Much like the fabricated Nostradamus emails, usegroup posts, and text messages which flooded the internet following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and are seemingly attributable to Russia, I recalled a similarly viral chain of disinformation from earlier in the 1990s. Lets call these fairly transparent conspiracies: ‘Bill Gates 666 disinformation’ (a good debunking can be found here).
This 1990s online chain mail format of disinformation – as evident in the Nostradamus case – appears to me to be a direct predecessor of the ‘media outlet-based’ online conspiracy theories which are seemingly emergent from Russian and Syrian information networks today.
In a nutshell, these viral emails and posts posited that various combinations of letters like ‘WINDOWS 95’ or ‘BILL GATES 3’ tallied to a value of 666 when each letter was ascribed a specific value in ASCII code, which frankly, was not true. This was suggested to be evidence of a demonic plot featuring Bill Gates and Microsoft to presumably conquer the world. However, lacking the mental willpower to do their own self-check, many denizens of the 1990s world wide web apparently believed the blatantly false statements in these emails.
Not having access to a large random cross sample of 1990s emails (which I think would be the best data set to search), I did a Google search this morning for the earliest attributions I could find in usegroups.
(Note: I’d assume there are earlier examples than what I’ve found since no search engine indexes the entire internet, not to mention the relatively low penetration and access to the internet by today’s standards in the early 1990s. There just isn’t a lot of data to draw from, and who knows how much of that original data still exists or is indexed by modern search engines.)
The first example I can find which uses the ‘ASCII’ argument is from September 1994. It does not mention ‘Windows 95’; but it postulates that Bill Gates may be a ‘fourth Beast’ or ‘by extension implied as a Fourth Antichrist’ [Original]:
* Revelation 13:18 says:
> * Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the
> * number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His
> * number is 666.
> The real name of the Bill Gates is William Henry Gates III.
> Nowadays he is known as Bill Gates (III), where “III” means
> the order of third (3rd.)
> By converting the letters of his current name to the ASCII-
> values (which are used in computers) you will get the following:
> B I L L G A T E S 3
> 66 + 73 + 76 + 76 + 71 + 65 + 84 + 69 + 83 + 3 = 666
> * Daniel 7:23 says:
> * “Thus he said:
> * ‘The fourth beast shall be
> * A fourth kingdom on Earth,
> * Which shall be different from all other kingdoms,
> * And shall devour the whole Earth,
> * Trample it and break it in pieces.
> Current history knows three antichrists:
> – Adolf Hitler
> – Joseph Stalin
> – The Pope
> Is the fourth beast Microsoft corporation which represents
> the power of money?
> * Revelation 13:16 and 13:18 says:
> * He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and
> * slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their
> * foreheads.
> * and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or
> * the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
> “Windows compatible?”
The idea of ‘Three Antichrists’ itself comes directly from Nostradamus and does not appear in the Bible. By January and February of 1995, the conspiratorial forum discussions of ‘Bill Gates 666 disinformation’ had been mocked by some forum goers in the context of Nostradamus relative to the conspiracies’ embodiment of ‘Third Antichrist’ concepts.
February example [Original]:
Joan L. Brewer (red…@coho.halcyon.com) wrote:
: : : > >February, or PC magazine February) that if you take the ASCII
: values of
: : : > >Bill Gates and then add three, since he is the third, you get 666.
: : Some say he is the third antichrist, but most people agree that he is called
: : “William Gates III”.
There is something sinister about this whole thing: 666 is exactly 2.138
times the height of the pyramid of Cheops and if we multiply the height
of the pyramid by 3.36 million, we get the EXACT, let me repeat that –
EXACT – distance to the moon. This next part is much more than just mere
coincidence: if you drop the zeros off 3.36 million and then add the 3 to
the 36, you get a figure which is EXACTLY equal to the age that Bill
Gates would have been on his 39th birthday. This provides CONCLUSIVE proof
that Bill Gates is either an extraterrestrial or a pyramid.
Beyond bordering on the silly, the ‘Third Antichrist’ arguments also do embody significant millennialist and post-millennialist conspiracism common to right wing Christian ‘popular eschatology‘ (and even the ‘Protocols of Zion’). The popularity of such apocalyptic beliefs in right wing Christian circles is not limited to Russia, but such concepts are disproportionately significant there (see Alexander Dugin). (There may be evidence that Russia fosters these kinds of conspiratorial beliefs in evangelical groups outside Russia through its information operations and conspiracy theories. )
I did find it interesting that much like the Nostradamus conspiracy theories traceable to Russia from this approximate timeframe which seem linked, participants in these discussions also seem to have conflated the ‘Bill Gates 666 disinformation’ numerology with anti-Catholic themes (e.g. the identification of the Pope as one of the ‘Three Antichrists’), which are common in Russian propaganda since the time of Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible, and even up to Sergei Eisenstein’s influence on today’s Hollywood. (Bill Gates may identify as Catholic.)
There are even German examples which integrate Hebrew mysticism in the anti-Catholic numerology (itself often associated with Russian disinformation and conspiracy theories).
Translation [Original] of another German ‘anti-Catholic’ example:
on the topic “Proof: Bill Gates is the DEVIL !!!”:
> The complete name of Bill Gates is William Henry Gates III.
> If one converts these letters of his name into the ASCII values and
> (III) added to this one gets the following:
> B 66 I 73 L 76 L 76 G 71 A 65 D 84 E 69 S 83 + 3 = 666 !!
> M S – D O S 6.21
> 77 + 83 + 45 + 68 + 79 + 83 + 32 + 54 + 46 + 50 + 49 = 666
> W I N D O W S 95
> 87 + 73 + 78 + 68 + 79 + 87 + 83 + 57 + 53 + 1 = 666
> Coincidence ??? Decide for yourself …
Finally we know it. But what does Bill Gates have to do with the Pope?
do? This question may seem strange to some, but you should be happy
be that you have * sect info Berlin * in your own mailbox. Because we
cover one of the biggest conspiracies in the history of
Humanity. As we know as disciples, the Church warns
Adventists of the Seventh Day have long been: Those on the Miter of the Pope
Engraved letters are: “Vicarius Filii Dei” (Deputy of the
Son of God). Because the Latin letters are numerals at the same time
are, you just need to add them:
V = 5
I = 1
C = 100
A = 0
R = 0
I = 1
U = 5 (note: U and V are equal in numbers)
S = 0
F = 0
I = 1
L = 50
I = 1
I = 1
D = 500
E = 0
I = 1
The sum is 666 !!!!!!!!!!
Many will raise and say that this coincidence could be, because, so
It would be legitimate to say that the Pope is dealing with this
Clergy and Bill Gates only with software. And yet it exists
Connection, and that can be clearly demonstrated. The ONNURY MISSION HOUSE
(Address: 1309-18, Ku-Wol 1 Dong, Nam-Dong-Gu, 405-221, Korea)
did this and warned with 2 Thess.2: 9:
“The enemy of God is supported by Satan, so that he is sensational
Do deeds and miracles and blind people with them. “Amen …
Arguments that Gates was the ‘AntiChrist’ seem to have existed since at least March and April 1993 on the usegroups. However, they didn’t start with the ASCII argument. It seems to have been more about gripes with capitalism and monopolism, and generally just trying to stir up trouble for Microsoft with the assertion that those who joined in would be “under no obligation to back up arguments with evidence“. (Notably also, a ‘Russian dude’ by the name of Vadim Antonov seems to have factored heavily in this argument and his disdain for Western economics derived from a Marxist worldview was palpable. )
Digging deeper, before the release of Windows 95, the internet was also awash with conspiracy theories “raised to an art form” about the new online registration features in Windows 95. Despite such features being taken for granted today, outspoken activists claimed online product registration would violate privacy or be used for unethical marketing practices, but Microsoft apparently hoped they would minimize product copyright violations of its flagship product. Such a policy threatened to do significant damage to the black market for software sales (and potentially infection potential of last-generation viruses).
Interestingly, despite the careful product protections engineered by Microsoft around Windows 95, the black markets in Russia were awash for weeks and even potentially months (potentially since December 1994) with bootlegged copies of Windows 95; implied in some reports to be ideal vectors for computer viruses. (Although the first real Windows 95 virus doesn’t seem to have been discovered for some time – and was Australian; the first ‘self-encrypting Windows 95’ virus: Win95.mad in June 1997 was ‘of Russian origin’).
Despite being apparent from media reports that bootlegs of Windows 95 were on the Russian market for many months before the official ‘Western’ production release, it was ultimately a Russian-formed warez group called ‘D.o.D.’ (Drink or Die) that took credit for its cracked release of Windows 95 several “weeks” before the US market release in August/September 1995 and members of the piracy group were eventually prosecuted (see Operation Buccaneer). D.o.D. did not profit directly financially from the Windows release, but their efforts were packaged by organized crime for black market sale and seem to have led to considerable sales losses for Microsoft.
In the years following the release of Windows 95, the product apparently continued to be the target of conspiracy theories and hacking attempts (see the March 2, 1998 denial of service ‘teardrop’ attack on US Government computers using Windows 95 and Windows NT). As evidenced above, pioneering efforts in virus making directed at Windows 95 were based in Russia. Preceding and following the 9/11 attacks, several advanced cyberthreats appeared which targeted unpatched Windows 95 (as well as IIS Server, Windows 98 and Windows ME) machines, and may be traceable to Russian strategies around the aforementioned Nostradamus ‘information attack’ of 2001 (see CodeRed, SirCam, and Nimda).
Quick review of information:
- The late-1994 and onward conspiracies were connected to anti-Catholic themes. This is a common element of Russian propaganda, from Russia’s schismatic history with Catholicism even before the time of Ivan the Terrible and reflected in the Stalinist propaganda of Sergei Eisenstein (e.g. the Teutonic Knights and ‘Alexander Nevsky’).
- The disinformation also borrowed themes from Nostradamus conspiracy theories (e.g. “The Third Antichrist”). This comes from a legacy of Cold War and WW2 disinformation traceable to Russia.
- There were Russians factoring prominently in the initial arguments about Gates being an ‘antichrist’, but in the context of Marxist economics.
- Beyond the false ‘666’ numerology chain emails and online postings, additional conspiracy theories existed around Windows 95 copy protection schemes.
- Despite attempts to limit counterfeiting of Windows 95 through the integration of online product registration features, the Russian black market was awash in copies for weeks and potentially even months before the official US release. The earliest-suggested timing of the availability of Windows 95 in Russia from late 1994 loosely lines up with the ASCII-themed disinformation on the usegroups.
- One Russian warez group – D.o.D. (‘Drink or Die’) was prosecuted under international law for their early cracking of Windows 95 which went on to be the basis for organized crime sales of counterfeit Windows 95 discs.
- Does anybody do conspiracy theory and cyberthreats like Russia? It almost seems like an information war was waged on Microsoft and its products for much of the 1990s and early 2000s. Could anyone else really have pulled off such ‘urban legend making’ at such a large scale without a formal organization?
I think it would be reasonable to wonder if Russia was actually behind the Bill Gates III = 666 lies and disinformation. It seems to fit a long pattern of conspiracy theories connected to Russian cyber efforts, at least as I theoretically understand them.
In the course of seeking out the Bill Gates conspiracy theories, I also came across this very intriguing paper entitled “Whatever Happened to the Unlikely Lads? A Hoaxing Metamorphosis” (which does not address the ‘antichrist’ dimension of Bill Gates, but rather the idea of the chain mail as a ‘mind virus’ in the context of the ‘Bill Gates is giving away his fortune’ chain mail).
If we also consider ‘conspiracy theory’ as a mind virus — that is, a piece of constructed information which corrupts the perceiver’s mind in the same way a computer virus corrupts a computer’s codes and memory – or a biological virus corrupts the tissues it infects — the idea of a ‘hoax metavirus’ discussed in the paper can perhaps give a better conception to the idea of Russian full spectrum information warfare in the case of ‘Bill Gates 666 disinformation’ and even ‘Nostradamus’ disinformation. These were two online hoaxes most likely attributable to Russia which seemingly synergized chain-emailed conspiracy theories with potential ‘malware’ or virus campaigns. It all seems quite potent, and non-accidental. These cases may represent good microcosms of Russian information warfare strategy for case studies.
Historically Allied chain letters also clogged Nazi post offices in WW2 as a form of psychological warfare, much like how chain emails have clogged email systems in the late 1990s and early 2000s — or how viruses riding as attachments on similar hoaxes may have had sysadmins working overtime. There’s quite a striking WW2 psyops parallel, much like the subversive use of Nostradamus hoaxes (as did also occur in WW2).
Perhaps this can be explained away as the natural ‘phylogeny’ of online conspiracies as they relate to organic ideals on the libertarian and anticapitalist-leaning 1990s internet (really interesting article here on the phylogeny of offline 1980’s-early 90’s chain letters).
In addition, Richard Dawkins’ early 1990’s concept of ‘Viruses of the Mind‘ was inherently anti-Catholic and developed in the 1991-1993 time frame, and might not be inherently Russian in its anti-Catholicism.
“gangs [that] will come to constitute a package, which may be sufficiently stable to deserve a collective name such as Roman Catholicism … or … component parts to a single virus”. – Richard Dawkins
Not so hard for well-read internet intelligentsia to appropriate similar ideas independently of a nation state I guess in their online mischief-making. But all of this still leaves me asking: was Microsoft the target of a 1990’s ‘fin du millenaire’ Russian information war similar to that which we see today and also apparently derived from Russia’s ‘Marxist-medievalist’ national psychology? And was Bill Gates targeted specifically not just because he led the company which held the lion’s share of the OS market (thus making it an important cyberwarfare target), but because Gates was an American who represented capitalism and Catholicism, essentially bringing together archetypes of many of Tsarist and Communist Russia’s most notable cultural adversaries?
Just seems like a lot of coincidences to me, so many that it might not be probable unless it was strategically motivated.