History

11 Conspiracy Theories That Proved True

As crazy as it sounds, sometimes the tin-foil hat crowd turns out to be right.

Fear, paranoia and a pile of circumstantial evidence without any definitive proof. These are the ingredients that make up a good conspiracy theory. The term "conspiracy theory" typically brings to mind people with tin-foil hats and fallout shelters stocked with canned foods who have bad teeth because they believe dental implants allow the government to read their minds. This exaggerated portrayal of the average conspiracy theorist helps to make their incredible ideas sound not credible. Sometimes, however, conspiracy theories turn out to be right. And in fact, in these cases, the truth can be even more outlandish than the wildest theory.

Stonehenge: Myths and Conspiracies

The Prohibition era marked a time when, in the name of enforcing legal sobriety, the American government lost all of its sense. "The Noble Experiment" was anything but. Ordinary Americans turned criminal overnight following the enactment of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, leading prison populations to swell between 1920 and 1939. Illegal alcohol gave rise to organized crime, and encouraged made corruption rampant in law enforcement, the courts and politics. Worst of all, the Prohibition era was marked by violence, not just criminal against criminal, but also the government against its own people. In an effort to wake citizens up to the dangers of alcohol, the federal government instituted a program beginning in 1926 to show just how deadly illegal liquor really was. Using liquor seized from bootleggers, government officials ordered the spirits spiked with poison and redistributed to the public. The program led to the deaths of more than 10,000 people.

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When Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed office in 1933, he inherited a country mired in economic depression. To get the nation off its feet, Roosevelt had a bold legislative program that would offer aid to the needy and reign in banks. With all of the change Roosevelt was proposing, some in the business community saw him as a serious enough threat that they plotted to overthrow him. Believing Roosevelt was a secret Communist or pawn of some bizarre Jewish conspiracy, the conspirators amassed weapons and finances to seize back control of the U.S. government. Fortunately for Roosevelt, for the United States and for democracy, the plan proved a bust. The businessmen approached retired Marine general Smedley Darlington Butler to join their cause. Butler promptly reported them to Congress for treason. Although newspapers were dismissive of the allegations at the time, a Congressional investigation of Butler's allegations of a Fascist uprising proved "alarmingly true."

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The Cold War was a battle between two ideologies, with propaganda being the most powerful non-violent weapon available to both sides. In order to further American interests, beginning in the mid-1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secretly recruited journalists from the New York Times, CBS and other major outlets in an effort to promote American business and push an anti-Communist agenda. News outlets continued to publish CIA-backed propaganda until 1976 when the program to influence public opinion came into the spotlight as a result of the Church Committee investigations.

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When Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959 and soon made it clear that the United States would have a Communist nation 90 miles south of the border, government officials considered various ways of inducing a regime change, including an all-out war with Cuba. In order to spark such a conflict, defense officials devised what would become known as Operation Northwoods, a plan that involved the government essentially committing acts of terrorism against ordinary citizens and blaming it on Cuba. Attacks up for consideration included hijacking planes, blowing up a military ship in Guantanamo Bay and bombing U.S. cities. The plans had the approval of the military brass, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of defense Robert McNamara, but were shot down by civilian leadership,

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In the paranoid world intelligence officials operated in during the Cold War, the United States had to be ready for war with the Soviet Union on any battlefield, including the mind. An effective weapon deployed correctly in the "psychosphere" could be as valuable as a nuclear bomb. This is the kind of thinking that gave birth to Project MKUltra, a CIA-funded program that lasted from 1953 to 1964 and drew in dozens of American universities and research bodies. Their mission was to identify drugs that could be used for the purposes of mind control. Some subjects signed up voluntarily; others were brought in without knowing what they were in for. Experimenters used techniques like hypnosis and electroshock therapy as well as drugs like lysergic acid (LSD) to gain psychological control or induce a split personality in their subjects.

Hearts and Minds: History of Psychological Warfare

Peaceful protests and demonstrations by anti-war and civil rights activists are protected speech covered by the First Amendment. Because of the disruptive nature of their work, however, many of these activists had long suspected the government of monitoring and meddling with their activities. In 1971, these suspicions were confirmed after anti-war activists broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Media, Penn., and stole top secret documents, which were then copied and distributed to the media. The documents revealed a program called Cointelpro, Counterintelligence Program, tasked with the surveillance, infiltration and disruption of peace, civil rights and black power movements by government agents beginning in 1956. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had viewed these groups as a threat to national security, and demanded that news outlets return the stolen documents. The New York Times and Los Angeles complied, but the Washington Post went ahead with reporting the story.

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In two separate incidents on Aug. 2 and 4 in 1964, the USS Maddox came under attack by North Vietnamese naval vessels firing torpedoes. In its defense, the Maddox killed a number of Vietnamese sailors. This incident in the Gulf of Tonkin gave President Lyndon B. Johnson what he needed to go to Congress to authorize the use of military force in Vietnam. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution would set off a war that left more than 58,000 American service members dead and 300,000 wounded. There's just one small problem with the story: While the Maddox did come under attack on Aug. 2, there was no follow-up confrontation two days later. The second report was a mistake, but the Johnson administration made the case to Congress for retaliatory strikes anyway, even though the latter attack wasn't confirmed.

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In the early morning hours of June 17, 1972, burglars who broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were arrested as they were attempting to wiretap phones and steal documents. Or more accurately, this was the second time that burglars broke into the DNC. The first time was back in May, and they had to return because the bugs they installed weren't working properly. What followed after the arrest was a cover-up conspiracy that forced President Richard Nixon to resign. Nixon knew full well what the burglars were up to and that he could be implicated. Attempts to safeguard himself included raising bribes for the burglars, destroying evidence and urging the FBI to lay off. Nixon emphatically denied knowing about the break-in and was reelected in a landslide victory. Beginning in 1973, members of Congress and the media, most famously Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, began to dig deeper, and one-by-one, the conspirators began to reveal more information, including the fact that Nixon was so paranoid he secretly recorded every Oval Office conversation, a major discovery for prosecutors. The following year, Nixon stepped down rather than face impeachment.

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In the mid-1980s, President Ronald Reagan saw the Nicaraguan contras, who he had referred to as the equivalent to America's Founding Fathers, struggling to repel the Communist Sandinistas for control of the country. At the same time, the Reagan administration had a problem in another part of the world. Iran, a U.S. enemy following the Iranian hostage crisis, needed arms to fight a war with Iraq and made a request to the United States to supply them, despite an arms embargo. Killing two birds with one stone, the U.S. secretly supplied arms to Iran via Israel in exchange for American hostages and cash. That money was then funneled to the contras in Nicaragua. In 1986, a Lebanese newspaper exposed the scheme, forcing the president to appear on national television to deny such an arrangement ever took place. The Tower Commission, appointed by Reagan, investigated, as did Congress. Although Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush were never directly linked to the Iran-Contra program, 14 administration officials were indicted, resulting in 11 convictions, all of which were either overturned on appeal or pardoned.

Negotiating With Terrorists: What's the Big Deal?

On March 12, 2013, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee and was asked directly by Sen. Ron Wyden whether the National Security Agency (NSA) collects data on millions of Americans. Clapper responded that the agency does not. Three months after Clapper's appearance on the Hill, documents originating from computer analyst Edward Snowden show that NSA collected of domestic email and telephone metadata from Verizon. The next day, reports emerged detailing the NSA's PRISM program, set up to collect user data from U.S. Internet companies. And so began a steady release of materials related to the NSA's domestic surveillance program. Since the disclosure, little has been done to curtail the NSA's efforts to retrieve digital data on innocent Americans in the name of combating terrorism. Snowden currently resides in Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum.

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