backbone cabal: n.

A group of large-site administrators who pushed through the Great Renaming and reined in the chaos of Usenet during most of the 1980s. During most of its lifetime, the Cabal (as it was sometimes capitalized) steadfastly denied its own existence; it was almost obligatory for anyone privy to their secrets to respond “There is no Cabal” whenever the existence or activities of the group were speculated on in public.

The result of this policy was an attractive aura of mystery. Even a decade after the cabal mailing list disbanded in late 1988 following a bitter internal catfight, many people believed (or claimed to believe) that it had not actually disbanded but only gone deeper underground with its power intact.

This belief became a model for various paranoid theories about various Cabals with dark nefarious objectives beginning with taking over the Usenet or Internet. These paranoias were later satirized in ways that took on a life of their own. See Eric Conspiracy for one example. Part of the background for this kind of humor is that many hackers cultivate a fondness for conspiracy theory considered as a kind of surrealist art; see the bibliography entry on Illuminatus! for the novel that launched this trend.

See NANA for the subsequent history of “the Cabal”.