We’ve all heard our fair share of conspiracies. There’s the one about the US government being run by a secret cabal of pedophile Satan worshippers, for example – or the even more sinister one about birds not being real.
It’s easy to dismiss such theories as nothing more than the ramblings of cranks – but don’t be so hasty. Just because something is a conspiracy, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not true.
Here are just a few of the times the cranks got it right.
The government wants to beam secret messages into your brain!!
It’s pretty much the big daddy of all conspiracy theories: the government are beaming secret messages into your brain to control your thoughts. Your only defense? A good old-fashioned tin foil hat, and possibly some kind of caravan in the wilderness to hide out from the authorities in the meantime.
It’s the kind of bizarre claim that would get a person labeled as paranoid for making it. Just ask Donald Friedman – the man who, in 2003, submitted a request to the FBI for information on all of the “very serious crimes against me and other members of my family” that he believed the US Secret Service had been “committing… for a very long time.”
You’d imagine such a demand would be laughed out of court – and indeed, Friedman was declared mentally unwell by both the government’s and his own psychiatrist, which is generally not a good sign in any legal battle. On top of that, his main justification for alleging electromagnetic attacks against his person – a pair of shoes whose backs, he claimed, had been vaporized by waves fired at his feet – was determined to be the result of normal wear and tear.
It was, altogether, not a very convincing case. But here’s the thing: Friedman was … kind of right.
“Microwave hearing is a phenomenon, described by human observers as the sensations of buzzing, ticking, hissing, or knocking sounds that originate within or immediately behind the head,” reads a 2006 declassified Pentagon report titled Bioeffects of Selected Non-Lethal Weapons.
“There is no sound propagating through the air like normal sound,” it continues. “This technology in its crudest form could be used to distract individuals; if refined, it could also be used to communicate with hostages or hostage taken directly by Morse code or other message systems, possibly even by voice communication.”
And that’s not all the report talks about. There’s designs in there for weapons that can cause seizures or fevers to incapacitate people for “any desired period consistent with safety.” And while the document doesn’t mention any testing of these specific contraptions – which is good, since doing so might well constitute torture – it does point out that the technology for such devices is hardly some futuristic pipe dream: “Equipment needed to explore this concept in the laboratory is available today,” it notes, and “a variety of options exist for both of these equipment needs.”
The good news? The conspiracists got something else right, too. “Since this technology utilizes radiofrequency energy, it can be defeated by the use of shielding provided by conductive barriers like metal or metal screen[s],” the report admits.
In other words: keep that tin foil hat on. It may not be as dumb as it looks.
The CIA secretly dosed Americans in the search for mind control drugs!!
While we’re on the subject of secret government mind control programs, let’s talk about MK-Ultra – a.k.a. that time the CIA tried to eradicate human free will using LSD.
Like so many weirder stories from US history, this one comes straight to us from the Cold War. It was the early 50s, and the US government was entering what would later be recognized as its “laughably gullible” stage of anti-Communism. The Reds didn’t just have a bigger nuclear arsenal than us (they didn’t) or a more successful space program than us (they did), but they also had sleeper agents in every school and newspaper, ready to recruit your kids or write mildly critical articles of the government.
But none of that compared to the commies’ scariest asset of all: the power of brainwashing.
It all started at the end of the Korean war, when a slew of US soldiers suddenly began confessing to some terrible war crimes, with some even defecting to the North Korean regime.
In the end, it would turn out that these men had simply been horribly tortured as POWs, and were extremely traumatized – but at the time, US Intelligence explained it as something much more mystical: somehow, they said, the communists had harnessed the power of mind control.
The idea took off like wildfire. No matter how seriously (or not) it was first suggested, before long, received wisdom in the CIA was that the enemy had the ability to remove all free will from a person – and we needed to get our hands on that technology too.
Enter LSD, a trippy little drug that had been invented about 15 years previously. The CIA already knew it had seemingly mind-altering properties – why not start there?
“In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the agency gave mind-altering drugs to hundreds of unsuspecting Americans in an effort to explore the possibilities of controlling human consciousness,” reported The New York Times in the 1999 obituary of Sidney Gottlieb, the man who originally introduced the two sets of initials to each other.
“Many of the human guinea pigs were mental patients, prisoners, drug addicts and prostitutes – ‘people who could not fight back,’ as one agency officer put it,” the article continued. “In one case, a mental patient in Kentucky was dosed with LSD continuously for 174 days.”
So invested in LSD was the CIA that some have labeled the agency responsible for the entire psychedelic movement in the USA.
“Stanford University was running a program in which they asked for volunteers to come in and try this new substance. Allen Ginsberg was one of the volunteers; so was Robert Hunter,” journalist Stephen Kinzer told NPR in 2019. “A similar set of experiments was going on at the Menlo Park Veterans Administration Hospital… That became the basis for ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.’”
“All of these original strands that came together in the ‘60s to produce this great countercultural revolt based around LSD can be traced back through these bogus foundations to the CIA and, ultimately, the director of MKUltra, Sidney Gottlieb,” he concluded.
Project MK-Ultra lasted two full decades, during which zero LSD-based mind control techniques were discovered. Ultimately, in a fit of government paranoia in the wake of the Watergate scandal, most CIA documents around the project were destroyed – but enough remain to confirm one of the wildest, least ethical, most unbelievable stories from the history books.
“We don't know how many people died,” Kinzer told NPR. “But a number did, and many lives were permanently destroyed.”
Free healthcare is a trick to let the government poison you!!
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in some way since it blew into town nearly three years ago. But it certainly hasn’t affected us all equally: Black Americans, it was quickly discovered, were far more likely than other races to know someone who was hospitalized or died from the virus. And at the same time, they were the group least inclined to get one of the new vaccines that were suddenly hitting the shelves.
The two facts seem obviously related, and you might find it hard to find sympathy for those who refused the vaccine only to see their loved ones die soon after. But that would be a mistake: as New York Times Opinion columnist Charles Blow pointed out in a 2020 op-ed, “Black people in this country have been well-trained, over centuries, to distrust both the government and the medical establishment on the issue of health care.”
For example: if your grandpa started talking about how the government promised him and a bunch of his buddies free healthcare if they agreed to have their health monitored for six months, only to actively kill off about one in six of them over the course of 40 years by denying access to cheap and life-saving medication that could cure their otherwise fatal sexually-transmitted infection, you might think he’d gone a little loopy in his old age.
Unless you had heard of the Tuskegee Experiment, which did exactly that.
“They recruited 200+ control patients who did not have syphilis (simply switching them to the syphilis-positive group if at any time they developed it),” explains a write up from McGill University. “They also began giving all patients ineffective medicines (ointments or capsules with too small doses of neoarsphenamine or mercury) to further their belief that they were being treated.”
Despite penicillin being widely available by the end of the 40s, the researchers went out of their way to stop the men enrolled in the study from accessing the drug. Bizarrely, their argument for this relied on the (profoundly racist) idea that Black people were somehow racially fated to not seek out treatment for their illnesses, which you would think would cause some cognitive dissonance as they actively prevented said people from seeking out said treatment, but apparently it did not.
Even after an investigator with the U.S. Public Health Service raised concerns over the study in the mid-60s, the researchers behind the project refused to call a stop to the experiment. “In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as the men died, went blind or insane or experienced other severe health problems due to their untreated syphilis,” notes History.com.
That investigator took his story to the press, and public outrage over the experiment finally brought it down in 1972. By that point, 28 of the participants had died from syphilis, and 100 more had passed away from related complications. At least 40 wives of those enrolled had been diagnosed with the disease, and 19 children had contracted it at birth.
And that’s just the most famous example of the US government screwing over Black people in the name of “science” (note: not science). “In the mid-1800s a man in Alabama named James Marion Sims gained national renown as a doctor after performing medical experiments on enslaved women, who by definition of their position in society could not provide informed consent,” Blow recounted in the Times.
“Not only that, he operated on these women without anesthesia, in part because he didn’t believe that Black women experienced pain in the same way that white women did, a dangerous and false sensibility whose remnants linger to this day,” he wrote. “When he finally got his experiments to be successful, he began to use them on white women, but he would begin to use anesthesia for those women.”
Add to that the long history of federal or local authorities forcibly (or just secretly) sterilizing Black people – and other minorities – and you start to understand why even a free vaccine against a global pandemic might seem a little suspect.
After all – would you trust the country that literally inspired the Nazis’ race laws?
There are hundreds of ETs buried under New Mexico!!
Ah, New Mexico. Home of Walter White, Troy Bolton, and one of the most famous UFO conspiracies in history.
“Roswell has got everything really,” Nigel Watson, author of the Haynes UFO Investigations Manual, told IFLScience back in 2017. “It’s got government conspiracy, it’s in a remote location, it’s got stories of aliens and spaceships, and there’s the [idea] this wreckage was perhaps taken to Area 51.”
But surely this is all just an urban legend? There aren’t really a whole bunch of lost ETs buried under the desert floor of New Mexico … right?
Well, this is another one where the conspiracists got it right – technically.
It all started back in 1982, when the world was still reeling from the massive blockbuster hit that had been E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Looking to tap into the still kind of niche market that was the video games industry, director Steven Spielberg hired a young computer programmer named Howard Scott Warshaw to design a spinoff ET video game for the Atari 2600 console.
“I did the E.T. video game, the game that is widely held to be the worst video game of all time,” Warshaw told NPR in 2017.
The game was confusing, disorienting by Warshaw’s own admission, and completed in just five weeks. But that wasn’t all – it also happened to come out just before the now-infamous video game crash of 1983, a massive industry recession that saw home video game revenues fall by 97 percent over two years.
In the end, the ET video game was such a flop for Atari that they resorted to simply burying the unsold cartridges in the desert and covering the evidence with concrete, finally confirming the state’s reputation for hidden extraterrestrial disasters.
The story does have a happy ending, though. In 2015, the cartridges were dug up and sold, raising more than $108,000 for the local city’s coffers. Which just goes to show: one person’s trash really can be another person’s treasure – as long as it’s really, really trashy.