This article examines the discursive construction of the 1978–1979 social movement that ultimately became the Iranian Revolution, as constructed through the discourse of the charismatic leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This article illustrates that Khomeini was able to strategically co-opt the Shiite symbolism of the Battle of Karbala to bring together the most unlikely of bedfellows to unite in one common opposition movement. We first provide a summary of the socio-political events that contextualised Khomeini's discourse and then examine two commemorative declarations given by Khomeini in the key months before the overthrow of the Pahlavi regime. We will illustrate, via a discourse-historical analysis, that the two primary narratives prominent in Khomeini's discourse are as follows: (i) the continuation of the Battle of Karbala and (ii) the idea of a foreign conspiracy and a dangerous foreign other. We will also describe various discursive strategies that rendered Khomeini's discourse purposefully vague enough to appeal to Iran's fragmented opposition. Although the conspiratorial appeal of Khomeini's speeches has been discussed in the literature, we seek to show that it is the co-opting of a national myth in an all-encompassing language that drives the mass appeal of the discourse. The methods described in this study can be utilised by social and community psychologists seeking to understand how political actors discursively construct history in such a way as to serve their political ends. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.