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10 Dark Conspiracy Theories That Actually Turned Out To Be True

by Jack Johnson
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Throughout history, the world—particularly the the United States—has seen its fair share of conspiracy theories come and go. From reptilians disguised as humans to chemtrails, it’s fair to say that most of these theories are entirely absurd.

From time to time, though, a conspiracy theory that many thought to be ridiculous is shown, in fact, to be correct. In such cases, the truth can prove to be much more terrifying than fiction. The following are ten examples of such real-life conspiracies.

10 Project SUNSHINE

Despite its cheery name, Project SUNSHINE was by far one of the darkest conspiracies ever conceived and the most horrifying to be proven real. The project was commissioned by the US Atomic Energy Committee and the US Air Force.

Designed to investigate the effects of nuclear radiation on humans and the environment, Project SUNSHINE saw the US government harvest and use, often without the permission of parents, the body parts of dead children and babies. Younger children typically have higher amounts of strontium in their bones, meaning that their tissues are more susceptible to radiation damage. Thus, they made better test subjects for the project.[1]

9 Project MKULTRA

MKULTRA is one of the better-known conspiracies. The general premise—now proven to be true—was that the US government was testing psychedelics and hallucinogenic drugs on unsuspecting American citizens and military personnel, in order to investigate the viability of behavior modification programs. Essentially, the US government was testing mind control techniques on its own populace and left many of its “participants” with trauma and even brain damage.

There are plenty of cases of MKULTRA subjects acting violently or dangerously, and the fact that the US government was so willing to endanger the lives of its own citizens without their consent is perhaps the most chilling part of the whole conspiracy.[2]

8 The US Government’s Alcohol Poisoning

Photo credit: Library of Congress

This conspiracy doesn’t have a particular name, but it’s one that has been the subject of much discussion over the years, particularly recently. During Prohibition, the US government tainted industrial alcohol with methanol—a commonly used antifreeze—in an attempt to curb the drinking of it. Reports differ on just how much methanol was added, though most agree that it wasn’t enough to be lethal and was intended more as a deterrent than a punishment.

On the other hand, it has also been reported that there were around 10,000 deaths during this period as a result of the poisoning, so perhaps the intention was darker than we think.[3]

7 US Government Spying

In June 2013, intelligence contractor Edward Snowden released thousands of top-secret documents to various journalists, which detailed the sophisticated intelligence network the US, in conjunction with several other Western countries, had been using to spy on civilian populations around the world. Much of this spying was done through social networking companies; for instance, in 2016, US government agencies sent approximately 50,000 requests for user data to Facebook, roughly 28,000 to Google, and about 9,000 to Apple.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of this story is how the National Security Agency conducted multiple espionage operations on US-allied governments, such as Germany, Belgium, France, and Spain. Creepy stuff.[4]

6 Gulf Of Tonkin Incident

Photo credit: US Navy

On August 2, 1964, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the USS Maddox, on an intelligence mission along North Vietnam’s coast, allegedly fired upon and damaged several North Vietnamese torpedo boats that had been stalking it in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Maddox was also reportedly attacked by North Vietnamese vessels on August 4.

In 2005, an undated NSA publication was declassified, revealing that there was no attack on the Maddox on August 4.[5]

Since the NSA’s disclosure, many have accused the US government of intentionally faking the incident to increase support for the US war in Vietnam and to justify further military action in the region. In fact, on August 10, the US congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a bill that authorized President Johnson to do whatever was necessary to assist “any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty.”

This technique was also seen in the early 2000s, when the government administrations of President Bush of the US and Prime Minister Tony Blair of the UK asserted that the Iraqi government was actively constructing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, prompting the Iraq War. Later, US-led inspections found that Iraq had in fact not been stockpiling or producing WMDs to begin with.

5 The First Lady Who Ran The Country

Photo credit: Harris & Ewing

In October 1919, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke that rendered him incapable of governing. Some of us probably know that part. What you might not know, however, is that after his stroke, his wife, First Lady Edith Wilson, decided what matters were important enough to bring to Woodrow’s attention, essentially giving her the unofficial role of president until Warren Harding took over in 1921. Because Woodrow never technically resigned, the vice president at the time, Thomas Marshall, could not take over, and Wilson instead decided to allow his wife to govern for some time.[6]

Perhaps the scariest thing about this whole story is that the US government didn’t inform the public of this. (The people only learned of Wilson’s stroke in February 1920, and even then, the full details weren’t known.) It’s events like these that are the framework of the relatively modern and widely believed Deep State conspiracy theory, which posits that there is an unknown party in the government, independent of changing administrations, that makes most of the decisions.

4 The US Government’s Weather Manipulation

Photo credit: US Air Force

In 1993, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the US military, and the University of Alaska created the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, otherwise known as HAARP. Since then, numerous conspiracy theories have sprung up surrounding the mysterious project, everything from satellites that can cause earthquakes to huge transmitters that can create tornadoes and tsunamis. However, what most people don’t know is that there actually was documented weather manipulation project during the Vietnam War—decades before the creation of HAARP.

Operation Popeye was an five-year project in which the US government used the age-old technique of cloud seeding to increase precipitation during the rainy seasons over North Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh Trail in order to disrupt the NVA’s moving of vehicles, weapons, and rations across the trail. The general idea of cloud seeding is to send an airborne object, typically an airplane, flying through a cloud while releasing small particulates that give water vapor something to cling to so that it can condense and become rain.[7]

What’s scary about this is if the military has done it in the past (and given the length of the operation, it must have been at least partly successful), what’s to stop them from doing it again?

3 The Canadian Fruit Machine

Photo credit: National Post

Despite being one of the strongest proponents of the LGBT community today, Canada’s history isn’t as clean as one would think. In the 1960s, the Canadian government hired a university professor to create a “gaydar,” what it called the “Fruit Machine” at the time. The university professor, Frank Robert Wake of Carleton University, went about this by forcing subjects to look at same-sex erotic imagery while he measured pupil dilation, perspiration levels, and changes in pulse to gauge just how “fruity” they were.[8]

The program was part of a long-term effort to remove homosexuals from positions of civil service. In the late 1960s, funding was cut off—but not before the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had collected files on over 9,000 suspected homosexuals.

2 The Dalai Lama

Photo credit: Comet Photo AG

The Dalai Lama is the designated spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. Those carrying the title are generally seen as embodying the tenets of Buddhism: inner peace, enlightenment, and virtuousness. However, CIA documents published by the State Department in 1998 indicated otherwise: For much of the 1960s and some of the 1970s, the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatzo, along with many other prominent Tibetan figures, were funneled millions of dollars by the CIA. This funding was part of a concerted effort by US intelligence to undermine Communist China, and global communist presence, by propping up Tibetan guerrillas in their fight against the communist state. According to the report, the CIA funded approximately 2,100 Tibetan guerrillas with $500,000 annually and gave the Dalai Lama himself an annual $180,000 subsidy.

The funding ended in the early 1970s, after President Nixon began to open up more to China in efforts to improve crumbling relations. The official CIA report stated that the purpose of the program was to “keep the political concept of an autonomous Tibet alive within Tibet and among foreign nations, principally India, and to build a capability for resistance against possible political developments inside Communist China.” The Dalai Lama wrote in his autobiography that he saw the cutting off of the funding as “a reflection of their anti-Communist policies rather than genuine support for the restoration of Tibetan independence.”[9]

1 Operation Mockingbird

Operation Mockingbird was a 1950s program in which the CIA recruited and propped up various media organizations to influence public opinion. In April 1976, the Church Committee, a US senate task force, conducted an investigation into the CIA’s influence over both foreign and national news organizations and stated that the CIA maintained a huge global network that provided intel for the organization and “at times” attempted to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda.[10]

The damning report also stated that these same individuals gave the CIA direct access to a large number of “newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets” and claimed that approximately 50 of the CIA’s assets were individual American journalists or employees of US media organizations.

I’m a freelance writer and student who loves writing.

fact checked by Jamie Frater