“The general population doesn't know what's happening, and it doesn't even know that it doesn't know.”—Noam Chomsky
In a world saturated with conflicting information from swarms of separate sources and the spectre of “fake news,” it's no wonder that conspiracy theories take root and spread like viruses. While often denigrated as the hobby-horse of the political fringe and charlatan obsessives, conspiracy theories can sometimes turn out to be nothing less than true. In this article we look at 24 crazy conspiracy theories that turned out to be truly stranger than fiction.
Conspiracy Theories That Turned Out To Be True Facts
For years, users of Apple products claimed that older models of iPhones were deliberately slowed down by the corporation as a means of nudging consumers into purchasing new phones. Well, in 2017 Apple finally admitted as much—although claiming the slow-down was a mere “misunderstanding” and offering its customers a complementary $29 battery replacement as penance. Unsurprisingly, class actions lawsuits against the tech behemoth have already been initiated as a result of these admissions.
23. Secret Dope
American cyclist Lance Armstrong faced numerous accusations that he was using illegal performance enhancing substances during his reign of seven consecutive Tour De France victories. For years, these accusations were published almost exclusively in the French press and were written off by many in the United States as conspiracy theorizing driven by little more than anti-American jealousy. It was not until 2012 that the United States Anti Doping Agency confirmed that Armstrong had engaged in “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen” and he was stripped of all seven Tour de France titles. Soon after in a televised special on Oprah Winfrey’s show Armstrong confessed to the allegations, stating that his “mythic, perfect story” was in fact “one big lie.” This was, of course, after he had denied them for years and had even personally attacked people that spoke out against him.
22. Central Psychedelic Agency
Would you believe that the CIA tested LSD and other drugs on unwitting persons as part of multi-decade research program into finding a "mind-control" drug to use on communist spies? Well, this is one wacky conspiracy theory that turned out to be 100% true. The CIA program was called MKUltra, and was initiated after reports that the North Koreans had developed a mind control drug that was being used on captured Americans during the Korean War. The experiments resulted in at least one death when biochemist Frank Olsen, who was covertly dosed with LSD, mysteriously plunged to his death from his 13 story window (as covered in the Netflix documentary Wormwood).
21.Big Brother is Watching After All
It’s a mainstay of conspiracy theorists that the government is watching and listening to everything you do, but in 2013, former CIA employee Edward Snowden revealed that this was, in fact, the case. Snowden’s disclosures established that several Western governments (including the US, UK, Australia and Canada) are engaged in a vast global surveillance program of both foreign and domestic citizens in cooperation with the major telecommunications companies.
20. Crack Team
In his song “Crack Music,” Kanye West raps “How we stop the Black Panthers? Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer,” referring to the allegation that the Reagan Government played a role in the importation of massive amounts of cocaine into the US, fueling the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. In 1996, this theory gained significant credibility when an investigative reporter named Gary Webb revealed that the CIA knowingly permitted large amounts of cocaine to be imported into the United States by Nicaraguan suppliers throughout the 1980s in an effort to support right-wing Nicaraguan groups that sought to overthrow the country's socialist regime.
19. False Flag
The US invaded Vietnam following the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident, where it was alleged that the North Vietnamese made two separate attacks on US ships. The alleged incident galvanized support for the decade-long US invasion of Vietnam even while many at the time questioned whether the attacks had occurred as claimed. Eventually, following the release of secret US documents, it was confirmed that the first alleged attack was initiated by the US on the North Vietnamese, rather than the other way round, and that the second alleged attack never even occurred. Since Tonkin was meant to be the whole reason that the US declared war in Vietnam, this information made all the theories that the US entered the war under false pretences a whole lot more believable.
Despite its colorful moniker, the Fruit Machine was not used to make smoothies. Instead, this device was developed in order to detect homosexual men in the ranks of the Canadian government! The machine, which measured participants' pupil size and pulse while viewing pornography, was used on unwitting participants in the Canadian civil service and military who were told the device was simply used to detect stress—although it was always suspected by many to be a primitive form of military "gaydar." Secret documents later revealed that the machine was, in fact, part of an orchestrated campaign by the Canadian government to systematically eliminate homosexuals from the police, civil service and military.
17. Terrestrial Abductions
Beginning in the late 1970s, regular Japanese citizens began disappearing from areas on Japan’s coastline. At the time, many in Japan asserted that they believed this was the work of North Korea, who were deliberately abducting persons for espionage purposes. Finally in 2002, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted to the Japanese government that they had, in fact, abducted 13 Japanese citizens between 1978 and 1983, issuing an oral apology and repatriating several of the captured citizens back to Japan. The Japanese government believes the number of abducted persons is at least 17 and may even be in the hundreds.
16. I Spy
John Lennon used his considerable fame and fortune as a member of the Beatles and as a solo artist to influence his fans politically, including vocally opposing the US-led war in Vietnam. As a result, it was frequently suspected by many, including Lennon himself, that he was the subject of FBI surveillance and general chicanery meant to undermine his power and influence in the United States. It was not until 1997, when historians finally uncovered Lennon’s top-secret FBI file, that the truth came to light. These documents confirmed that the FBI considered Lennon a dangerous person because of his deep popularity among the youth that threatened to undermine Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. The FBI even engaged in a protracted, and ultimately unsuccessful campaign, to deport him. In the long list of bad-press moves by the FBI, that's got to be near the top.
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15. Sweet Truth
The idea that “all fat is bad” is a concept ingrained in the heads of many who grew up in the age of fad dieting. While we now know that these things are a bit more complex, there’s a reason why this wasn’t always so. The singular focus on fat was actually a propaganda assault perpetrated by the American sugar industry, who covered up research showing that sugar was implicated in heart disease and instead paid Harvard research scientists to point the finger at fat.
14. The Fix is In
Every sports fan is liable to have claimed that their sport is “rigged” against their favorite team and that the referees are working for some ulterior force. Well as it turns out for NBA fans, this theory seems to hold some water—that is if you believe the claims of former NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Donaghy resigned from the league in scandal in 2007 amidst an FBI investigation that Donaghy used his powers an NBA referee to alter the outcome of games that he had bet money on. While Donaghy ended up pleading guilty to these offences, he also revealed in a court document that in order to maximize television ratings and ticket sales “top executives of the NBA sought to manipulate games using referees.” This manipulation, according to Donaghy, included the league’s fixing of Game six of the 2002 playoffs between the L.A. Lakers and the Sacramento Kings, a theory which had been long been claimed by fans.
13. Dividing the Map
After World War II ended, the West and the Soviet Union presided over separate spheres of influence in Europe, with Winston Churchill referring to an “iron curtain” that he said had been pulled across Eastern Europe. This neat division into spheres, though, did not occur via chance but was, in fact, agreed to beforehand in a secret document called the “Percentages Agreement,” signed off on by Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin in October 1944. Despite previous suspicions, the agreement was only made public twelve years after-the-fact when it was revealed in Churchill’s war memoir.
12. The Truth May Still Be Out There
Aliens, unidentified flying objects and the role of the US government in secretly researching these phenomena have been the source of conspiracy theories for decades, even spawning the popular 1990s TV show The X-Files. While this may not be a case of Mulder and Scully’s, the US government revealed in 2017 that the Department of Defence had in fact spent millions of dollars per year—$22 million to be exact—investigating UFO sightings and assessing threats posed by the little green men. US Senator Harry Reid from Nevada, who initially requested the government funding, posted on Twitter in relation to the program that “The truth is out there. Seriously.”
11. Swastika Science
The US government secretly orchestrated a post-war ratline for prominent Nazi scientists and engineers to the United States? While this seems like little more than an outlandish Tom Clancy plot point, it is 100% true. The secret operation which brought over 1,600 Nazi scientists, engineers and technicians to the United States occurred over more than a decade as part of a Cold War CIA program called Operation Paperclip.
10. Bohemian Grove
The idea that the world’s rich and powerful all get together in secluded garden parties and engage in strange occult-like rituals is almost cliché as conspiracy theories go. That being said, this is actually a faithful description of what goes on at the aptly named Bohemian Grove, a large private estate located in the California woods. Since the late nineteenth century, the Bohemian Grove has hosted an annual, by-invitation-only two-week retreat for the carousing of the (male-only) world’s super elite. The carousing includes a ritual entitled the “Cremation of Care” where dark-cloaked and hooded Grove attendees burn an effigy in front of a twenty-foot concrete owl. The Grove inspired the “Elysian Fields” in season five of House of Cards.
9. Smoky Truth
Everyone now knows that smoking greatly increases the risk of cancer. But back in the 1950s and 60s, tobacco companies denied the growing scientific consensus that smoking caused cancer, and in a show of true gall tried to convince the American public that cigarettes were, in fact, healthy to consume. These companies also used their positions of power over politicians to delay and disrupt the introduction of any legislation that attempted to curb smoking. Many people watching this façade asserted that there was an organized conspiracy between tobacco companies to deny and distort the scientific research on this topic and top US politicians. They turned out to be correct, and in 2006 a US judge found the tobacco companies guilty of conspiracy and having “suppressed research…destroyed documents…manipulated the use of nicotine so as to increase and perpetuate addiction.”
8. War Games
When overt military displays began to become commonplace at sporting events over the last few decades, a few people claimed that this was a form of secret state-funded advertising for military recruitment purposes. Then in 2015, a US report revealed that the Pentagon had, in fact, spent nearly $7 million in large contracts with major sports teams to promote displays of military-themed patriotism.
7. There’s Cancer in Them Walls!
Asbestos, that white fluffy material used as insulation in many buildings throughout the twentieth century, was long considered to be safe. That’s because asbestos manufacturers repeatedly suppressed research proving the link between asbestos inhalation and cancer for years until it was definitively proven in 1962. Asbestos health claims are now the subject of the longest and most expensive mass tort action in US history, and asbestos mining and use is banned or heavily regulated throughout much of the world.
6. Barbarians at the Watergate
On June 17, 1972 five burglars broke into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters located at the Watergate Complex in Washington DC. What seemed like an isolated event at the time turned into the most infamous conspiracy scandal in history, resulting in the resignation of Republican President Nixon. As it turned out, those five burglars were connected to Nixon’s re-election campaign and were attempting to steal Democratic secrets. The subsequent cover-up by senior members of the Nixon administration, including Nixon himself, led to guilty pleas from 48 different individuals. Perhaps most famously, it led to articles of impeachment being brought against Nixon for obstruction of justice after he fired the man responsible for investigating the scandal.
5. Not All That He’s Cracked Up To Be
While Canadian political life has a reputation for being rather quiet and boring, larger-than-life Toronto mayor Rob Ford was anything but—not least because he was surreptitiously recorded on video smoking crack cocaine! First reported in the news by the now-shuttered website Gawker in 2013, the story was dismissed by many in the Ford-supporting conservative media as a ludicrous conspiracy orchestrated by the anti-Ford press. A few months later, Toronto Police announced that they had recovered the infamous crack video as part of a criminal investigation into drug gangs and Ford admitted he had smoked crack “probably in one of [his] drunken stupors” and was dashed off to rehab. In true form, Ford returned from rehab to run for re-election as mayor and was polling quite well when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and had to drop out of the race. He died from the disease in 2016 at the age of 46. The infamous crack video was finally released several weeks later.
4. Top-Secret Assassinations
The US government carried out a secret assassination program that killed foreign leaders inimical to US interests? Sounds a bit over-the-top, right? Not so much. In 1975, as a result of the Church Committee Investigations, it was revealed that the CIA had in fact run a top-secret assassination program since 1945. Leaders whose assassinations are alleged to have had CIA involvement include Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, and Patrice Lumumba in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. And the estimated number of failed assassination schemes or attempts on Cuban leader Fidel Castro by the CIA? 638!
3. Incubated Lies
In 1990 the US military went to war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, citing Iraq’s invasion of the small Middle Eastern country of Kuwait as well as horrific allegations of human rights abuses against Kuwaiti people by the Iraqi military. These abuses were outlined in testimony before US Congress by a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah. Nayirah testified that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers removing newborn babies from their incubators as part of a genocidal campaign against Kuwaitis. The incubator anecdote stuck in the minds of the US public and was repeatedly cited in the media by US President George HW Bush and numerous senators in the run-up to US entry into the war. At the same time, many in the public questioned whether the over-the-top violence of Nayirah’s account was really true. In 1992 it was revealed that Nayirah was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador the the US, and her testimony was part of a well-organized public relations campaign run by the Kuwaiti government in order to induce American public support for US entry into the war.
2. The Plot Against MLK
While civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is a universally praised figure today, would you believe that the FBI spied on him for over a decade and attempted to subvert his civil rights activities? Well, this one happens to be true. The FBI began spying on King all the way back in 1955 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and intensified their activities in the 1960s as King became acclaimed as the leader of the US civil rights movement. The FBI regarded King as being “under the influence of Communists” and even sent him an anonymous letter alleging King had engaged in extra-marital affairs and encouraging him to commit suicide.
1. Spiking the Drink
When the US famously outlawed alcohol under Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, it did little to curb the production and consumption of the devil’s brew. Bootleggers continued to produce alcohol, often resorting to stealing large amounts of industrial alcohols to use in the process. That’s when people started becoming sick and dying. Some accused the government of spiking the alcohol supply with poison, and it was soon revealed that this was exactly what they were doing. The US government, engaging in a rather twisted approach to law enforcement, spiked industrial alcohols with poisonous substances such as chloroform and formaldehyde. It is estimated that over 10,000 persons died during Prohibition as a result of these measures.