Furthering my research into how New Orleans is fertile ground for international plots and coup d’etats following only Washington D.C. and perhaps Moscow or Havana, the legendary non-fictional Bayou of Pigs is a perfect modern day example of this. Hatched in 1982, Operation Red Dog was a three stooges-esque plot by a group of “mercenaries” who were in reality cross dressers and neo-nazis that plotted to take over the fledgling Caribbean island nation of Dominica for their own nefarious goals. Their plot, based loosely on Frederick Forsyth’s novel, The Dogs of War, is an exploration of how not to plan and conduct a coup d’etat, especially when you hire New Orleans’ own Captain Mike Howell to transit your expeditionary force onboard his 55′ workboat, Mañana.
The following is part of an interview with the author of Bayou of Pigs, Stewart Bell, whose book is about to be re-released in paperback and has been optioned for a movie:
Q: How did you first catch wind of the story and decide to write a book about the Bayou of Pigs incident?
Stewart Bell: When Wolfgang Droege was murdered in Toronto in 2005, everyone was asking who did it. He’d been at the centre of the Canadian racist far right, although by then he’d been reduced to dealing drugs. I was already vaguely aware of the Dominica plot but after Droege’s death, I really started digging into it. As it turned out, his murder was unrelated to Operation Red Dog but the story was so fascinating that I kept going.
Q: Where did you travel for your research and what’s the current state of Dominica?
Stewart Bell: Operation Red Dog was a truly international conspiracy. It unfolded mostly in Toronto, New Orleans and Dominica. I live in Toronto so I had that covered but I traveled to Dominica twice and New Orleans, as well as to North Carolina to meet one of the mercenaries and Indiana to meet Perdue’s brother. I found another guy in a prison in Kingston, Ontario.
Dominica is a beautiful place, an unspoiled island just a short flight from Barbados. Its politics have stabilized since the days of the coup plot. The challenge for Dominica is economic. It is not a major tourist destination like the other islands, but it’s now marketing itself as a Nature Island for travellers into hiking to isolated waterfalls, scuba diving and having a more authentic Caribbean experience than you get at a beach resort run by a hotel chain.
Q: Did any of the main cast of characters give you any pushback when you initially approached them for interviews?
Stewart Bell: Some did, which is natural. They’d served their prison time and moved on with their lives and didn’t want anyone to know they’d done something so stupid in the past. One guy had changed his name and was living in Colorado, and initially he denied he was part of the Bayou plot, but I just kept calling back until he finally said, “OK, you got me.” In the end, there were only a couple who wouldn’t cooperate.
Q: Captain Mike Howell was on his own quite the colorful Gulf Coast character, tell us about some of your experiences with him while researching the book.
Stewart Bell: Getting to know Mike was the best part about writing the book. I met him at the marina and he took me to the Manana, which was full of stray dogs he’d taken in. At one point he couldn’t find his prosthetic arm because one of the dogs had walked off with it. He remembered all the events clearly and was a great storyteller. After interviewing criminals, mercenaries and racists, Mike was like an antidote. He reminded me that there were still truly good people in the world. The last time I saw him was in Baton Rouge. We were on a panel at the Louisiana Book Festival, along with the two ATF officers, Lloyd Grafton and John Osburg. Mike had everyone in stitches with his account of the Bayou of Pigs conspiracy.
Q: I assume that during your research, this was the sort of project that starts taking you into bizarre directions, describe one of the surprising twists that you discovered.
Stewart Bell: Finding out what had happened to some of the characters was fascinating. One of the people I wanted to interview was a guy named Steve, a former British soldier who’d been part of the Toronto racist scene. He was in love with a woman the KKK had sent to the island before the invasion to be their eyes and ears on the ground. When she got arrested, Steve went on a Rambo mission to Dominica to rescue her from prison and got arrested as well. I put out word I was looking for him and one day I got a call from a woman named Andrea. She said she heard I wanted to talk to her, and I said I didn’t think so. And then she said, “I was Steve before my sex change.”
Q: What was your overall take on Mike Purdue – was this primarily a weird fantasy for him?
Stewart Bell: Perdue was a fraudster. He was looking for easy money, whether it was by dressing up as a postal worker and stealing checks from mailboxes or playing the part of a mercenary so he could get hired to stage coups. He was a conman who thought he was smarter than everyone else and had no conscience. He saw an opportunity to make a lot of money by organizing what looked like a relatively simple government overthrow. But he got in over his head and wasn’t quite as smart as he thought.
Q: You mentioned that Bayou of Pigs has been optioned for a movie, what is the status of that project?
Stewart Bell: It’s in development. A screenwriter is working on a script. The two ATF officers have expressed their concerns that Hollywood might not be able to find actors good-looking enough to play their roles.
Q: If Operation Red Dog had initially succeeded, what is your take on the final outcome for these groups that would obviously have been at odds with each other once the dust settled?
Stewart Bell: A more competent invasion force could have pulled it off. The Dominican police force was small and the army was on board with the invasion. But Perdue and his men were completely incompetent. Their incompetence was comical. Police in Canada, the U.S. and Dominica all knew what was going on because the conspirators couldn’t keep their mouths shut. They were so dumb they even gave interviews to a reporter in advance of the invasion — in effect confessing on tape to a crime they were about to commit. Having said that, if by some miracle they’d managed to take control of the island, I don’t think they would have lasted long. If the locals didn’t feed them to the sharks, the French or British governments would have quickly moved in to round them up and restore order.
Q: When is the re-release of Bayou of Pigs coming out?
Stewart Bell: Harper Collins is releasing a paperback edition in November. It will include some updates, including the sad passing of Captain Mike.