'Conspiracy' theory

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Author’s latest book reveals plot to kill George Washington

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

To New York Times best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer, a good story’s, a good story.

It doesn’t matter what medium – novels, comic books, television.

It doesn’t matter what genre – mystery/thriller, super-heroes, non-fiction, history.

Case in point: Meltzer’s two latest books chronicle the lives of Billie Jean King and George Washington, but in very different ways.

“A good story is a good story. I keep following what I love,” said Meltzer, 48, of Florida, an alumnus of the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School. “Every life makes history. Every life is a story.”

King, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, is featured in his latest children’s book “I Am Billie Jean King” (Penguin Random House $15.99. This is the 17th book in his best-selling “Ordinary People Change the World” series of children's books that showcase the extraordinary lives of historical figures who’ve overcome overwhelming odds to achieve greatness. In King’s case, she fought for women’s rights and equality.

King herself wrote a blurb for the book: “I love this book! I hope you enjoy this story of my journey.”

“Oh boy. We got a blurb from Billie Jean King herself. It totally beats the blurb George Washington gave us,” said Melter, tongue-in-cheek.

Getting serious, Meltzer explained why he chose King to be the subject of his latest children’s book.

“I made the decision to write this when I was serving with the USO and met a soldier who (was) gay. He loved our ‘Ordinary People Change the World’ books, and I knew right there that I had the perfect hero in mind,” he said. “I also have a son who loves telling his younger sister that boys are better at sports than girls, stronger than girls, more resilient than girls. This looks like a children’s book. But as always with this series, it’s my solution to showing him how powerful women really are. As my daughter knows, this is the one where the girl beats the boy.”

In his first non-fiction book, “The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington” (Flatiron Books $29.99) – which he co-wrote with Josh Mensch and was released at the beginning of 2019 – Meltzer unveils a little-known conspiracy involving the first President of the United States.

It took Meltzer three years to research “The First Conspiracy.” He stumbled across this conspiracy nearly a decade ago when writing “The President’s Shadow” and even gave it a quick mention.
“It was a throwaway detail that talks about the plot against George Washington. But I just couldn’t shake it. I kept going back to the detail and asking, ‘What else happened? Why doesn’t anyone know this story?’ I just wanted to know more. And where did I originally find it? Where all great secrets hide. In a footnote, of course,” explained Meltzer, who recently completed a 14-city tour promoting this book.

In 1776, during the American Revolution, Washington handpicked an elite group of soldiers to serve as his personal bodyguards – or “Life Guards” as they were called. Unbeknownst to him, some of these men were involved in a treasonous plan to kill Washington.

“When the British invaded, these men were going to switch sides, blow up our bridges, steal our cannons, and go after George Washington,” said Meltzer.

However, Washington learned of this conspiracy and arrested the guilty parties. He gathered 20,000 people – soldiers and civilians alike – in an open field and made an example of one of the traitors by hanging him for all to see. This execution – the largest of its time to occur in North America – happened just days before the signing of the Declaration on Independence on July 4, 1776.

“Why does no one know about it? I think the answer comes from when it happened. The hanging took place on Friday, June 28, 1776. That was the same morning that John Adams presented Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of a new ‘Declaration of Independence’ to the Continental Congress. And on that very same day, the British forces were about to arrive in New York Harbor to prepare for their first major attack. This was a moment where Washington needed to convey strength. The last thing he wanted was to tell the world his own men had just turned on him,” explained Meltzer.
As a result, Washington launched covert committees within the new government, including the clandestine Committee on Conspiracies, which is the first dedicated American counter-intelligence team that was led by John Jay, the second governor of New York and the first Chief Justice of the United States. This paved the way for what would later become America’s modern intelligence agencies, such as the CIA and the FBI.

“This Committee on Conspiracies tracked down suspects, interrogated them, and in the process, was building America’s first counter-intelligence agency,” said Meltzer. “When it came to dealing with foreign espionage on our own soil, our first President offered a lesson in leadership that marks a stark contrast from our current climate.”

He continued: “Back then, there was no United States. Washington helped create it – with character, unity, and a tireless work ethic. There was no flag that he could wrap himself in. He didn’t brag, he didn’t boast, he didn’t use personal insults. He knew the world was watching, and he held everyone – most of all himself – to the highest ethical standards. Indeed, at first, some people thought Washington was too modest to lead an army. By the end of the war, this very quality earned him almost universal respect. It’s why he was elected to be the first President of the United States.”
“The First Conspiracy” received high praise from former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“A wonderful book about leadership – and it shows why George Washington and his moral lessons are just as vital today. What a book. You’ll love it,” said Bush.

“This is an important book: a fascinating largely unknown chapter of our hazardous beginning, a reminder of why counter-intelligence matters, and a great read,” said Clinton.

Meltzer was honored to have both Bush and Clinton endorse his book. Bush – who died November 30, 2018 – was a fan of Meltzer’s work. In fact, Bush was invaluable when Meltzer was researching his political thriller “The Fifth Assassin,” where a serial killer is targeting the President.

Prior to Bush’s death, Meltzer and his wife Cori visited him. Meltzer read excerpts of “The First Conspiracy” to Bush. The author wrote a detailed account of his final visit with Bush that ran in the January 8 edition of USA Today.

“Bush wrote me the best fan letter I ever got in my life. Then he invited me to Houston to spend some time with him as I was researching one of the books. We became friends over the course of many years,” said Meltzer. “President Bush gave me lessons that I’ll carry forever.”


 

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