Sunday, 27 June 2010

Ferdinand Waldo Demara

Ferdinand Waldo Demara was born in Lawrence, Massachusets in 1921 and from a young age was determined to dedicate his life to the Catholic Church.
He joined a Trappist monastery at the age of 14 having impressed the monks with his determination to adopt their way of life despite the demands that would be placed upon him.
His parents believed that the rigorous burden of this lifestyle, with a spartan diet and a vow of silence, would drive him back home in no time but Demara managed to stay for two years and actually earned a place at the monastery as Frater Mary Jerome.
However, shortly after this Demara was asked to leave the order. His failure to be able to adhere completely to the vow of silence had made his continued stay at the monastery impossible.
Demara was devastated and determined to prove the monks wrong.
He took jobs within various Catholic organisations but each time found himself falling out with the people in charge and moving on. Demara also developed a habit for petty theft and stealing cars that lead to various issues with the Police.
Looking for the certainty and discipline that the Church offered elsewhere Demara volunteered for the U.S. Army. This proved as ill-suited as the church with the opportunity to come into conflict with authority never far away. However this time in the Army led to a meeting and incident that would shape the rest of Demara’s life.
His bunkmate at Keesler Field Air Force Base was Anthony Ingolia, an unassuming young man whose family lived in a town nearby. Invited over to the family home one weekend Demara was fascinated by the mass of photographs and certificates that Ingolia’s mother had on display about her son. He listened eagerly as she talked him through the archive much to Ingolia’s embarrasment.
‘What do you see in those things?’ Ingolia asked him.
‘Life’ replied Demara ‘I see a whole life ahead of me.’
A couple of weeks later Demara made an excuse to return to the Ingolia family home and stole all the documents relating to his friend’s life that he could find.
After posing as Ignolia for a while Demara was found out and faced ruin.
His clothes were found by a quayside with a note.
‘I have made a fool of myself. This is the only way out. Forgive me. F.W. Demara.’
However, the note was just another in a growing stack of fake documents that Demara was creating and accumulating...
He emerged next as Dr. Robert Linton French, a psychologist, and over the course of his life Demara would pose as a Civil Engineer, a Sheriff’s Deputy, a Teacher, a Lawyer, a Zoologist and a Prison Warden using aliases such as Jefferson Baird Thorne, Martin Godgart, Dr. Cecil Boyce Hamann and Ben W. Jones.
Demara’s most notorious imposture was as Dr. Joseph Cyr, Naval Surgeon.
Using this persona Demara managed to volunteer for the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and be assigned as Ship’s Surgeon to the HMC Cayuga.
Initially he saw little action and managed to pass quite convincingly without raising any suspicion.
Eventually, the inevitable occurred and a boatload of wounded soldiers pulled alongside the ship.
Three of the men were seriously wounded and would require surgery.
Demara watched as the men were sent through to be prepared for the operations he would have to perform. He went to his cabin and read up on each of the procedures the men would require.
With a combination of speed-reading and the gift of a photographic memory Demara managed to glean enough information for him to feel confident enough to attempt the surgery.
A storm had started to blow as Demara began and the ship rocked as he started to work.
Demara worked through the night, removing a bullet from one man’s chest, tidying up a groin wound and treating a collapsed lung in the final patient.
All of the men recovered from their wounds.
A constant theme in Demara’s pretences was how competent he proved in the fields he entered without any training or qualifications.
Many of the organisations that he ended up working for were more upset at losing a key member of their team than the deception that Demara had involved them in.
The Governor of the prison he worked in as a Warden credited him with single-handedly preventing a prison riot on one occasion and one school that Demara taught at insisted on paying his wages, including back pay, when he was unmasked and received a petition from parents insisting that he be reinstated.
Despite his success on the HMC Cayuga Demara was found out when the real Dr. Joseph Cyr received grateful messages from the families of the survivors and he contacted the Navy to find out who was on that ship.
One byproduct of this discovery was a growing notoriety and a little fame.
Life Magazine paid Demara $2,500 for his story and a book called The Great Imposter’, which was also made into a film starring Tony Curtis as Demara, soon followed.
The natural consequence of this exposure was the pressure it put on Demara’s later poses.
His work as a prison warden ended when a prisoner found a copy of the Life magazine containing his story.
Demara attempted to find work as an actor but, in an ironic twist, the man who had spent the majority of his life pretending to be other people turned out to be a functional performer at best...

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Five Percent Nation

The Nation of Islam had a very simple system for shedding your slave name.
You kept the forename given to you by your parents and dropped the name that your ancestor’s masters would have forced upon them to denote their status as property. In its place you added an ‘X’ to symbolise the unknown name that was lost to slavery.
When Clarence Smith turned up at Temple Number 7 in Harlem, New York in 1961 to join the NOI he discovered that twelve other Clarences had got there before him and so he duly became Clarence 13X.
Clarence was initially popular at the Temple. A confident public speaker and capable martial artist, Clarence 13X was capable of both spreading the teachings of the NOI and defending himself from those who decided to dissent in a more vigorous and physical manner than polite debate demanded.
And the teachings of the Nation of Islam were known to rouse displeasure from many different areas of Society...
Orthodox Muslims took exception to the overtly Islamic stylings of this religion which they believed to be promoting a heretical system of belief.
In mainstream Islam there is one God, Allah, who has his Messenger, Muhammed, and various prophets who spread his word on Earth.
In the Nation of Islam there is a crucial difference in the wording of their belief.
They believe there is one God, Allah, who came in the person of W.D. Fard, the founder of the Nation of Islam who was declared to be Allah by his successor Elijah Muhammed.
The concept of Allah in human form is hugely offensive to conventional Muslims as Islam forbids the idea of creating images of Allah let alone imagining him as a mortal.
Clarence eventually began to have doubts about the teachings of Fard and the NOI and was eventually excommunicated.
At this point Clarence refined the belief system of the NOI to his own vision and began preaching on the streets of Harlem. However Clarence’s new teachings were no less provocative that the Nation of Islam’s.
Clarence changed his name to Allah and taught that, through living a life of righteousness, all Original Men (anyone non-Caucasian) could become Gods.
Even the Caucasians, damned as ‘White Devils’ and unredeemable by the NOI, could become ‘civilised people’ by following Clarence’s teachings.
Despite moving even further away from the teachings of orthodox Islam Clarence continued to use Muslim words and symbols to spread his message.
However, Clarence made it very clear that his use of the words were designed to adapt Muslim teachings for his own purposes.
Clarence declared himself ‘Allah’ and when challenged on this point would observe that his physical form was composed of an ‘Arm, Leg, Leg, Arm, Head’ and that anyone who chose to accept their destiny as ALLAH could do so.
Similarly he used the word ISLAM to denote the individual’s role as ruler of their own existence. To Clarence everyone was their own ‘I, Self, Lord And Master.’
This linguistic manipulation was central to the teachings of Clarence’s new system.
Lessons were taught using two main pillars of study, Divine Mathematics and the Divine Alphabet. Both of these systems involved the study of numbers and letters to analyse and understand the world around you.
This analysis lead to one of the keys teachings of Clarence’s new movement and lead to one of it’s most popular titles. According to the calculations of Divine Mathematics the world is divided into three key groups which can be divided by percentages.
The majority of the world’s people form a group made up of 85% of the total population. These people are blind to the reality of the world around them and follow the lead of the second largest group. This group are the 10% who are aware of the reality of the world and use this knowledge to enslave the 85% and live comfortable yet sinful lives.
That leaves the 5% of ‘poor righteous teachers’ who attempt to free the 85% from their blindness and battle against the evils of the 10%.
Clarence’s followers became known as 'Five Percenters' but the official title for this new movement was ‘The Nation of Gods and Earths’.
The ‘Gods’ were the men who came to study with Clarence while the ‘Earths’ were the women of the group, so named as they are the planets where ‘God’ produces life.
An important element of Clarence’s teaching was the need for self-development.
Rather than looking to an supreme leader or elite group of priests Clarence emphasized that the onus was on the individual to improve their own lot.
Most teaching was passed on through sessions where the ‘Gods’ would ‘build’ their knowledge in groups known as ‘ciphers’. This would involve quizzing one another on aspects of Divine Mathematics and Alphabet.
It was not uncommon to pass through Harlem and hear people refer to themselves and others as ‘God’ or ‘G’ as it would be reduced to by the Divine Alphabet.
Similarly the greeting ‘Peace’ became popularised by the Five Percenters.
No one who had studied the Divine Alphabet would greet anyone with ‘Hello’ as the word had ‘Hell’ in it...
The Five Percenters are largely overlooked in the history of the Black Civil Rights movement of America in the 1960's. In a way that’s understandable, by their very nature they are a minority of a minority, a schism formed from a schism.
However there is something to be celebrated about this group who ignored the militant cries of the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers and saw nothing to follow in the teachings of Dr. King. Why should these people fight or agitate for change? They are Gods. They don’t care which water fountain they are drinking out of or what part of the bus they sit on, whichever fountain or seat they use immediately becomes divine by their very presence.
That’s the sort of power that no Government can grant you...