8. These Early Terrorists Saw the Most Minor of Sins as Apostasy Punishable by Death
In their struggle against the first Umayyad Caliph, Muawiya I, the Khawarij contended that he was illegitimate because he gained the Caliphate by force of arms, rather than election by the Muslim community. In the protracted fight that ensued, the Khawarij earned an evil reputation among contemporary Muslims as horrific radicals. On the one hand, they adopted and stuck to democratic and egalitarian principles, whereby governance was to be entrusted to Caliphs elected by and responsible to the Muslim community.
Commendable as those principles might have been, they were more than counterbalanced by a fierce fanaticism that horrified and turned off many. They contended that Muslims who backslid or sinned, such as those who drank alcohol, fornicated, missed the daily prayers, failed to fast on Ramadan, or even engaged in idle gossip, had engaged in behavior that rendered them apostates, and thus worthy of the death penalty. The Khawarij launched a program of terror against the Caliph’s supporters, as well as those who failed to meet their purity standards.
7. Islam’s Early Anarchists Committed Horrific Atrocities
As their struggle with the Umayyad Caliphate and perceived sinners intensified, the Khawarij’s viciousness grew apace. Eventually, they came to view even neutral Muslims as enemies. As they saw it, their failure to support the Khawarij despite the glaringly obvious righteousness of their position proved their apostasy. That rendered them kafirs, and not fellow Muslims whose blood the Khawarij were prohibited from shedding. Horrific atrocities abounded. Captives were tortured and mutilated. Pregnant women had their bellies slit. Entire villages and towns were massacred.
Their most extreme faction, the Azariqah in southern Iraq, separated themselves from the entire Muslim community and declared death to all sinners – defined as all who did not share the Azariqah’s puritanical beliefs – and their families. Their rebellion was eventually crushed, but embers remained, and the Khawarij became the anarchists of Islam’s first centuries, an ever-present irritant and horrific menace. They rejected the Caliphate’s authority and pursued a campaign of terror and assassinations, combined with a low-level insurgency in backcountry regions that flared up every generation or two into a major rebellion that required considerable expense and effort to beat down.
Stella Kubler (1922 – 1994), born Stella Goldschlag, became infamous during World War II as “The Blond Ghost” or “Blond Poison”. Born and raised as the only child of an assimilated middle-class Jewish family in Berlin, she was treated like a princess by overprotective parents. Her family was well off, but not as affluent as other Jewish families with whose children she attended school. During WWII, she became infamous for her collaboration with the Gestapo to track down and denounce fellow Jews who sought to hide from the Nazis.
Stella had herself gone into hiding, and used forged IDs that listed her as Aryan. She was able to pull it off due to a blue-eyed and blond-haired Aryan appearance. However, she was denounced to the Gestapo four months later by a “Jew Catcher” – a Jew who worked for the Gestapo to find other Jews in hiding. Her boyfriend and later-husband offered the Nazis his services to become a Jew Catcher and bragged that he could “assemble an entire train” of Jewish deportees. As seen below, Stella eagerly joined him.
5. A Traitor Who Enthusiastically Helped the Nazis Exterminate Her People
Stella Kubler and her husband became highly effective Jew Catchers. They collected 300 Reichsmarks from the Gestapo for every Jew whom they turned in. The Gestapo also promised to spare Stella’s parents from deportation, so long as she continued to demonstrate her usefulness to the Nazis. Since they had themselves lived in hiding, the couple had an instinct for where to look. Stella in particular, because she knew many of Berlin’s Jews from her years in a Jewish school, was highly effective.
While the decision to become a Catcher might not have been of her own free will, how Stella exercised what freedom of choice she had in her work as a Catcher was entirely within her control. She pursued hidden Jews with tremendous zeal and inventiveness. After their arrest, when her job as a Catcher was presumably over, she enthusiastically participated in the horrific beatings, torture, and humiliation of Jewish prisoners. Despite her services, the Nazis broke their promises and sent Stella’s parents to their death in a camp.
4. Up To 3000 Jews Were Turned In to the Nazis by “The Blond Ghost”
Although the Gestapo broke its promise to Stella Kubler and sent her parents to their deaths, and then sent her husband and his family to Auschwitz in 1943, her zeal on behalf of the Nazis did not falter. She met and married another Jew Catcher, and continued to work enthusiastically for the Gestapo. She thought the Germans would win, and obtained a promise from the Gestapo in 1944 that she would get declared an Aryan after the war. By war’s end, Stella had helped arrested hundreds – or thousands – of Jews, who were subsequently murdered.
The total number of her victims ranges from at least 600 to as high as 3000. They included many of her personal friends, former schoolmates and their families, and even some of her own relatives. Despite her horrific record, she got off light: captured by the Soviets, she was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. After her release, she moved to West Berlin, where she was tried again and sentenced to ten years, but served none of them. She then converted to Christianity and became a lifelong anti-Semite. She committed suicide in 1994, by jumping out the window of her Berlin apartment.
Few confidence tricksters throughout history were more sinister, cold-blooded, and horrific than Matthew Hopkins (1620 – 1647). In 1644, amidst the chaos of the English Civil War, he claimed to be England’s official “Witch Finder General” – a title and office that did not exist. He then traveled around the country, mostly in East Anglia, to offer his services – for a fee – to local governments to root out witches. Fears of witchcraft and sorcery were rife at the time, so Hopkins found many employers who paid him handsomely.
The entire affair would be humorous, if not for the fact that dozens of innocents were killed based on evidence manufactured by Hopkins. He was active for only two years, but in that time, he got over 100 people executed. In a fourteen-month stretch, he got more people convicted and executed than all English witch hunters of the previous 160 years. Indeed, Hopkins is responsible for about a fifth of all English witchcraft executions from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. As seen below, he pulled it off with brazen flimflam.
2. Fraudsters Used Special Trick Devices to “Prove” Witchcraft and Sorcery
In Matthew Hopkins’ day, there was a widespread belief that witches and sorcerers neither bled nor felt pain if they were pricked. In of itself, that was not proof positive that a person accused of witchcraft or sorcery was actually a witch or sorcerer. However, pricking was circumstantial evidence that could be used alongside other evidence and testimony to tip the scales towards conviction. Because everything about witch hunts was terrible, it is perhaps unsurprising that witch finders used flimflam. They routinely manipulated the process to demonstrate that they had, indeed, found a witch – and thus deserved to get paid.
Sharp needles were thrust into “normal” volunteers to draw blood. Then, through sleight of hand, a different needle was substituted to use on the accused. Some trick devices had hollow handles with retractable needles, that gave the optical illusion that they had been plunged into an accused’s flesh, yet failed to draw blood. Sometimes they used needles with a sharp end for demonstration, and a blunt end to use on the accused. Special needles with bends created the illusion of “piercing” a witch’s tongue without drawing blood. Trick knives were also used, with portions cut out of the blade to make it appear as if they had “cut” through an accused’s flesh or tongue, yet drew no blood.
The horrific career of Matthew Hopkins as a witch finder began in May 1644, when an associate, John Stearne, alleged that six women had tried to kill him with witchcraft. Hopkins saw a business opportunity and falsely declared himself “Witch Finder Generall” with a commission from Parliament. He then offered his services to towns and villages to root out witches in their midst, force their confession, and get them hanged by the authorities. His investigative methods amounted to torture. The accused were deprived of sleep, dunked in water, and tied in uncomfortable positions for hours. He also used fake prickings and trick knives to demonstrate that the accused, like witches, did not bleed when pierced or cut.
Hopkins’ flimflam bore its grisliest results on August 27th, 1645, in the small town of Bury St. Edmunds. That day, thanks to his machinations, eighteen men and women were hanged together for witchcraft. It was England’s biggest mass execution of witches. Hopkins retired in 1646 after he had earned a small fortune – and also because his activities had started to attract unwelcome attention from Parliament. In 1647 he published The Discovery of Witches, an instructional manual, and died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis. His malign legacy lived on, however. The following year, executions for witchcraft and sorcery began in New England, where authorities used The Discovery of Witches as a roadmap. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693 also used the methods outlined in Hopkins’ book.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading