the painful truth about the worldwide church of god

Herbert W. Armstrong:
Confidence Man
Was this Herbie's secret role model?
By Bill Fairchild

 While driving home from work the other night, I heard a fascinating story on National Public Radio. First we listeners were told about the various email scams from Nigeria and other places in Africa. Randomly chosen people in the USA are sent an unsolicited email telling them that someone in Nigeria, e.g., has access to $30 or $40 million dollars in cash, needs help in getting the money out of the country, has chosen YOU because you were recommended due to your well-known honesty, and could you please help this person get the money into a US bank? You will receive anywhere from 20% to 40% of the total if you do. So you quickly calculate your share as $5 or $10 million, you are tempted, you realize this smells phony, and you delete the email. A small percentage of recipients actually believe this trash, and end up going to Nigeria where they are looted of all their money. I get about one of these kinds of emails every month.

The really cool part of this radio broadcast was when they started talking about where the idea for this scam had originally come from. It seems that about 80 or 90 years ago there was a very popular and similar scam in the Midwestern part of the USA. The idea was that Queen Elizabeth I had seized all the treasure brought back by Sir Francis Drake when he died because his will was defective, the money has been sitting in a bank in England all these centuries gaining HUGE amounts of interest, and the scam man has discovered through genealogical research that YOU are a distant descendant of Drake. If you will only invest a few thousand dollars, then the scam man will take that money back to England to pay for the legal expenses necessary to get the huge treasure out from under the bank's control and deliver it to Drake's rightful heirs meaning you.

If I were you, I would tell this scam man to go to hell because this is smells just as phony as the Nigerian money laundering scam.

What does all this have to do with our favorite dead pervert, Herbert W. Armstrong, founder and scamscateer extraordinaire of the Worldwide Church of God? Well, it just happens that the single greatest purveyor of this Sir Francis Drake scam was a fellow named Oscar Hartzell, and he was pulling this scam in Iowa in the early 1920s. And we all know who else lived in Iowa in the 1920s, don't we, boys and girls? That's right! It was Pervert W. Harmstrong. I wouldn't be surprised at all to find out that the young ambitious Perbert knew about Hartzell's scam, analyzed the details of how the scam worked, and decided that scamming gullible people out of their money was a really great way to have a good life. The onliest problem is that Hartzell ended up in jail and Perbert had to improve slightly on the scam so that he could avoid the inevitable punishment.

What were some of the details of Hartzell's success? Basically, all scams and con games work on the gullibility, trust, and greed of the intended victim. You promise your victim a huge return on his money, say, 100 or 1000 to one; you promise your victim that the scheme is fool-proof; and you use human psychology as much as possible.

[Small break here: do you suppose that one of the reasons why Herbert W. Armstrong kept frightening us all away from studying psychology was because he knew that if we did we would learn enough about human gullibility and susceptibility to fraud that we would begin to doubt his own colossal FRAUD? Hmmmm... sounds like a really good idea for another posting for anyone who knows a lot about psychology. You don't want your victims' vision to improve or else they might actually see that Emperor is NAKED.]

One thing you can do is to let your victim know that you have chosen him because of all his good qualities, like his honesty, integrity, etc. He will have to be handling a large amount of money, and we would not want HIM to steal any of the money, would we? So we have chosen him [the victim] very carefully. Only the most honest need apply. All this flattery works on the victim ego, and helps suck him in deeper. Ego + greed = disaster.

All scams work pretty much the same way. The reason why some are more successful than others is due to the personality of the scam man. If you are very charismatic, outgoing, friendly, a good public speaker, convincing, quick to give answers when questioned closely, confidence-inspiring, etc., then you can suck a lot more bucks out of the poor dumb sheep's wallets than if you are a quiet, introverted Casper Milquetoast kind of schlepp.

Hartzell must have come across as well as the Gagging Stud Hamstrung did on the radio. Some of the things he used to bait the hook sound as if he was a true believer in Herbie's theology. He told his victims that if the law suit to get Drake's fortune was successful, then there was so much money involved that it would bring down the government of England. That rich bitch the Queen would be bankrupt! (Well, OK, back in the 1920s there was a King over there rather than a queen. But the important thing here is that this idea played bigtime on the average American's anti-British feelings. And "rich" rhymes so much better with "bitch".)

Another interesting parallel with Herbert W. Armstrong's early life is that Hartzell found out about the scam when his own mother got sucked into it. Then Hartzell joined in the scam organization and worked for them for several years. Finally he learned that it was all phony, and then bought the rights to the scam from the original practitioners. (I'm not sure how he did that, unless it was through blackmail.) He hired others to work for him to increase the amount of scam money coming in to him exponentially. 100,000 people gave him money, many to the point of bankruptcy (DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR OR WHAT?). In an eerily similar way, Herbie the Pervie got involved in the great scam of religion in Oregon, was ordained there, saw the potential, and struck out on his own as the sole proprietor of his brand new religious scam the Radio Church of Fraud.

Finally in 1924 Hartzell moved to London after telling all his victims that now he had enough money and was going over to England for the legal struggle. Once in London, he forgot all about Drake's fortune and his duped investors and started living like a king. He had several homes, was a womanizer, had his own personal tailor, his own table at the Savoy, etc.

Does any of this remind you of Perbert? He had about five homes, had his "special ladies" in his own private college (what a great idea to have a constant fresh supply of young, attractive women every year), loved to go to London and buy expensive stuff in Harrod's, rub elbows with the fancy-schmancy high and mighty, etc. I took a tour of his Pasadena home once in the early 1970s. It looked like a palace of some damned European royalty. Gold, silver, pewter, and crystal everywhere. He had about 100,000 people giving him money, too. Where he is now, very slowly rotting in his Altadena grave, he isn't very wealthy or special any more. That fat bastard. It's too bad the State of California never had enough balls to put his stinking fat ass in handcuffs.

Hartzell finally got his comeuppance when US postal inspectors began to investigate. Back in those days the U.S. State Department was actually worth a damn, and they persuaded England to deport Hartzell back to the USA for his criminal trial. He was brought back to Iowa in 1934 in handcuffs, tried, convicted, and put in prison where he died in 1943. The radio person I was listening to on NPR said that Hartzell probably would have gotten away with his scam if he had made even the tiniest attempt to start a law suit in England having something to do with Drake's fortune, but he did absolutely NOTHING to fulfill the promises he made to the people who believed in him.

Hartzell's scam and ruthlessness caused misery to countless people, destroying whole families in the process. (DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR OR WHAT?) Richard Rayner has written a biography of Hartzell called "Drake's Fortune: The Fabulous True Story of the World's Greatest Confidence Man". Well, Rayner didn't know about Pervie. Many of us refugees from Armstrongism think that Pervie was the greatest confidence man of all time. He figured out a way to keep from getting caught and thrown in jail. First you disguise your scam as a religion, you add a large dose of the fear of God into the scam to keep your victims from going to the police, you pull the scam in a country where freedom of wacky religions is constitutionally guaranteed, and hire the sleaziest possible lawyers (think "Rader" here, boys and girls) to intimidate and destroy the rare victim who might complain. So first you destroy your victims financially, and then you can destroy them legally should they complain. We're talking serious ruthlessness here. Pervie kept himself out of jail, and he also managed to rake in between $100 and $200 million per year for the last 20 or so years of his filthy career in theft.

Hartzell's life is also in stage play form now, and may even become a movie soon. I hope if it does that it is shown in Pasadena, and that the gang of four all take their mink-coat-draped wives to see it. They can laugh at all the 100,000 poor dumb sheep who gave their money to Hartzell during America's Great Depression. Then maybe as they exit the theater they will all be handcuffed and arrested.

Hey, it could happen!

But only if there is a just God who really gives a shit about his little ones.

Bill Fairchild Douglas, Mass.

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