The Untold Story of How the CIA Wound Up Designing a Supreme T-Shirt

Featuring an extremely rare piece of vintage Rage Against the Machine merch

Welcome to HARD TO GET, a newsletter about awesome stuff that’s (almost) impossible to find online.

This is a SS18 Supreme t-shirt depicting a molotov cocktail. You can buy it at Stadium Goods for $125, and from other streetwear resellers. Look closely and you can see "© SUPREME 2018" below the bottle. This is funny because, as it turns out, the CIA actually made this image, in secret, during the Cold War. 
Back in 1983, the CIA produced a 15-page pamphlet called The Freedom Fighter's Manual and airdropped it over Nicaragua, whose democratically elected leftist Sandinista government the U.S. wanted to undermine and, by funding and training the massacre-prone right-wing guerrilla squads known as the Contras, overthrow. 

The Freedom Fighter's Manual announced itself as a "practical guide to liberating Nicaragua from oppression and misery by paralyzing the military-industrial complex of the traitorous Marxist state." The pamphlet outlined various ways to do one's part in undermining the state, from low-risk acts of disobedience (there's a cartoon, pictured further down, of an anti-communist drinking a martini in a plush armchair while calling "sick" out of work) to acts of violent urban insurgency, including detailed instructions on how to make a "coctel molotof" and hurl it into a police station:  
Cut to the early '90s, which is where Los Angeles rap-rock communists Rage Against the Machine (who just announced a 2020 reunion tour) come in. On tour to promote their self-titled debut LP, the band took a modified close-up of the page above, jettisoned the original context, and plastered it across t-shirts to sell at shows. As guitarist Tom Morello once explained this merch choice, "If people are not checking the Anarchist Cookbook out of the library any more, they can always look at the back of a Rage Against The Machine T-shirt the next time civil disorder breaks out in the neighborhood." 

We found this black long-sleeve version on eBay last year from a guy that bought it at a 1993 RATM show, at First Avenue in Minneapolis. (The band made a white version, too, including the Rage lyric "anger is a gift.") 
Subsequent, iconic and way more common Rage t-shirts lost everything but the encircled molotov cocktail, which is what Supreme copied, pasted (and, uh, copyrighted) for their molotov tee. (Other recent '90s-music-referencing Supreme shirts have featured the cover of GZA's Liquid Swords and a play on the cover of Chant, the 2x-platinum 1994 album of Gregorian chants by The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.) 

You can find vintage Rage molotov-logo shirts easily but pricily on eBay, Grailed and Etsy. But the Freedom Fighter's Manual version of the shirt is much more elusive. At the time of writing, there are no originals for sale on any of those marketplaces.

Nicely weathered vintage molotov logo Rage shirt here. 

Reproduction of the "anger is a gift" shirt here.