Ever get the feeling that someone is out to get you? What about several someones, some group made up of influential and powerful figures, set on ruining your life, or maybe even on world domination? The culture of seeing conspiracies at work in every part of society has been around forever, and while we laugh at most conspiracy theories, there’s a somewhat chilling point that must be made about them: Conspiracy theories have often proved to be true.
See, while the notion of a conspiracy theory is now commonly equated with the ravings of a functional lunatic, it really just means a theory that a group is conspiring to achieve some goal. Combine that with the incredible resources available to the rich and powerful, and suddenly you've got the very real potential for an abuse of that power – and an ignorant or dismissive public.
Perhaps that’s a conspiracy in itself. Perhaps that’s why the conversation about conspiracies lumps together the true and the ridiculous. For every “the government was involved in cocaine smuggling,” there’s an “Area 51 Houses Alien Technology.” For every spy scandal, there’s a “fluoride in the water is a form of mind control.”
To help cut through the noise, here are a few conspiracy theories that really did happen.
12 The Watergate Break Ins (1972)
It takes an act of uncommon stupidity to be caught burgling your political rivals but that’s what Nixon did. The Watergate scandal was named for the hotel that housed the suites targeted by the crooks associated with then-President Richard Nixon.
Their mission was to plant recording devices in the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters, and to photograph private documents found in the offices. The men were caught breaking in, and the infamous investigation that followed resulted in Nixon’s impeachment and led him to become the only President of the US ever to resign.
The purpose of the break-ins has never been established, however speculation says it might have been an attempt to connect communist funding from Cuba to the Democratic campaign.
11 CIA Cocaine Smuggling + Cover-up (1980s-90s)
This one is a two-hander. First, it’s been largely confirmed that Nicaraguan drug smugglers brought cocaine to America with the permission of the CIA. It’s also been alleged that the groups that did so were at least partly funded by the CIA. The goal of the operation was to fund a group to take down the Nicaraguan government.
A man named Gary Webb reported on this, and was discredited. Thing was, he was mostly right. The journalism community and government both shunned him and he took his own life in 2004.
His work is now accepted as being, if not entirely true, very close to the mark.
10 FBI Spied On Hemingway
Back in the day, America was on a communist witch hunt, out to get those who were communists or communist sympathizers. It led to many prominent figures being put on watch lists... and getting followed in real life.
Ernest Hemingway was convinced that he was being followed and monitored by the FBI. He never felt at ease, and he grew increasingly paranoid in the year leading up to his taking his own life.
Years later, files were released that confirmed Hemingway had been under surveillance, just as he'd thought he was.
9 The FBI Tried To Get MLK To Kill Himself (1964)
Martin Luther King Jr. was not a person who was loved by the American government. At trial in 1999, a jury was presented with evidence that suggested the government was part of a conspiracy to kill him. It found that there had been a government assassination conspiracy, and though the validity of that trial has been called into question, this next portion is proof that government agencies were working on eliminating the man.
In 1964, the FBI sent King an anonymous letter urging him to kill himself, calling him a fraud and implying that he was Satan’s equal for sowing evil in the world.
Later analysis found that the letter was certainly a real attempt by the government to remove King.
8 UK And USA Killed Iranian Democracy
Iran, now in the hands of religious fanatics, was once a thriving democracy. Trouble was, the government of Iran nationalized a British oil company with substantial holdings in the country. That led the UK and US governments to orchestrate a coup and install a monarch, the Shah, as the head of Iran’s state, and thus regain control over the oil.
This, in turn, led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which saw the Shah deposed and replaced as head of state by a totalitarian Islamic regime.
7 US Government Allowed People To Die Of Syphilis
Penicillin is something of a wonder, able to cure a wide range of ailments that might otherwise run rampant through a person’s body, including syphilis. The 'Tuskegee experiment', though, was set up to monitor the effects of withholding treatment from those suffering from syphilis.
The participants, though, were told that the study was meant to help cure them.
By withholding treatment from those suffering with syphilis after penicillin became a known cure, the study allowed the disease to progress, further damaging the subjects and also spreading to their families. A class action suit awarded $9 million to the victims, and a Presidential apology was issued in 1996.
6 DeBeers Inflated Diamond Prices
Not everyone knows that diamonds aren’t actually that rare. They’re in fact quite a common stone. Why are they expensive? Because for a long time, a company called DeBeers artificially controlled the supply.
This, combined with a campaign aimed at selling people the idea that an engagement ring must have a diamond, have allowed diamond companies to fleece people out of huge sums of money. While DeBeers has been dismantled, the industry is still quite volatile, and prices are still higher than they should be.
5 MKULTRA May Have Created Monsters
One of the scariest experiments of recent history, MKULTRA was a project to create sleeper agents by subjecting subjects to hypnosis, drugs, and various forms of torture and abuse.
Almost all of the files on the various experiments were destroyed, and most figures involved denied the experiments took place.
Notable subjects of the experiment include Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” and mobster Whitey Bulger. Evidence also suggests that Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber”, was a participant in the program. Further speculation has also claimed the Zodiac killer as yet another.
4 The Bohemian Club Is Illuminati-Lite
This one is a little lighthearted. There is an Illuminati, of sorts, and its members meet at a campground in California. It has been reported that the Bohemian Grove is a place where club members gather to drink, urinate where they please, and perform in elaborate theatrical pieces.
The Bohemian Club is something of an open secret, and has counted men like William Randolph Hearst, Richard Nixon, and Walter Cronkite among its members. It’s supposed to be a collection of the most powerful men in the world, though in truth being rich and located near San Francisco (as many of the world's most powerful people are) is a more apt list of necessary credentials.
3 Operation Paperclip Rescued Nazis From Justice
Not all Nazis were treated equally during the fallout from WWII. See, while many have been tracked down over the years and brought to stand trial for their wartime crimes, others were spirited away by America. Nazi scientists were among the best in the world, and scooping them up was a huge advantage.
Not all of the scientists that were brought over were strictly evil men. About rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun, for example, there is an amount of doubt as to whether or not he was a supporter of the activities of the regime.
Still, with over 1,500 Nazi scientists and technicians brought over to America, there is no doubt that some boasted a questionable value system.
2 American Modern Art Was Secretly Propaganda
Modern art is incredibly odd, rife with all kinds of weird shapes and lines and general chaos. That, to the CIA’s mind, was a great way to show off how free Americans were.
By promoting modern art abroad, the CIA was indirectly showing off the freedom that American artists enjoyed. No need to stick to a particular government narrative – just go throw paint on a canvas and say it has meaning.
It extended to creating art events, and putting up money for fake collectors to spend on modern art pieces, implying great value. In a long ideological conflict between two superpowers, this movement to discredit the Soviets by artistic contrast was really quite brilliant.
1 The American Govt Poisoned Liquor During Prohibition
The trouble with prohibition is that it didn't, and doesn’t, work. In a move to try and stop the people of the 1920s from consuming moonshine, the government happened upon the idea of poisoning a supply of liquor. How better to prove how dangerous something is than to go and make it dangerous?
According to Slate, 400 people died from the poisoned liquor in 1926, and 700 in 1927, and the outcry was immediate.
While the official stance on poisoning the alcohol didn’t die until prohibition did, the practice ceased well before - proof that the government wasn't completely stupid.