fifth column

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fifth column

1. (originally) a group of Falangist sympathizers in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War who were prepared to join the four columns of insurgents marching on the city
2. any group of hostile or subversive infiltrators
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Fifth Column


a term used to designate a group of General Franco’s agents who operated in the Spanish Republic during the National Revolutionary War of 1936–39.

The term “fifth column” originated in early October 1936, when the Francoist general E. Mola declared on the radio that the rebels were conducting an offensive on Madrid using four columns, while the fifth would strike from the rear at the decisive moment. The fifth column spread panic and engaged in sabotage, espionage, and diversionary activity. During World War II the term was used to designate groups of Nazi agents in various countries who aided the fascist troops in the capture of these countries.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Gripped by war fever and a heightened fear of the subversive capabilities of the plotters, the Australian government cracked down on or put under close surveillance peoples who were deemed to be fifth columnists.
According to this thesis, Shiites simply reverted to their "historic" role as wreckers and fifth columnists. Was it not the case, it is claimed, that Shiites also colluded with the Mongols in the fall of Baghdad in 1258, culminating in the death of the last Abbasid caliph and the destruction of the Abbasid Empire, the "universal state" of Muslims?
Beware of fifth columnists inside the borders and thwart their nefarious designs.
Thriller, starring Joel McCrea and Laraine Day, about an American crime reporter who gets caught up with the Nazis and fifth columnists in pre-war Europe.
The battle with these conspirers and thugs will have to take place sooner or later and the free sons and daughters of Egypt must get thoroughly prepared for the ultimate showdown with the evil fifth columnists.
As far as the official media were concerned, those calling for civil rights were nothing but cultural fifth columnists for Iran's enemies.
Made during the Korean War and heyday of McCarthyism in Washington, Invasion USA depicts an expansionist Soviet empire intent on world domination, abetted by fifth columnists and Americans too soft to make the sacrifices necessary for the preservation of liberty.
This perversion of our parliament by Pictish fifth columnists bending the democratic wishes of the English must stop before the Home Counties adopt the Euro and throw in their lot with the Flemish.
The corrupt, China argues, are Fifth Columnists within the body politic and likens them to viruses that can spread the disease to the healthy organs, weakening the entire nation.
He called German victories in France and Belgium "a colossal military disaster," and warned British citizens that they must focus on "home defense against invasion." It was necessary, he said, to "take measures of increasing stringency" against aliens, suspect British subjects, and Nazi Fifth Columnists. The government would use domestic security powers "without the slightest hesitation until we are satisfied that this malignancy in our midst has been effectively stamped out." Churchill closed with some of his most memorable remarks: Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.
Fifth columnists could claim they were merely passive resisters, as did one real fifth columnist, Jose Maria Carretero, a popular writer known as El Cnballero Audaz (The Bold Cavalier).
In visualizing the setting for his drama, which turns on counter-espionage agents attempting to identify and eliminate civilian Fifth Columnists secretly working for Franco, Hemingway appears to have been more influenced by the early movies of Howard Hawks and John Ford than by the stagecraft of, say, Eugene O'Neill.