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Related to fifth column: fifth estate
A subversive group or organization working secretly to undermine or destabilize something from within, usually on behalf of an outside enemy force. The phrase originally referred to rebel sympathizers in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, who were seen as a "fifth column" in addition to the four columns of rebel troops already attacking the city. The group of politicians has been accused of being a fifth column aiming to sabotage their party's credibility ahead of the national election. The dictator has been whipping up a frenzy of anti-immigrant sentiment, labeling them as a fifth column trying to destroy the nation from within. In the US during the Cold War, there was constant fear and suspicion of people supposedly working as a fifth column to spread the influence of communism from within.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2022 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
A secret subversive group that works against a country or organization from the inside, as in The government feared that there was a fifth column working to oppose its policies during the crisis . This term was invented by General Emilio Mola during the Spanish Civil War in a radio broadcast on October 16, 1936, in which he said that he had una quinta columna ("a fifth column") of sympathizers for General Franco among the Republicans holding the city of Madrid, and it would join his four columns of troops when they attacked. The term was popularized by Ernest Hemingway and later extended to any traitorous insiders.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
fifth columnan organized group of people sympathizing with and working for the enemy within a country at war or otherwise under attack.
Fifth column is a translation of the Spanish phrase quinta columna : during the Spanish Civil War, an extra body of supporters was claimed by General Mola as being within Madrid when he besieged the city with four columns of Nationalist forces in 1936 .
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