakeasies to count let alone raid.

They were supplied by bootleggers who acted with impunity and near open defiance of law enforcement. So the federal government decided to go after a key source of the illegal booze: the still legal industrial alcohol stocks. In its industrial form, such alcohol is undrinkable. However, bootleggers figured out ways to make it fit for human consumption. Thus, in 1926, the federal authorities mandated that the amount of harmful chemicals in industrial alcohol be greatly increased. As seen below, the results were immediate – and tragic.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A denatured alcohol warning label. E-Hive

Uncle Sam Sent Countless Drinkers to the ER With Alcohol Poisoning

Throughout the 1926 Holiday Season, America’s emergency rooms saw an unprecedented spike in alcohol poisoning. By New Year’s Eve, 1926, New York City alone saw many fatalities. As the city’s medical examiner put it: “The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol. It knows what bootleggers are doing with it and yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison … Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible“.

Wherever we go, alcohol is bound to be near us. Even for those who don’t drink and have no beer or wine in their fridges or liquor in their cabinets. Alcohol is found as an additive in their fuel tanks, and many household products such as nail polish, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and perfumes contain alcohol. In 1906, the federal government mandated that chemicals be added to grain alcohol intended for industrial use, to make it undrinkable. Alcohol thus treated is known as “denatured” alcohol or “wood spirits”. The mandate was met with little resistance from the manufacturers of industrial alcohol.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A copper still and bucket of the kind used to make alcohol, or renature denatured industrial alcohol. Chicago History Museum

Denaturing and “Renaturing” Industrial Alcohol

The addition of chemicals to industrial alcohol stocks to denature them made them exempt from the liquor taxes imposed on drinkable alcohol. As a result, industrial alcohol manufacturers were more than happy to comply with the government directive to denature their stocks. People determined to remove chemical additives from denatured industrial alcohol could do so if they really wanted to. Some did just that, with a process known as “renaturing”. However, with legal alcohol readily available, and often quite cheap, there was little incentive to go through the trouble.

That changed with the enactment of Prohibition, and the resultant scarcity of regular drinkable booze. Liquor did not disappear from America because of Prohibition: massive amounts of drinkable booze were smuggled into the country by bootleggers. However, Prohibition disrupted the supply chain, and even smuggling on a massive scale was not enough to meet the demand. So bootleggers began to produce massive amounts of liquor in the United States. They sourced it from stolen or otherwise diverted stocks of industrial alcohol.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Patrons enjoy drinks at the Hunt Club, a speakeasy with a filing system listing 23,000 eligible customers which was checked before a customer got through the door at this venue that was protected from police prohibition raids. Vintage News Daily

The Government Went Out of Its Way to Prevent the Reuse of Industrial Alcohol as Drinking Booze

The US Treasury Department, tasked with the enforcement of Prohibition, estimated that in the mid-1920s, around 60 million gallons of industrial liquor were stolen each year. Bootleggers then employed chemists to “renature” it, and return it to a drinkable state. Stolen and re-distilled industrial alcohol became America’s primary source of liquor. So in late 1926, the Treasury Department decided to up its game and revamp the denaturing formulas used to make industrial alcohol undrinkable. The new mix included many known toxins.

They included quinine, acetone, nicotine, formaldehyde, zinc, camphor, chloroform, iodine, kerosene, and gasoline. Most dangerous of all, the new formula required that at least 10% of the total volume must consist of methyl alcohol or methanol, commonly used today in antifreeze. The results were disastrous. The Treasury Department’s new formula made the process used by the bootleggers’ chemists up until that point to renature industrial alcohol all but useless, as it left them unable to separate out each of the harmful chemicals.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
Charles Norris, New York City’s Medical Examiner. The Los Angeles Times

Whether Uncle Sam Had the Right to Poison Drinkers

Christmas Eve, 1926, was hectic in New York City’s hospitals. Just one of them, Bellevue, was inundated with dozens of people who fell seriously ill after they drank contaminated alcohol. By New Year’s Eve, 1,200 people in the Big Apple had been sickened by poisonous alcohol, and at least 400 had died. The city’s medical examiner assigned a toxicologist to examine confiscated whiskey, and based on the findings, issued an alert to warn the citizens that: “practically all the liquor that is sold in New York today is toxic“.

The impact fell heaviest on the poor: the rich and well-heeled could afford to consume the best liquor available, such as real whiskey smuggled in from abroad. As the medical examiner noted, most of those harmed by the repurposed industrial alcohol were those: “who cannot afford expensive protection and deal in low grade stuff“. When the public learned that the federal government had deliberately poisoned industrial alcohol stocks, an argument raged about whether it had the right to do so.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A bootlegger truck with a false facade and a hidden compartment for the transportation of illegal alcohol. Imgur

Many Argued that Drinkers of Poisoned Alcohol Deserved Their Fate

New York City’s medical examiner, Charles Norris, was among those who argued that it was unconscionable for the authorities to poison something they knew would be consumed by citizens. He wrote in the North American Review that: “In a word, wood alcohol is not ‘poison liquor.’ It is simply poison. If it gets into liquor, the liquor is poisoned “. New Jersey Senator Edward I. Edwards summed it up as “legalized murder“. The defenders of the government included Wayne B. Wheeler, of the Anti Saloon League.

As Wheeler told the New York Times: “The Government is under no obligation to furnish the people with alcohol that is drinkable when the Constitution prohibits it. The person who drinks this industrial alcohol is a deliberate suicide“. Defenders of the policy noted that the poisoned industrial alcohol was labeled poison, and pinned the blame on the bootleggers who nonetheless sold it for human consumption. To prohibitionists, the harm to drinkers was acceptable. Seymour M. Lawman, the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in charge of Prohibition, told citizens in 1927 that the fringes of society that drink were “dying off fast from poison ‘hooch’“. If that resulted in a sober country, he continued, then “a good job will have been done“.

Dirty Secrets Under Lake Lanier And Other Evil Government Plots
A denatured alcohol warning label. Paste Magazine

Government Officials Shrugged Off the Mass Poisoning of Drinkers

Prohibition’s enforcers ignored the furor, and continued to poison industrial alcohol. The resultant deaths continued to pile up. The New York Times archives from 1927 to 1933 contain many headlines about the damage. Not only deaths, but also blindness, hallucinations, and other side effects that sent poisoned drinkers to emergency rooms and left many with permanent damage to their health. June 20th, 1927: Three Die From Alcohol; February 28th, 1929: Alcohol Deaths Show Steady Rise; August 23rd, 1930: Alcohol Deaths Up 300% Since 1920; August 17th, 1932: Dies After Drinking Wood Alcohol. When large scale fatalities occurred, Prohibition agents shrugged it off.

In 1928, over thirty people died from alcohol poisoning in a single incident Manhattan, but US government officials declared that there was nothing they could do. A federal grand jury stated that industrial alcohol is not a beverage, but a recognized poison whose use and sale are regulated by state, not federal laws. As such, state authorities should look into its sale and improper use. As humorist Will Rogers quipped: “Governments used to murder by the bullets only. Now it’s by the quarts“. All in all, an estimated 10,000 people or more died from alcohol poisoning during Prohibition, and many more suffered serious damage to their health. The carnage finally ended with the end of Prohibition, when people regained access to regular booze, and thus no longer had to gamble with denatured industrial alcohol.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

American Heritage Magazine, February/ March 1985 – The Battle of Athens

Andreas, Peter – Killer High: A History of War in Six Drugs (2020)

Atlantic, The, September 25th, 2013 – How Alcohol Conquered Russia

Big Think – Project 100,000: The Vietnam War’s Cruel Experiment on American Soldiers

Cheever, Susan – Drinking in America: Our Secret History (2015)

Clark, Christopher – Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (2006)

Daily Beast – How the US Government Enforced Prohibition by Poisoning Americans

DeRose, Chris – The Fighting Bunch: The Battle of Athens and How World War II Veterans Won the Only Successful Armed Rebellion Since the Revolution (2020)

Gainsville Times, January 5th, 2022 – The Truth Behind Oscarville and the Violent Removal of Black Residents from Forsyth County Years Before Lake Lanier Was Built

History Collection – Historic Uprisings That Shook Powerful Governments

History of War – The Potsdam Giants: How the King of Prussia ‘Bred’ and Army of Super Soldiers

Lay of the Land, The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter, Spring 2005, # 28 – Immersed Remains, Towns Submerged in America

Macalister College – Vodka: The Bitter Stuff

New Zealand History – Sydney Ross

Phillips, Patrick – Blood at the Roots: A Racial Cleansing in America (2016)

Politico Magazine, November 10th, 2020 – ‘Get the Hell Out of Here, and Get Something to Shoot With!’

Radio New Zealand – Nazi Hoax: The Story of Syd Ross

Salon – McNamara’s “Moron Corps”

Security and Surveillance History Series, 2018/1 – A Formidable Responsibility: The Rise and Fall of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Bureau 1940-1945

Slate – The Chemists’ War

Time Magazine, January 10th, 1927 – Prohibition: Poison

Time Magazine, January 14th, 2015 – The History of Poisoned Alcohol Includes an Unlikely Culprit: The US Government

Travel Noir – 5 Black American Towns Hidden Under Lakes and Ultimately from History Books

Vox – The US Government Once Poisoned Alcohol to Get People to Stop Drinking

War History Online – The Potsdam Giants: A Prussian Infantry Regiment of Nothing but Very Tall Soldiers

Weapons and Warfare – Potsdam Giants by Name!