Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn

Khalid Elhassan - November 8, 2020

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Hulagu leading a charge. Assassins Creed

14. The Mongols Reduced the Assassins From Terrifying to “But a Tale on Men’s Lips

In the runup to their invasion of the Middle East, the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulagu, began attacking and seizing Assassin fortresses. As a preliminary to his conquest of the region, Hulagu took a detour in 1256 to storm the cult’s strongholds in Persia. He captured the last Old Man of the Mountain, and forced him to order the remaining Assassin fortresses in Persia to surrender. Forty of them, including the main fortress of Alamout Castle, did so, and the Mongols razed them to the ground.

Hulagu then sent the Old Man of the Mountain in chains to the Grand Khan in Mongolia, who had him executed. The Mongols then slaughtered all whom they could lay their hands on of the Nizari cult to which the Assassins belonged, along with their families. It was a thorough bloodletting that broke the Assassins’ power for good. It reduced the cultists, according to a contemporary historian, to “but a tale on men’s lips and a tradition in the world“.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
The ruins of Alamout Castle, the Order of Assassins’ main fortress, atop a summit amidst rugged terrain. Wikimedia

13. The Order of Assassins Withered and Vanished Into History

Remnants of the Assassins survived in Syria, which lay outside the Mongols’ control. Eventually, the Egyptian Mamelukes first reduced them to vassalage in the 1260s, and finally forced them to surrender their last fortresses in 1273.

The last cult members were allowed to live, kept on retainer as contract killers. However, their independence was forever gone. In that final phase of existence as contract killers, the steadily dwindling cult existed for a few decades more. It survived, at least in name, into the following century before vanishing into the mists of history.

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Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
BMW’s logo through the years. Motor 1

12. BMW Was Once Up to its Neck in Collaborating With the Nazis

Ever since its founding, Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) has been known for high-quality luxury automobiles, and until 1945, for aircraft engines. The company, which today makes a living off the innocent pursuit of manufacturing luxury cars and motorcycles, is a multinational with plants in Germany, the US, UK, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. Less known is that its major shareholders, the Quandt family, were close friends and admirers of Hitler and the Nazis.

After a 2007 TV documentary aired unpleasant revelations about BMW’s activities during the Third Reich, the Quandt family launched an investigation which reached a troubling conclusion about the company’s Nazi past. In a nutshell, the Quandt family patriarch, Gunther Quandt, and his son Herbert were up to their necks in collaborating with Hitler’s regime. To their credit, the current generation of Quandts, unlike many other companies with Nazi ties, eventually came clean and refrained from ducking the issue or sugarcoating things. They commissioned a respected German historian to research the company’s past and set him loose on BMW’s and the Quandt family’s archives and files.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Gunther Quandt. Bundesarchiv Bild

11. BMW’s Chief Shareholders “Were Linked Inseparably With the Crimes of the Nazis

The result of the study commissioned by the Quandt family was a 1200-page report, which concluded that: “[t]he Quandts were linked inseparably with the crimes of the Nazis … The family patriarch was part of the regime“. Among other things, the Quandts profited from the Nazis’ “Aryanization Program”, which dispossessed Jews of their property and turned it over to Germans approved by the new regime. Taking advantage of their friendship with Hitler and their excellent Nazi connections, BMW’s owners took over dozens of businesses that were seized from Jews and handed over to the Quandts.

So instrumental was BMW and the Quandts to the Third Reich’s military that Hitler Named Gunther Quandt a Wehrwirtschaftsführer, or “Leader of the Defense Economy”. During WWII, at least 50,000 slave workers from concentration camps toiled in BMW and Quandt family enterprises to manufacture weapons and fulfill armaments contracts. Many of them died from the inhumane working conditions. Some from avoidable accidents, some from neglect, some were starved, and others were executed for workplace infractions.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach in the 1940s. Pintrest

10. The Terrorist Organization That Started Off as an Innocent Charity

South America does not usually come to mind when people think of WWII. Nor does it often conjure images of fanatical Japanese, refusing to accept that their country had been defeated. However, South America’s biggest country, Brazil, witnessed just that during the war and in the years after its conclusion.

The country was shaken by fanatical Japanese immigrants, who formed a group that waged a campaign of terror against other immigrants deemed disloyal to Japan. After the war ended in Japan’s surrender, the group’s definition of “disloyalty” came to include the mere utterance of the fact that Japan had surrendered. Ironically, Brazil’s Japanese terrorist organization, Shindo Renmei (“League of the Way of Emperor’s Subjects“), began as an innocent charity.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Colonel Junji Kikawa. Doc Player

9. From Innocent Origins, to Not at All Innocent Fanatical Terrorism

Shindo Renmei was neither the sole nor first organization founded by Japanese immigrants to Brazil. All such organizations, with the notable exception of Shindo Renmei, were innocent entities that were formed to offer mutual support for the Japanese-Brazilian community.

One such was Pia (“Pious”) a charity founded by Japanese Catholics, with the approval of both the Catholic Church and Brazil’s government, to help the poorer Japanese immigrants. One of Pia’s more active members was a former Japanese Army colonel, Junji Kikawa. In 1942, violent clashes erupted between Japanese immigrants and local Brazilians. That led Colonel Kikawa to split from the innocent Pia and form the not-at-all innocent Shindo Renmei, which urged Japanese-Brazilians to engage in sabotage. That began a dive down a rabbit hole of crazy that terrified Kikawa’s fellow immigrants, and bewildered and alarmed Brazil and the Brazilian government.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Japanese government representatives aboard the USS Missouri on September 2nd, 1945, to sign their country’s surrender. US National Archives

8. Japan’s Surrender in WWII Shocked the Japanese, and Led Many Into Extreme Denial

During WWII, Japan fought tooth and nail. Despite that, the conflict ended in abject defeat, with the country forced to throw in the towel and surrender in 1945. The shock of defeat sent many Japanese into paroxysms of grief, and quite a few around the bend and into denialism. For them – especially for those outside the country who did not get to see with their own eyes enemy troops occupying Japan – news of the surrender was “fake news”.

Most eventually came to their senses and accepted reality. Many, however, persisted in resisting facts. Thus, thousands of Japanese soldiers in isolated locales around the former Japanese Empire kept on fighting, for months, years, or even decades. Some were innocent cutoff troops, who had not gotten the memo. Others were just stubborn jerks. In Brazil, which hosted a sizeable Japanese immigrant community, a radical group sprang up to terrorize people into denying that Japan had surrendered.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
A poster advocating Japanese immigration to Brazil. Historic Museum of Japanese Immigration

7. Brazil Has Long Hosted the Largest Japanese Population Outside of Japan

Brazil hosts the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, with over 1.5 million nationals or naturals of Japanese ancestry living there. Significant numbers of Japanese began arriving in Brazil early in the twentieth century. By 1940, the country had about a quarter-million Japanese immigrants and their descendants. Most were concentrated in the coffee plantation region in the state of Sao Paulo.

Nearly all of them were hard workers, engaged in the innocent pursuit of creating a better life for themselves and their families. However, assimilation was difficult. Brazil was a completely different country with a different language, religion, customs, climate, and food. So quite a few reacted by becoming hyper-Japanese, embracing their birth country’s traditions, mores, and nationalism, with a fervor exceeding that of those actually living in Japan. In the 1930s, Brazil’s government embarked on a course of forced assimilation, which effectively banned Japanese language media. Since many Japanese could not speak Portuguese, they were effectively cut off from news beyond their immediate immigrant community.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Japanese immigrants in a coffee plantation in Brazil. Historic Museum of Japanese Immigration

6. During WWII, the Japanese-Brazilian Community Was Cut Off From News of the Outside World

Brazil joined the Allies in 1942, and declared war on Japan. That deepened the isolation of the country’s Japanese immigrants. All communication with Japan was severed, and no new Japanese were admitted. The immigrants’ radios were confiscated. Those living in the more urban coastal areas, where access to news was easy, were expelled and relocated to the more rural interior, where access to news was quite limited.

Cut off from the outside world and reliable news, Brazil’s Japanese immigrant community became ripe for, and ready recipients of, unreliable news. As a result, many were hurled headfirst into a world of alternative facts – one in which Japan was winning WWII. By the time the war ended in 1945, many Japanese-Brazilians, innocent of the world beyond a small circle, were exceptionally vulnerable to bad information. They sincerely believed that Japan had won the war. Those who disagreed or said any different were in for rough – at times lethally rough – treatment.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Shindo Renmei members. BBC

5. The League of the Way of the Emperors’ Subjects Sprang From Innocent Roots

In 1942, violent clashes erupted between native Brazilians in rural Sao Paulo and the Japanese immigrants in the vicinity. So former Japanese Army Colonel Junji Kikawa left an innocent Catholic charity in which he had been active, to found Shindo Renmei, as a self-defense organization for Japanese immigrants.

Kikawa urged his followers to protest their mistreatment with steps such as ceasing the production of peppermint, which included ingredients used in making explosives, and to stop making silk, a vital wartime material for making parachutes. He also advocated more direct steps, such as sabotage. By 1945, Shindo Renmei had a headquarters in Sao Paulo, and 64 branches in Brazilian localities with Japanese immigrant communities.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Japan’s Foreign Minister signing his country’s surrender aboard the USS Missouri on September 2nd, 1945. Wikimedia

4. Innocent Japanese-Brazilians Were Led to Believe that Japan Was Winning the War

During WWII, Shindo Renmei took a turn towards ultra-nationalism. With most Japanese-Brazilians cut off from reliable news, Colonel Kikawa and his followers stepped in to exploit their innocent countrymen. They filled the information vacuum with “news” that amounted to little more than wishful thinking. As Japan reeled from defeat after defeat, Shindo Renmei told the Japanese immigrants that Japan was marching from triumph to triumph. The claims included a decisive Japanese victory in Okinawa, where America lost 400 warships. Victory was secured in no small part by a Japanese superweapon, the “High-Frequency Bomb”, which killed Americans by the hundreds of thousands and forced the Allies’ unconditional surrender.

Many believed that or if they did not, they knew better than to say so. If for no other reason than that Shindo Renmei also took it upon itself to punish “defeatists” in the Japanese immigrant community. Those who voiced doubts about how well the war was going for Japan were shunned, boycotted, and sometimes violently assailed.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Colonel Junki Kikawa. Pintrest

3. Shindo Renmei Convinced Brazil’s Japanese that America Lost WWII

Shindo Renmei dismissed Japan’s surrender as “fake news” and American propaganda, and redoubled its efforts to punish those who said otherwise. According to Colonel Kikawa and his followers, Japanese immigrants were divided into two camps: good guys, and bad guys.

There were the virtuous Kachigumi (“Victorious”), who knew that Japan had won the war. They were mostly the poor and poorly educated. Then there were the vile Makegumi (“Defeatists”), also pejoratively labeled “dirty hearts”, who bought the fake news about Japan’s defeat. The latter tended to be the better off and better-educated immigrants, who had better access to information and could differentiate between reliable and unreliable news. However, even those innocent of Shindo Renmei’s fanaticism were terrorized into toeing the group’s line, or at least into staying silent.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
A Japanese immigrant family in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Wikimedia

2. Purveyors of Fake News and Charlatans Exploited Innocent Japanese-Brazilians

By the time WWII ended, Shindo Renmei had about 50,000 followers. They went on a buying spree that emptied local shops of red and white cloth to make Japanese flags, intended to welcome Brazil’s new overlords. The situation was further complicated by the circulation of fake Japanese newspapers and magazines peddled by charlatans.

The fake media included articles about Japan’s “great victory”; the arrival of Japanese occupation troops in America; photographs of President Truman bowing to Emperor Hirohito; and coverage of the trial of General Douglas MacArthur for war crimes. The charlatans did not do it just for kicks and giggles: they made a bundle selling the duped innocent Japanese immigrants’ land in the “conquered territories”.

Historic Groups that Started Innocent then Took an Evil Turn
Japan’s Olympic swim team, whose 1950 visit to Brazil led to the discrediting and demise of Shindo Renmei. Museum of Japanese Immigration

1. Shindo Renmei Launched a Terror Campaign Against Innocent Civilians

Those who dared doubt Shindo Renmei’s assertions of Japan’s victory were beaten up or murdered. By the time it was over, dozens had been killed. In 1946, Japan’s new government prepared documents for distribution in Brazil, outlining reality and declaring that Japan had surrendered. Shindo Renmei dismissed that as fake news, and beat up or murdered Japanese immigrants caught reading or distributing the documents.

To reduce the violence, Brazil’s government prohibited newspapers from publishing news of Japan’s defeat, and ordered the term “unconditional surrender” removed from official communications. Things then gradually simmered down. A last gasp occurred in 1950, when Japan’s Olympic swimming team visited Brazil. When its members expressed shock at the idea that Japan had won the war, diehards claimed that the athletes were actually Koreans masquerading as Japanese. That was so ludicrous, that it eroded Shindo Renmei’s last remaining support, and the organization soon vanished into history’s dustbin.

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

All that is Interesting – 7 Brands With Nazi Ties That We All Use

BBC – Siemens Retreats Over Nazi Name

Cracked – Bad Groups That Weren’t Evil Originally

Daftary Farhad – The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma’ilis (1994)

Hodgson, Marshall – The Order of Assassins: The Struggle of the Early Nizari Isma’ili Against the Islamic World (1955)

Holocaust Online – Siemens

Lesser, Jeffrey – Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (1999)

Lewis, Bernard – The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam (1968)

National Motorcycle Museum – 1942 Harley Davidson WLA, The Liberator

New York Post, March 7th, 2016 – BMW Admits ‘Regret’ Over Using Nazi Slave Labor During WWII

Independent News, 08 November 2011 – BMW Dynasty Breaks Silence Over Nazi Past

Time Magazine, August 3rd, 2009 – A Brief History of the Hells Angels

Wasserman, James – The Templars and the Assassins (2001)

Wikipedia – Hasan-i Sabbah

Wikipedia – Shindo Renmei

History Collection – Deadliest and Strangest Terror Groups of the 1970s

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