Every morning there is an email in my inbox that provides me with a list of links to the most recent information to hit the web about anything Disney. Most mornings it just the last news and rumors about the goings on in the house that Mickey built, but yesterday morning there was something different, and online article at the UK’s Daily Mail site: Revealed: How the CIA helped Disney conquer Florida and buy super-cheap land that is 'above the law' The article is about a new book “Finding Florida: The True History Of The Sunshine State” by investigative journalist Timothy T.D. Allman. The article provides extract attribution about the book to an article on the Daily Beast. You can get a feel for the leaning of the article simply by its title, and that of course piqued my interest. As some will know, at least any of my frequent readers will, I have written about what I called the “Darker side of Walt,” though it should more accurately be call an effort to create a darker side to Walt Disney. Was Walt a Mason? Nothing but unsubstantiated claims and innuendo, coupled with a DeMolay membership card from his young adulthood, and a claim in one book that Brother Roy might have been one. Now know a few Mason in my time, and while they don’t talk about their craft, they also do not hide away the symbolic trappings of their brotherhood. Illuminati? Don’t think so! I don’t think anyone, but the fertile minds of many conspiracy theorists, believes that this group existed, other than a brief period in the late 18th century. There’s more, but…
So now we have these new claims from Mr. Allman (my personal opinion withheld) that Walt Disney was in league with, or received help from the CIA in the acquisition of the Disneyworld land in Florida. The CIA apparently assisted Walt Disney and Company to establish an unconstitutional (Florida and United States) government for the development of the property. Let’s look at these claims:
Copied from the article:
In Finding Florida he claims that Walt Disney conspired with William 'Wild Bill' Donovan - the so-called 'Father of the CIA' - to establish a state-within-a-state where he could 'control the overall development' of Disney World.
Donovan, founding partner of New York law firm Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine, whose attorneys included future CIA director William Casey, provided lawyers to help Disney distract attention from its plans, says Allman.
These attorneys, it is claimed, provided fake identities for Disney agents, set up a secret communications centre and organised a disinformation campaign to make sure sellers had no idea who was buying their property.
In this way, Disney was from the mid-Sixties able to snap up 40 square miles of land in the Sunshine State for a knockdown price of less than $200 an acre.
This very first claim, that Walt Disney conspired with William “Wild Bill” Donovan to create or establish his own government within the Disney World project would seem to be a dubious claim at best. You see, William Donovan died in February of 1959, and 1959 was the year the Walt Disney started looking for an east of the Mississippi home for Mickey and his friends. It seems rather unlikely that Walt and “Wild Bill” would be wasting valuable time conspiring to build this clandestine governmental unit when the location of the site was unknown. Yes, Walt’s company used several law firms, Donovan’s included, to pursue acquisition of the Florida site very quietly, and yes you could say in a clandestine manner. This would make perfect sense given Walt’s experience with the development of Disneyland. Anyone, with more than a casual interest in Disney history, knows that Walt Disney became rather disturbed with how the land around Disneyland was snapped up at highly inflated values, and developed rather haphazardly, to take advantage of the current rendition of “Walt’s Folly” because of its rapid success. The claim at the end of this except is that Disney got the Florida property at a “knockdown price” of less than $200 an acre, when in reality Disney acquired the property for what I think would be considered a “fair market” value, instead of an overly inflated prices which would have accompanied the knowledge that Disney was the buyer. Coincidentally, a price which also would have almost assuredly dealt a death knell to the project.
Copied from the article:
Disney and his advisers then sought a way to 'limit the voting power of the private residents' of the area, to control the impact that local democracy might have on the company's plans.
They employed a scheme devised by senior CIA operative Paul Helliwell to establish two phantom cities populated by hand-picked Disney loyalists around which Disney World would be based.
The cities were based around Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, two artificial reservoirs Disney engineers created by obstructing the area's natural water flow.
The company could then 'use these fake governments to control land use and make sure the public monies the theme park generated stayed in Disney's private hands,' Allman writes.
Teams of Disney lawyers working out of Donovan's New York law firm drafted the legislation to establish the two pseudo-cities, which was passed by the Florida legislature in 1967.
Again, a claim of dubious distinction. As a student of Disney History, I have studied the development of Disney World, later renamed Walt Disney World by Roy O. Disney to honor his decreased Brother. Yes, there was an effort to limit the bureaucratic influence of a political agenda on the development of the Florida property, but one should be reminded of one of Walt Disney’s primary goal for the Disney World property – EPCOT (Experiment Prototype Community of Tomorrow). Not the Epcot we know today as a theme park, but rather, Walt’s desire to build an experimental multi-use city using the latest and greatest of new technologies for the benefit of its residents. I will try to have more on Walt’s EPCOT later, but you can get a feel for his goals in the Walt Disney's Original Plans for Disney World (1966) video on YouTube. While the entire video is a good view, Walt’s EPCOT plan starts at about 10:20. So, I think, contrary to Mr. Allman’s claims, the purpose of the local government entity(s) was to support Walt’s EPCOT goals, by controlling the bureaucratic political influences we see at so many levels of government today in the planning and execution of urban planning today.
Copied from the article:
However, in violation of both the U.S. and Florida Constitutions, the carefully drafted laws specified that any elected office holder must own property within the cities.
The law, which states that each candidate for office 'must be the owner, either directly or as a trustee, of real property situated in the City', ensured any local politician would be intimately linked with Disney.
On the day of the magic kingdom's inauguration, Walt Disney, speaking from beyond the grave in a recorded presentation, boasted of creating a new kind of America.
'Of course he was right about creating a new kind of America,' Allman writes. 'By turning the State of Florida and its statutes into their enablers, Disney and his successors pioneered a business model based on public subsidy of private profit coupled with corporate immunity from the laws, regulations, and taxes imposed on actual people that now increasingly characterises the economy of the United States.'
This allegation of constitutional violation at both the state and federal level would seem to me to be false, since there is no supporting case law that I can find support Mr. Allman’s claim. Surely there would have been some ruling against it, if it were truly unconstitutional. Mr. Allman’s book seems to be taking some veiled “facts” to draw a direct connection between Walt Disney, the CIA, and some conspiracy. I don’t see it, but then, I don’t possess the conspiracy theorists’ ability to make blind leaps of faith that anyone with secrets has something malicious to hide. While I have not read Mr. Allman’s book, and probably won’t, it would seem to me that with the Disney inclusion in his book, he has created something sensational in order to spur on sales.
It is unfortunate that Walt Disney did not live long enough to see his dreams for EPCOT become a reality, and yes it was a rather utopian view of the potential for city life. I don’t even know if he could have pulled it off, but, if anyone could, it would have been Walt Disney. And… unfortunately, after Roy O’s passing in 1971, more political forces began to take control of the company that these incredible brothers had built. Sadly I think, at that point, the dream of Walt’s EPCOT expired, as neither brother was there to champion it. Has the company taken the fullest advantage of the environment created to support Walt’s plans? Most definitely, but, should Walt’s reputation and accomplished be smeared because of it, and that some people don’t like it? I don’t think so. One of the concerns I’ve had, since my Disney History journey began, is the discovery of all the negative content being circulated about Walt Disney. It seems to me that there are just some people who have to find ways to tear down successful individuals that they don’t understand or dislike for their achievement. In everything I have read or listened to, regard Walt Disney – the man, I see a man who really did not have an political or social agenda other than to entertainment and help people with the stories and technologies he enjoyed and discovered throughout his life’s journey, and his inquisitive nature. Is he a perfect human? No! Were there people he irritated, for whatever reason? Yes! But, none the less, he is a man to be admired and celebrated for effort, not berated.
I write this because I know that, neither the Company Walt built nor his family will address these new found accusations, nor should they. It would only serve to provide more speculative claim about their agendas to hide the truth. However, I have no such agendas, I seek the truth, and I am not claiming T.D. Allman’s claim a false. What I am saying is that, in my experience, claim such as these need documented evidence supporting them, not claims that would not be considered even good circumstantial corroboration. In my opinion, Mr. Allman’s little treatise is nothing more than another attempt to diminish a great human being.
Next time, as time is available, I’ll try to do a better job of exploring Walt’s EPCOT and what he was thinking about, but in the meantime, the video link is a good start, as are two books on the subject: WALT and the Promise of Progress City by Sam Gennawey and Project Future by Chad Emerson. Much more objective journalistic presentations in my opinion
Your comments or questions are always welcome. If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find us on Facebook at: Discovering Disney History on FB