6 Crackpot Conspiracy Theories (That Actually Happened)
We really do try very hard here at Cracked to maintain a no-bullshit policy. We’re not the goddamned New York Times, but we do try to make sure we don’t repeat a claim unless we can link to a smarter group of people who confirm it. We kind of think everyone who touches a keyboard should do that.
But in the course of looking down our noses at the nutjobs who spread urban legends and conspiracy theories, we have to sometimes stop and point out that there are downright terrifying historical precedents for even their craziest of claims.
#6. The Government Is Transmitting Thoughts Into Our Brains!
This is the stereotypical “tin foil hat” conspiracy theory that the government has the ability to beam thoughts into or out of your skull using its Illuminati mind-ray technology. This is a favorite of crazy people because, well, they’re crazy, and hearing strange voices in your head is as common a symptom of craziness as you’ll find. Assassins Mark Chapman and Sirhan Sirhan both claimed to hear voices in their heads telling them to murder their targets.
You can use the same excuse to get away with stealing lunches from your co-workers.
But they’re not the only ones who have ever claimed to hear voices broadcast directly into their heads. All over the country, people who aren’t murdering beloved public figures have also asserted that the United States government is trying to control their minds by transmitting thoughts directly into their brains. Which is why some of them elect to don the aforementioned tinfoil headgear — to keep the voices out. This is why the tinfoil hat has become the emblem of all things conspiracy-related, mocked in movies and elsewhere.
Why It’s Not So Crazy
They can totally beam voices into your head.
In 2006, a guy whom multiple counselors labeled as a “paranoid schizophrenic” filed a Freedom of Information Act petition requesting all declassified government documents pertaining to covert attempts at microwave auditory effect, telepathy and hypnosis. While no one was surprised that a guy who once complained that the backs of his shoes were vaporized by an electromagnetic weapon would go through the effort of filing the request, a lot of people shit a brick when they saw the papers that came back.
Page after page of verified government documents confirmed that taxpayer dollars had funded research on everything from a telepathic ray gun to fever lasers that made victims disoriented and less aggressive. And, yes, one of the released tests even broadcast a person’s voice telepathically by “using close-range microwaves … to project the spoken numbers 1 to 10 across a lab to volunteers.”
So, not only is this technology possible, the government has toyed with using it. And considering the United States government’s track record with mind control, well …
The Census Is a Tool for Government Oppression!
Most of us didn’t give a second thought to filling out our census forms last year. But among the loonier elements of American society, speculation abounded about what exactly the government was going to do with all that data it collected, other than, you know, allocate congressional seats. One conservative website speculated that GPS coordinates of households collected by census workers would possibly prepare UN soldiers for a U.S. invasion. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann even stated that she and her family would refuse to answer any census questions beyond how many people were in her household, because “the Constitution doesn’t require any information beyond that.”
Thanks to the fact that, yes it does, Bachmann took a lot of heat for her paranoid rhetoric. Especially when the actual results of the census led to speculation that her own state might lose a congressional district.
So, we could all sit back and laugh at the paranoid types who thought the government was going to use the census to round us up and put us into camps.
Why It’s Not So Crazy
After years of hearing nothing but denial, in 2007 the world found out that the U.S. Census Bureau actually did assist the Secret Service in rounding up Japanese-Americans for internment. And it was given the authority to do so by an executive emergency law enacted by then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Prior to the Second War Powers Act of 1942, information collected by census takers was confidential and protected. But once Pearl Harbor was bombed and the U.S. got its frenetic anti-Asian ball rolling, all bets were off for any American whose eyes weren’t shaped “white.” So when the Secret Service came knocking on the Census Bureau’s door for the names and addresses of Japanese-Americans, even the ones who were citizens, the data collectors were willing to oblige. The law that gave the government that authority wasn’t repealed until after the war ended.
Tags are way less awful than tattoos!
And that wasn’t the last time racial data were handed over in a politically charged atmosphere. In 2004, the Census Bureau took a beating for giving the Department of Homeland Security information about Arab Americans, including ZIP codes with dense Arab populations. Some speculated that the data even led to the deportation of people who wouldn’t have otherwise been targeted.
So, yeah, they’d never use that information against you. As long as you’re white.
The Government Controls the Media!
The logic behind this gem goes a little something like this:
The mainstream media never report on government conspiracies.
The mainstream media are in on government conspiracies. ERGO
The government controls the media.
The believers of this idea don’t just take for granted the so-called liberal bias demonstrated by media outlets across the board. What these guys allege is much more sinister: that the federal government is in charge of media outlets across the board. Not just moderating or regulating, but controlling what we see, hear and read. One conspiracy site speculates that the government exercises its control not just through content but through the information released through government spokesmen, through subsidies, press passes and embedded reporters in wartime. In other words, everything that government officials touch with regards to the media is just another way for them to control it.
The plot of the Robert DeNiro movie Wag the Dog involved a president actually fabricating an entire war, with the news media obediently publishing story after story at the government’s behest. Ridiculous, right?
Why It’s Not So Crazy
Beginning in 1948, a man named Frank Wisner ran a branch of the CIA called the Office of Policy Coordination and was given all sorts of secret authority to pretty much do any awful thing he felt like if it advanced his version of American ideology. Under that sleazy umbrella, Wisner began Operation Mockingbird, which was his effort to infiltrate every major media outlet with journalists and editors who were in his pocket.
By the mid-50s, the CIA had over 400 journalists working with them across the country. And these guys weren’t just cub reporters, either. They included top level employees from all three major networks as well as The New York Times, Time Inc. and Associated Press, all not only capable of planting pro-government stories in their respective media but also able to suppress anything that wasn’t government-friendly. And the whole shebang was so easy to accomplish because, as one operative noted, “You could get a journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month.”
The good news is that Operation Mockingbird was exposed and disbanded by the mid-70s. The bad news is that even in the past decade, the government has had its sticky fingers all over wartime reporting and is still using psychological warfare to get the entire world on our side. It’s working like a dream, guys!
We’re sure that means something else in Pakistanianese.
Government Agents Are Like, Everywhere, Man!
One common thread that runs through all good conspiracy theories is that the people who believe them think they’re being watched. And not just through Enemy of the State surveillance technology, either, but by actual flesh-and-blood government agents, following them down dark alleys.
Yeah, like their little group of protesters and vegans is soooo important that the government is going to pay somebody a full-time salary to do nothing but watch them. Like some kid’s hippie college newsletter about how the oil companies own Washington is totally going to warrant the government planting a spook at the local Starbucks to spy on him while he slathers cream cheese on his Hawaiian bagel and bangs away on his laptop.
“YOU’LL NEVER GET MY SECRET NARUTO FAN-FICTION, G-MEN!”
Why It’s Not So Crazy
Through a program called COINTELPRO, J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI buds used actual government agents to infiltrate the the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, anti-Vietnam groups, women’s rights groups, the National Lawyers Guild and many, many others in an effort to neutralize and/or radicalize them.
Above: An alternate way to make someone radical.
Oh, and any individuals who took a perceived anti-government stance were targeted as well.
For most people, the 1950s brings to mind images of poodle skirts, phone booths stuffed with teenagers and children running willy-nilly with small mammal hides on their heads, but when it comes to privacy, the 50s were a pretty sinister time. Especially if you were, uh, anyone who disagreed with the government in any way at all.
COINTELPRO inserted spies into Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle to report on all his movements and activities, and it effectively destroyed the Black Panther Party by encouraging armed action against other black nationalist groups, smear campaigns against key members and outright targeted attacks. The result was that the group became splintered and the rest of the country didn’t take them seriously as a political force.
Even though COINTELPRO activities were exposed and banned by the ’70s, we still see little baby COINTELPRO efforts pop up today, like when the FBI targeted “domestic terrorist organizations” like Greenpeace and PETA along with evil Quakers. Or when one Obama adviser suggested infiltrating conspiracy theory message boards with secret agents who would discredit “false conspiracy theories about the government.” Because apparently, people on conspiracy theory message boards would never appreciate the irony.
The Government Is Poisoning What We Eat and Drink!
If you’re looking for a fun way to spend a Saturday night, Google the words “fluoride” and “Nazi.” What you’ll find is that, according to many, many conspiracy theorists, the Third Reich fluoridated the water of concentration campers to keep them docile. What you’ll also learn is that a buttload of people think that modern governments are doing the same thing when they put fluoride in tap water. And that’s just the tip of the contaminated iceberg; nearly everything from artificial sweeteners (forced on the American people by Donald Rumsfeld!) to vaccines (a government plot to sterilize the populace!) are secret efforts by the government to poison the population in an effort to control us.
Why It’s Not So Crazy
OK, all of that stuff is probably bullshit. But during Prohibition, the government wanted a way to discourage people from drinking alcohol beyond the traditional “arrest everyone caught with it” method. So, they did exactly what the conspiracy wackjobs accuse them of today: The government intentionally put poison in it. They apparently thought this would be a deterrent, but they VASTLY underestimated the population’s desire to get drunk. By the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program had killed at least 10,000 people.
Yes, that happened. And that wasn’t the last time Uncle Sam tried his hand at contaminating our favorite intoxicants. In the 1970s, the American government sprayed marijuana fields in Mexico with a toxic chemical called paraquat. Mexican pot growers quickly learned that if they harvested their plants immediately after spraying, the chemical wouldn’t kill off their crops. As a result, tons of pesticide-laced pot got mixed in with regular pot, then shipped to the U.S. at a time when doobie toking was the national pastime.
The government brushed off criticism of its paraquat program as it only causes pulmonary fibrosis when taken orally and “throat bleeding” when inhaled. And really, who couldn’t use a little throat bleeding now and again?
“No man, that’s just how Red Phlegm Kush works its magic.”
The Government Is Spraying Us With Biological Warfare Agents!
Experts like Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame have tried to warn the world of the evil government program to spray chemicals on the general population from the skies. Google “chemtrails” and you’ll find more than 3 million results of people talking about this conspiracy, with believers claiming that the chemicals are for population control, or weather control, or that the chemicals are causing respiratory illnesses.
And then we’ve all heard how AIDS was invented by the CIA to wipe out gays and black people.
Why It’s Not So Crazy
Not only has the federal government secretly tested biological warfare on U.S. citizens, they’ve actually killed someone while doing it. During the Cold War, the U.S. government put serious research into entomological warfare and by “research,” we mean they “dumped 300,000 mosquitoes over the state of Georgia to see what would happen.” The mosquitoes weren’t infected with yellow fever or anything. The just wanted to see if they hypothetically could use yellow fever infected mosquitoes to kill vast swaths of people.
No, Internet, “yellow fever” isn’t just the slang term for an Asian fetish.
And that was just the tip of the “secretly testing biological agents on private citizens” iceberg. Military records reveal there were 239 open-air tests of biological agents on the American public, including the 1966 dusting of the New York Subway system with a cousin of anthrax, the release of a cloud of allegedly harmless bacteria over San Francisco Bay in 1950 and the spraying of passengers with a different bacterium at National Airport in Washington, D.C.
After the San Francisco bacteria bomb, 11 people ended up in hospitals with rare urinary tract infections, and one man died. And while the New Yorkers and Washingtonians weren’t exposed to bacteria that were debilitating to healthy people, the germs were dangerous to anyone who already had a compromised immune system. And considering that one of the attacks was on random people in an airport, we’ll never know who got sick and died because of the tests.