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If pressed, we at Cracked would have to admit that, yes, perhaps we have a slight "thing" for conspiracies -- especially for the kind that turn out to be true, which are more common than you think. As such, we've often wondered what it would be like for you -- random, everyday you with nary a mention on Wikipedia -- to walk through your front door one bright and sunny morning and smack straight into some wide-ranging and lethal conspiracy orchestrated by the powers that be.

Well, we actually don't have to wonder, because there are plenty of real people out there who did just that. Well, some of them are still out there, anyway ...

5
Ray Peck Wakes Up To Find He's In The Middle Of A Top-Secret Chemical Weapons Test

US Navy

When Ray Peck walked out of his home in the about-to-be exceedingly appropriately named Skull Valley Of Utah on the morning of March 14, 1968, the first unusual thing he noticed was that the land had been blanketed by late-winter snow. The second unusual thing he noticed was a dying rabbit struggling to drag itself back to its burrow, as if a scene from Watership Down had escaped from his recurring nightmares and wriggled its way into reality. The third and fourth unusual things he noticed, respectively, were that the surrounding ranch was mysteriously peppered with dead birds and that entire flocks of sheep -- thousands upon thousands of sheep -- had simultaneously come to resemble sweater-wearing doornails.

March 14, 1968, was an unusual day in Skull Valley, is what we're saying.

Don Grayston via Wikipedia
Well, it was pretty usual aside from this.

But, while Peck's day had started out weird, it was about to take a screeching turn onto Batshit Boulevard. Soon, an Army helicopter from the nearby Dugway Proving Ground arrived and dumped out a stream of military scientists, who collected creature corpses and jabbed Peck's rightfully terrified family with frightfully terrifying needles. They were gone as quickly as they had appeared, and, soon, rumors of bizarre military chemical weapon tests were running rampant throughout the community. The U.S. Army's official answer to such allegations was, "Nu-uh, but we'll pay for all your dead sheep, anyway."

Despite their denials, the Army had, in fact, released a heaping helping of the straight-up evil VX nerve agent from an F-4 Phantom jet over the Dugway test site on March 13, 1968 -- which you may recognize as the day before every sheep in the general proximity of Ray Peck just so happened to keel the hell over. Thanks to a janky shut-off valve, the plane continued to release the chemical as it climbed to a higher altitude after the test, scattering trace amounts of the lethal agent across the surrounding landscape.


Oh, and VX gas was the basis for the chemical weapon they used in The Rock.

It would take a quarter-century and the Freedom Of Information Act to reveal that the long-term ailments suffered by Peck and his family -- incessant headaches, numbness, bouts of paranoia, and a goddamned string of miscarriages by his wife and daughters -- are consistent with the effects of miniscule exposures to VX (anything beyond "miniscule" being more fatal than a tryst with a 1980s Glenn Close).

So, if you ever find yourself wading through a knee-deep sea of freshly deceased livestock, right outside your front door, our recommendation is to turn right back around, lock yourself in a closet, and stew in your rightful mistrust for your government. Speaking of which ...

4
Khalid El-Masri Gets Abducted, Tortured, And Dumped On The Side Of The Road By The CIA

Felix Kaestle/dapd/AP Photo

German businessman Khalid El-Masri's movie-worthy story began when he stepped off a bus in Macedonia on New Year's Eve of 2003. Before he had so much as taken a breath of fresh Macedonian air, he was tackled by police, taken to a hotel, and locked in a room for 23 days, during which the only interaction from his captors was to barge in and wail on him while ordering him to admit he was an agent of Al-Qaida. But, El-Masri was nothing, if not honest -- he refused to make said admission, seeing as how he was not, in actuality, an agent of Al-Qaida.

Johannes Simon/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Which is exactly what he would say if he was an Al-Qaida agent!"

After his all-expenses-paid hotel stay, El-Masri was taken to the Skopje airport, where Macedonian officials admitted the whole thing was a huge misunderstanding and released him into the loving arms of his family. Just kidding -- he was handed over to CIA agents, who "stripped, hooded, shackled, and sodomized" him, before flying him off to Afghanistan to be locked away in a secret prison known as the "Salt Pit." There, he would be deprived of food, beaten, and tortured for nearly five fucking months before an agent thought to ask, "Wait, what did you say your name was again?"

See, officials had confused Khalid El-Masri with Khalid Al-Masri, a suspected Al-Qaida operative. One tiny letter had caused El-Masri to become an unintended victim of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, in which they whisked those suspected of having ties to terrorism to a third country to have the shit tortured out of them. Once they realized they had made an oopsie, the CIA apologized to El-Masri -- and by "apologized," we mean they chained and blindfolded him, flew him to some godforsaken corner of Albania, and literally dumped him on the side of a road, in the middle of nowhere, and without any fucking explanation whatsoever. Presumably their entire plan was to tell the world, "Who you gonna believe: the CIA, or some crazy guy on the side of the road? Huh?"

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Just to be safe, he was dumped wearing nothing but an aluminum foil
hat and a sandwich board that read "The End is Near."

Luckily for El-Masri, sometimes roadside lunatics are more believable than you might think. Hair analysis proved that he had spent a significant amount of time starving in a South Asian country, and his description of CIA torture was completely consistent with documents that were declassified in the years following his ordeal. Finally, after only, uh, 10 years of legal battles, the European Court Of Human Rights unanimously validated El-Masri's story and ordered Macedonia to fork over some goddamn justice to the tune of about 80,000 entire dollars. Seems fair.

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3
Small-Time Rancher Nate Champion Finds Himself On A Secret Hit List

Wiki Commons

It started with a typical Old West shootout. Bright and early on the morning of November 1, 1891, a squad of Old West assassins crammed into the tiny cabin in Hole-In-The-Wall, Wyoming, of small-time cattle rancher Nate "Buckle Up Because My Last Name Is Freaking Awesome Here It Comes" Champion, intent on putting a swift end to his small-time cattle ranching ways. Little did they realize that Nate Champion was apparently the basis for Clint Eastwood's man with no name: While every single point-blank shot fired by the would-be assassins missed its mark, Champion sent the five men running, one with a bullet in his arm and another with an eventually fatal wound in his gut.

What he didn't realize was that this was just the beginning -- that's because the attack was the culmination of a conspiracy among Wyoming's most powerful cattlemen that began with a massive smear campaign published in the (coincidentally cattle-baron-owned) Johnson County newspapers, in which ranchers such as Champion were portrayed as rustlers who were stealing away the cattle barons' very livelihood. In truth, said ranchers were merely eking out a living by allowing their tiny herds to graze on public land, and, while this practice was perfectly legal, the big-time cattlemen saw it as infringing on their cattle oligopoly.

Wikipedia
Which is very close to a cattle oligarchy, the fourth-worst type of government there is.

As it turns out, Nate Champion was just one of 70 names on Big Cattle's hit list, and the attempt on his life was but the first battle in what would come to be known as the Johnson County War. In April 1892, 50 hired assassins invaded Wyoming to begin wantonly murdering, pillaging, and taking hostages. Thanks to their previous kerfuffle with him, one of the first names to check off on their murders-to-do list was Nate Champion, who, for the second time in six months, found himself single-handedly fighting a private army in his front yard because some rich dudes didn't like where he fed his cows. In true Nate Champion fashion, he managed to hold off the attackers for hours -- taking out three of them -- before they torched his cabin and shot him down in cold blood when he emerged, like the no-good, yellow-bellied bastards they clearly were.

When word got out that the invaders were not actually hunting down rustlers, but gunning down innocent ranchers, the locals were understandably unhappy. The invaders soon found themselves cornered at the T.A. Ranch near Buffalo by an army of pissed-off citizens, led by Sheriff Angus of Buffalo, who orchestrated a full-on medieval-style siege. Three days later, just as the besiegers were about to dynamite the T. A. Ranch house, an Army detachment from the nearby Fort McKinney galloped in and snatched the invaders into custody, under the direct orders of President Benjamin Harrison.

Wikipedia
"Awwww, it was my turn to push the plunger!"

In a turn of events that came as a surprise to absolutely no one, not a single one of the invaders who instigated the Johnson County War were convicted of any crime -- though we like to think that justice was dealt out in their nightmares, courtesy of the vengeful ghost of one Nate Champion.

2
Viola Liuzzo Secretly Gets Smeared By The FBI (After Being Murdered By The KKK)

General Photographic Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Michigan housewife, mother of five, and active NAACP member Viola Liuzzo heard of the now-famous walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in support of voting rights, she knew it was where she needed to be. So, she packed a bag, kissed her kids goodbye, and went south to make the walk -- barefoot, because the only two things Viola Liuzzo hated were discrimination and shoes.

Liuzzo family via NPR
Or, maybe the only two things she hated were her feet.

After King's historic speech on the Capitol steps, Liuzzo decided to drive some of her fellow marchers home. In possibly the most tragic instance of "no good deed goes unpunished" ever, that's when a carload of Ku Klux Klan members saw her driving a black passenger and responded with all the restraint and rationality the KKK is known for. When she managed to evade their attempts to force her off the road, they shot her in the head, killing her instantly. She was the only white, female civil rights activist to die during the entire movement, and there's a good chance you've never heard of her. And that's because we haven't even gotten to the conspiracy part, yet.

After Liuzzo's death came a public backlash that was in stark contrast to the selfless nature of her actions. Heaps of hate mail buried her Detroit home, "accusing her of being a deranged communist." Crowds gathered to burn crosses on her family's lawn, and her widower Anthony had to hire armed bodyguards to fend the haters off. Ladies' Home Journal conducted a survey about Liuzzo, and more than half of respondents agreed that she was a horrible mother for running off to a civil rights demonstration and getting herself murdered in the process.

CNN
"She crashed in a ditch? Women drivers, amirite?"

Why all the hate? Well, you see, Liuzzo had made the critical mistake of being murdered by the A-1 worst possible carload of white supremacists. That's because Thomas Rowe, one of the Klansmen in the assaulting car, was a paid FBI informant who had done precisely squat to prevent her murder. Something like that could look super bad for the FBI ... unless the FBI succeeded in making the victim look super worse. So, FBI Director and Dick Of All Dicks J. Edgar Hoover personally launched a massive smear campaign against Liuzzo, portraying her as an unfaithful druggie communist who banged every single black guy she met. And it worked flawlessly, as evidenced by the aforementioned burning crosses, etc.

It would be many years before her family finally discovered what Hoover had done, thanks once again to the Freedom Of Information Act. That was far too late to prevent her husband Anthony from dying in 1978 while attempting to drown his shattered heart with copious amounts of alcohol, or to be of much comfort to her children, at least one of whom had suffered goddamn PTSD. Don't think Liuzzo's sacrifice was completely in vain, though, because today she is honored with her very own shitty playground in Detroit.

J. Carlisle Larsen /WDET via NPR
Ensuring that children remember her legacy (while receiving painful tetanus treatments).

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1
Numerous British Citizens Are Randomly Gunned Down By A Secret Government Death Squad

Daily Record

It's every conspiracy theorist's wet dream to trace some heinous terrorist plot back to a first-world government, thereby proving that The Man exists for the sole purpose of keeping us down, man. That was assumably not the goal of brothers John and Gerry Conway, who, when walking to their Belfast fruit stand one morning in April of 1972, were quite astonished to have two carloads of assassins pull up and start shooting them with machine guns. No, we're pretty sure John and Gerry Conway were just trying to get to their freaking fruit stand, for crying out loud.

The Mirror
Where they hoped to partake in a car chase later that day.

Now, if you're the observant type, you probably subconsciously made note of the mentions of "Belfast" and "1972" above, and your mind automatically jumped to certain conclusions. And you're absolutely right -- early '70s Northern Ireland was not a place filled with fuzzy kittens and rainbow pops. But, the Conway brothers had not fallen victim to an IRA terrorist plot. No, their assailants were actually a carefully chosen team of undercover British soldiers known as the Military Reaction Force, a group described by its own former members as a "legalized death squad" that was "not there to act like an army unit, [but] to act like a terror group."

Incredibly, both Conway brothers survived their Swiss-cheesing, but they were only the first of a laundry list of unarmed citizens injured or killed during the MRF's drive-bys. The soldiers' modus operandi was to drive around in plain clothes, approach the various barricades that had been set up as checkpoints throughout the city, and shoot the absolute shit out of anyone unlucky enough to be near said barricades at the time. Over 40 years after the MRF was disbanded (just 14 months after it was established), one former member justified their activities by saying, "Generally a barricade in a really bad area, there was almost somebody always armed on that barricade. You may not see the weapon, but it's almost certain that somebody's gonna be armed" -- truly a rock-solid legal basis for cruising around shooting anyone whose jib you don't care for the cut of.

Belfast Telegraph
We can't imagine why people at barricades would want to arm themselves.
It's almost like they're paranoid of being shot.

Among their list of victims were Patrick McVeigh, a 44-year-old father of six who was shot in the back, and teenager Daniel Rooney, gunned down with a silenced SMG while he was standing around shooting the shit (not literally) with two friends on a street corner. The rest of their (known) victims miraculously survived their injuries, leading us to conclude that, for all the "top secret elite military task force" mumbo jumbo that its former members tend to spout off, the MRF sure wasn't all that great at shooting people.

Zachary Frey is going to be a freshman at Cornell University this August and has written a bunch of other articles for Cracked, which you should totally go read.

For more everyday folks who stumble into crazy, read 6 Normal People Who Turned Into Action Heroes Out Of Nowhere, and check out 19 Real Sinister Conspiracies That Actually Happened to learn how the world is f'd up.

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