28. Next, the Phoenix Foundation Funded a South Pacific Cult
The Phoenix Foundation next took another stab at the South Pacific. This time in Vanuatu, where French planters, fearful of approaching independence and the threat to their land holdings by a native majority, plotted secession. They were led by a cult leader named Jimmy Stevens, who dubbed himself “Moses”. He wore long robes and grew a long white beard, and had a harem of twenty-three wives. The Foundation bought and smuggled guns to Vanuatu, and made passports, flags, and coins with Stevens’ face on them. All in all, the Foundation spent about a quarter million dollars – serious money in a place as poor as Vanuatu, population 115,000 at the time.
In 1980, Stevens led a rebellion and declared the independent Republic of Vemerana. Vanuatu had no military to suppress the rebels, so it seemed that third time was the charm for Oliver’s dream of a libertarian country. The scheme backfired, however, when Vanuatu sought aid from nearby Papua New Guinea, which did have an army. It sent a battalion, which swiftly crushed the rebellion. Oliver was deported and permanently banned from Vanuatu, and his libertarian coconspirators fled. Stevens was arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced to fourteen years behind bars. Michael Oliver was a successful businessman, but as a libertarian would-be founding father, he was a three-time loser. The Phoenix Foundation did not rise from the ashes of its Vanuatu defeat, and finally faded away.