Real Conspiracies Behind Four Historic Events
We mostly respond to conspiracy theorists with a mixture of pitiful sighs and slowly backing away, but conspiracies are real. Watergate happened. MK Ultra happened. The cancellation of Firefly happened. In fact, we’re still uncovering the nefarious details behind lots of history’s most important moments. Such as…
Local Police Knew the Columbine Shooters Were Dangerous
In the wake of a tragedy like the massacre at Columbine High School, where 12 students and one teacher were killed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in 1999, it’s natural to ask, “Could anything have been done to prevent this?” And in this case, the answer is a resounding “yup.” Like most teenagers, these guys were not sneaky, like, at all. Harris maintained a website where he came right out and said, “Hey, I’m building pipe bombs, and I’m planning to kill these specific people with them,” because this was an era where what you said on the internet was largely theoretical.
Still, some of the people on his hit list saw it, freaked out and reported it to the school and, in at least one case, the police. The student’s parents were assured that the police, who’d had 15 “contacts” with Harris and Klebold in the two years leading up to the shootings, were watching the pair. They eventually drafted a warrant to search Harris’ home but ultimately decided they didn’t have enough probable cause to submit it for a judge’s approval. If they had, they would have found an arsenal of weapons that would make Charlton Heston say, “Well, that’s just excessive.”
Whether or not they could have gotten a judge to sign off on the search warrant, or if there really was anything else the authorities could have done to prevent the tragedy, is up for debate, but the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office sure seemed to think that debate wouldn’t end in their favor. They initially denied ever meeting with that student’s parents, but after paperwork came to light proving that they had, they decided to get very selective about what documentation they’d release to the public. In 2001, after the victims’ families sued for access to their files, they found a good chunk of pages missing from the 11,000 they were given. Like, it was very obvious. There are clearly no brilliant masterminds to be found here.
A PR Firm Got Us into the Gulf War
To be clear, we’re taking the bold stance that Saddam Hussein was bad. Whether or not the U.S. should have supported Kuwait in the Gulf War is a question above our joke grade. It was a question that was far from answered in 1990, when stories about Iraqi forces looting hospitals and leaving premature babies to die without their incubators started tipping the scales. The only problem was that the media couldn’t get into Kuwait to verify anything, so that’s all they were: stories.
That is, until Congress heard the testimony of a 15-year-old girl identified only by her first name, Nayirah, who claimed to be a hospital volunteer in Kuwait. Through tears, she described watching helplessly as Iraqi soldiers “took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the children to die on the cold floor.” She also threw in that they made fun of President Bush, in case that helped. Whether or not it did, he latched onto the story, several senators cited it in the debate to approve military action against Hussein and scholars have identified it as the turning point in the campaign for war.
Two years later, after Kuwait was liberated and outsiders were let in, things got awkward when no one could find any evidence of babies killed by incubator theft. It turned out Nayirah was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S., and her testimony had been arranged by a PR firm working for an organization funded by the Kuwaiti government. The ambassador still insisted his daughter was telling the truth, explaining that “If I wanted to lie … I wouldn’t use my daughter to do so. I could easily buy other people to do it.” Which is definitely the sort of thing honest people say.
A Fake Ambush Got Us into Vietnam
In 1964, according to the powers that be, the U.S.S. Maddox was just bobbing along in the Gulf of Tonkin, minding its own business on a routine patrol, when mean old North Vietnam attacked it for no reason. Twice! So rude, right? Congress agreed, finding it so rude that they immediately approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, granting President Lyndon B. Johnson much greater power to expand military action against North Vietnam. This was basically the beginning of the Vietnam War for the United States.
But that story wasn’t entirely — wait — yeah, no, it wasn’t true at all. First of all, the crew of the Maddox was spying for South Vietnam, so not exactly innocent sailors. Before the first attack, they were responding to an incident in which U.S. ships had attacked North Vietnam, so they couldn’t really call “they started it,” and they got away without a scratch. The second attack didn’t happen. The crew of the Maddox “mistook their own sonar’s pings off the rudder for North Vietnamese torpedoes” and almost fired at another U.S. ship. Intelligence officials just kept that little detail to themselves, and it wasn’t revealed until 2005, probably because they were so incredibly embarrassed.
The Government Poisoned the Alcohol Supply During Prohibition
Today, Prohibition is mostly brought up in the context of things that don’t work, and this isn’t a lesson that had to be learned in hindsight. It became apparent pretty much immediately that people weren’t going to stop drinking, mainly liquor produced from stolen industrial alcohol. The federal government was real mad about that, so they mandated the addition of chemicals to industrial alcohol that made it taste gross and made the committed drinker not feel great.
But bootleggers, clever entrepreneurs that they were, kept finding ways around it. By 1927, the feds stomped their feet and started requiring manufacturers to include just a shit-ton of poisons in industrial alcohol. Seriously, it included “kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine and acetone.” Basically, every poison they could think of, and probably a few they had to look up.
This wasn’t a conspiracy for long, in the sense that a conspiracy is something the public doesn’t know about. People started dropping like barflies, on the order of around 10,000 deaths, and it didn’t take long to figure out why. But the official position was that this was simply a change in regulations on the denaturing process, and most people didn’t care if some drunks died, so the policy remained in place until the end of Prohibition. Some activists kicked up a fuss and tried to hold the government responsible for the deaths, but they never were.
As we keep learning, murder is legal if the victim does something wrong, but only if you have a badge.