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Conspiracy theories are a stupidly easy target for comedy, since they're mostly spread by those who screech about lizard people on websites with a design aesthetic that was already dated in the 1990s. It's just that every once in a while, what may look like a stupid conspiracy theory turns out to be something that very much happened ...

5
The World's Most Rich And Powerful Meet To Perform Weird Secret Rituals

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories Image Library

The Conspiracy Theory:

All conspiracy theories stem from the idea that a cabal of rich and powerful men control the world. This is true, in a way, but it's really nothing but a bunch of entrepreneurs and investors fighting each other for market shares. Can you imagine if the rich and powerful actually donned robes and got together to perform ridiculous rituals, like in that Simpsons episode?

The Reality:

The truth is much weirder. Sure, there are famous public gatherings of wealthy types like the Bilderberg Group, but they mostly shoot the shit over drinks and big dinners instead of sacrificing goats in the name of the Illuminati. What we're talking about are the Bohemian Grove gatherings, in which members -- which have included U.S. presidents -- gather to perform rituals before a 30-foot-tall idol shaped like an owl. We're absolutely not making this up. You can go visit the site if you want.

Aarkwikde / Wiki Commons
You can play everyone's favorite party game, "Which Bush spewed all over the owl's dick?"

Founded in 1872, the Bohemian Grove club started out as a social occasion for relatively harmless newspapermen and artists, like Mark Twain. However, many of their members were ambitious, and grew mighty. The club's gatherings went on, their power increased, and by the 1930s, Bohemian Grove had become an exclusive haunt of the rich and famous. By the 1980s, the club had 2,300 members, including influential senators, businessmen, and highly-placed U.S. government officials. Its waiting list for membership was 33 years long.

While business-making is discouraged -- the club straight-up tells its members that "Weaving Spiders Come Not Here" -- it happens all the time, because of course it does. Some of the most influential deals in history have been made in Bohemian Grove encampments. Such as, oh, the initial planning for the Manhattan Project. Yeah, you have the 1942 Bohemian Grove meeting to thank for the freaking nuclear bomb.

Michael Knowles/Wiki Commons
Not a Hogwarts set prop from Harry Potter.

This isn't some huge secret, by the way. Outside visitors aren't allowed, but no one denies it goes on. People who have managed to sneak into the party say it has a distinctively frat vibe. The world's most powerful men have a right to urinate wherever they desire, so mix that with the inevitable beer-drinking, and you get a lot of rich drunk dudes peeing against the base of towering redwoods. Which they then worship as a part of their traditional druidic rituals, in which they wear costumes and burn an effigy they call "care" in front of that huge concrete owl. Oh, and the owl is wired for sound, so it talks. News anchor Walter Cronkite did the voice for a while.

So yeah, it's a three-weekend encampment where the most powerful people in the world get frat-boy drunk for two weeks in the row, worship trees, and decide to build weapons of mass destruction all at the same time. Now bring this up at work tomorrow and observe the looks you get from your co-workers.

4
The U.S. Military Stole Dead Babies To Do Experiments

Nattanan / iStock

The Conspiracy Theory:

This theory takes many forms, but all comes back to the idea that in some secret government lab, they're doing human experimentation without our knowledge. If it was an episode of the X-Files, it'd probably involve some shady agency secretly collecting DNA samples from the public to breed with aliens or create super soldiers or some shit.

20th Television
This alien is already in the perfect position.

The Reality:

We'll have to disappoint you on the aliens and super soldiers, but the rest of it is almost weirder than fiction. Imagine you're a parent who lost an infant ... then found out that after death, a government agent sneaked in and stole parts from it for experimentation. That happened. A lot.

During the 1950s, the U.S. government was interested in how fallout from nuclear weapons would affect human bodies, and whether nuclear testing would be a hazard to human health. A valid concern, gents! But they needed tissue samples from humans to test, and since most people would have objected strenuously to their bones being removed to test for the presence of radioactive isotopes, the government instead targeted a demographic that couldn't put up a fuss (or, more importantly, vote): dead bodies.

Wolfgang Moroder/Wiki Commons
Turns out the "cold" in Cold War was short for "cold-hearted."

So the government went grave-robbing. Here, we'll let one of the project's scientists, Dr. Willard Libby, explain: "[H]uman samples are of prime importance, and if anybody knows how to do a good job of body-snatching, they will really be serving their country." That's a quote from a secret meeting in 1955, and he went on to point out that these corpses needed to be young. So most of these bodies were recently-deceased infants, often from other countries where that kind of thing was easier to get away with.

Time Magazine
Every James Bond villain magically sprung to life just to say, "The fuck, dude?"

Yes, consent was of no concern here -- one mother named Jean Prichard gave birth to a stillborn baby in 1957, asked for the body so she could dress it for a burial, and was refused. It turned out they were trying to hide the fact that they'd cut its legs off to hand them over for testing.

The mission was dubbed Project Sunshine, presumably to mask the abject terror of robbing and maiming scores upon scores of baby corpses under a veil of cheerfulness. The Clinton administration's Advisory Committee dug up the details of the project as part of their mission to uncover ethical issues in past radiation experiments. The fact that they managed to turn in a full report instead of a stained cocktail napkin with "What the hell, past?" scribbled all over it remains a shining testament to the scientific method.

Sue Rabbitt Roff

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3
A "Big Pharma" Company Knowingly Made Patients Sick For Profit

Mosesofmason / Wiki Commons

The Conspiracy Theory:

According to conspiracy theorists, Big Pharma is an evil machine that makes people sick for profit. You might be surprised to learn that they're right ... about the last half of the sentence. Because let's face it, we all already believe the rest of it.

The Reality:

In the mid-1980s, German pharmaceutical company Bayer discovered that one of their products -- a blood-clotting medicine designed for hemophiliacs -- carried a high risk of transmitting HIV to its users. Swinging into action, they immediately recalled the affected lines and released a safer alternative. However, this left them with a problem: What to do with all the old, dangerous product? Sure, they could destroy it, or lock it up forever in a warehouse a la Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but that would cause them to lose sweet, sweet profits. And they couldn't make the shareholders angry, now could they?

Lucasfilm
"It belongs in a Swiss bank account!"

The solution was simple: Without batting an eyelid, Bayer started selling the shit out of their flawed medication anyway. They just did it in places where no one could have heard about their little screw-up, like Latin America and Asia. The new, safer product was reserved for the United States and Europe. As a result of their antics, it's estimated that at least 100 people in Taiwan and Hong Kong contracted HIV. We wouldn't be exactly shocked to find out there were plenty more, considering that the drug was also sold in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, and Argentina for an entire year before someone came to their senses.

Todd Smith
Americans died too, because AIDS doesn't give a shit how free you are.

When unearthed documents slapped the ugly truth out in the public eye in 2003, Bayer refused to admit liability, and essentially claimed that their ethics were, like, the best, guys. Of course, their innocent whistling act was somewhat tainted by the also-uncovered 15-year lawsuit conga their antics had earned them, and the $600 million they and other involved companies had surreptitiously paid in compensation to the victims.

2
The KGB Had Sleeper Agents Ready To Sabotage America From Within

RIA Novosti archive, image #700215 / Lev Polikashin / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Conspiracy Theory:

It's easy to forget that you don't have to go back that many decades to find an America haunted by the idea that there were communists hiding under every bed. Sure, the West was in an arms race with the Soviet Union -- that part was real -- but the truly paranoid were sure that their neighbors, school teachers, and grocers were sneaking into their basements at night to roll out invasion maps. When their comrades arrived at America's borders, they'd be ready to help.

Hint: This is what movies like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers were truly about. It's a metaphor!

Allied Artists Pictures
"Is your dog a good boy ... or a red boy?"

The Reality:

There were, in fact, extensive KGB plans to sabotage American infrastructure if war broke out, with agents stationed nearby ready to do it. What's worse is that we only know about it thanks to a former KGB archivist who painstakingly copied notes from their archives and fled to the West after the end of the Cold War.

Many of the KGB teams improved their odds of not getting caught by keeping cover in Canada and Mexico. Pre-positioned arms caches in the U.S. were built up by smuggling weapons under the cover of illegal immigration routes. The caches themselves were a veritable terrorist cookbook of explosives and mines that could have wreaked havoc on an unprepared America. Their targets included not only military bases, but also oil and gas pipelines, dams, and the power grid. One KGB plan involved blowing up strategic electrical infrastructure on the Delaware River, which would have cut power to the entire state of New York.

Shannon1 / Wiki Commons
"What about New Jersey?"
"We'll-- actually, we don't need to do anything there ..."

To complete the McCarthyist nightmare, the activated KGB agents would blend into the US population by dressing as policemen, firefighters, forestry officials, and even U.S. soldiers. They would literally have been walking among us, and we wouldn't know until the explosions started.

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1
The CIA Funded The Dalai Lama For More Than A Decade

Phaendin / iStock

The Conspiracy Theory:

According to conspiracy nuts, everyone and everything is a thinly-concealed CIA plot. From the Red Cross to Bill Gates, all of them are secretly supported by and organized by the CIA as part of a global conspiracy directed at America's enemies.

World Economic Forum
Gates planted all the porn to distract the terrorists. Every American also getting distracted is mere collateral damage.

The Reality:

The CIA did a lot of acid starting in the 1950s, so of fucking course they threw money on a few ludicrous plots. Like, say, the time they sneakily turned the Dalai Lama into their anti-communist puppet.

While a lot of people may sympathize with the Dalai Lama of Tibet -- a pacifistic leader stuck in exile via the machinations of the Chinese -- the real story is slightly more sinister and spy-fueled than that. Intelligence documents reveal that, after fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, the communism-opposing Dalai Lama soon found himself and his resistance movement as recipients of some significant CIA funding. $1.7 million a year throughout the 1960s, to be precise.

Matthew Trump
That's the kind of loyalty-based benefits that come from taking a job at age five and never quitting.

Although the Lama himself denies this, reports indicate that a whopping $180,000 of this was allocated to his personal use -- in other words, the CIA was paying the Dalai Lama a six-figure salary. The rest of the money went into Far Cry 4-style shenanigans, like setting up training stations and arming the Tibetan resistance, which you may recognize as the complete opposite of the Dalai Lama's message of peace and reconciliation.

Hennix / Wiki Commons
"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present payments moment."

Of course, the CIA wouldn't be the CIA if they hadn't been playing the Tibetans like a piano, despite acting as huge benefactors. While the Dalai Lama was told the CIA supported Tibetan independence, in reality, the CIA only wanted the Tibetans wrecking shit and generally acting as a thorn in the side of the Chinese.

In fact, the agency didn't even like the Tibetans all that much. As armed Tibetans busied themselves with making China's life as unhappy as humanly possible, the CIA privately deemed them not "congenitally inclined toward conspiratorial proficiency." In other words, they made piss-poor spies. As such, when Nixon started his quest for better relations with China in the 1970s, the CIA dropped the ill-conceived plan, and surely have never tried anything like it since. Surely.

Jacopo is the author of two books you should pick up this summer.

For more reasons your tinfoil hat may not look so crazy after all, check out 18 Real Sinister Conspiracies That Actually Happened and 5 Conspiracy Theories That Are Real (But Not How You Think).

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