The Absolutely True, Somewhat Spurious and Totally Impossible


Today, Lipset laughs at the very mention of the Gemstone caper.
"I was supposed to be working for Graham. I was supposed to be working for Nixon. I did in fact work for the Watergate [Senate] Committee," Lipset says. "Boy, I must have been pretty clever to pull all of that off."

According to A Skeleton Key, Onassis' death in 1975 sent political shockwaves around the globe; Ford, Kissinger and Rockefeller were left "squatting like toads on the corpse of America."

Bruce Roberts died of lung cancer in 1976, shortly after A Skeleton Key to the Gemstone File surfaced. Hustler ran a heavily edited version of it in 1979, revealing that Brussell and Caruana compiled it. Brussell purportedly knew Roberts and possessed several hundred of his gemstone "histories."

More recently, two books -- Jim Keith's The Gemstone File (1992) and Gerald Carroll's Project Seek (1994) -- have explored the veracity of the Skeleton Key.

Since Brussell's death in 1988 (more about that later), her files have been kept in a secret location by KAZU-FM, the Pacific Grove radio station that still broadcasts reruns of her weekly rants. Radio personality and co-host of the station's conspiracy-addled Lighthouse Report, Marilyn Coleman, confirms the presence of Bruce Roberts' Gemstone "histories" in Brussell's files.

"Some of Gemstone may be credible," Coleman says. "But most of it is junk. You should see the Torbitt document."

Even conspiracy theorists sometimes have trouble suspending disbelief.
Off the Pigs -- the FBI Versus the Black Panthers

The sparks of history seldom flash more brightly than when two conspiracies collide; they positively luminesce when both conspiracies are armed to the teeth. Twenty-five years ago, on the streets of America's inner-cities, two such cabals clashed in a pitted battle to the death.

The Oakland-based Black Panther Party for Self-Defense made national headlines in 1967 when founder Huey Newton shot and killed an Oakland police officer. The Panthers were formed the previous year in a North Oakland community center by Newton and Bobby Seale, and espoused a decidedly militant attitude, openly exercising their right to bear arms. In three years, the Panthers had grown from their small Grove Street headquarters in Oakland into a national movement, with 4,000 members and 33 chapters; and white America was more than a little shaken by the sight of the leather-clad Panthers toting shotguns and quoting the Constitution in the name of a people's revolt. Willful suspension of disbelief isn't required to understand the Panther message: They openly advocated armed revolution.

Pitted against the Panthers was an equally militaristic organization with thousands of agents in hundreds of cities conspiring to infiltrate and destroy the party. This well-armed group was the Federal Bureau of Investigation, led by lifelong paranoid J. Edgar Hoover, and it wouldn't let a little thing like the Constitution stand in its way.

By 1970, Hoover had designated the Panthers Public Enemy Number One. Following the schemata drawn up a decade earlier, when the FBI created its infamous counter-intelligence program, COINTELPRO, to infiltrate and undermine the Socialist Worker's Party, the Bureau forged inflammatory letters and mailed them between Panther chapters to sow discord among its leaders; provocateurs inside the party staged brazen robberies to discredit the Panthers' political stance. A sawed-off shotgun was planted in Bobby Seale's house and then "discovered" during a raid. The FBI even tried to bribe Seale, offing him a million dollars to quit the party.

In 1969, a paid FBI mole provided a detailed diagram of a Panther home for the Chicago police to use in a midnight raid that left Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark both dead. Former-party chief of staff David Hilliard believes Hampton, who was shot execution-style while still in bed, may have been drugged prior to the raid. Two days later, following a phone call from Hoover to Gov. Ronald Reagan, police descended on the Los Angeles Panthers office and a bloody five-hour shoot-out ensued. In both the Chicago and L.A. raids, the police said they were looking for illegal guns. None were found.

Blame it on COINTELPRO and internecine party warfare: By the mid-'70s, the Panther leadership was fractured, a personal wedge driven between Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. Bobby Seale, after being bound and gagged in a Chicago courtroom during the Chicago Eight debacle, was sent to prison for contempt of court and spent several years in legal limbo. The struggle left 25 Panthers dead. Los Angeles Panthers-leader Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, convicted of murder in 1972, remains in jail to this day, despite mounting evidence that he was framed. Pratt is listed as a political prisoner by Amnesty International. In 1989, Huey Newton was gunned down outside a West Oakland crack house. The mean streets of Oakland's inner-city haven't changed much in 30 years. Chalk another one up to The Man.

A Table for Two, Please -- Zebra and the Mob
In the alchemy of conspiracy, a Unified Field Theory like the Gemstone File often manages to fold disparate events into a quicksilver mŽlange of murder and machination. Take, for example, A Skeleton Key's view of Mayor Joseph Alioto's 1970 libel suit against Look magazine. Throw in a little racial strife, a couple of bizarre coincidences and next thing you know a colorful piece of San Francisco history becomes a veritable philosopher's stone of conspiracy.

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