In an era where information is consumed more than water, maybe even more than fresh air, we can wake up to the sound of a newscaster while pouring a cup of precisely timed coffee that informs us of today’s date, time and weather and hop into our digitally paired vehicles playing our favorite podcast. We start our morning workout while scrolling through Instagram, sit in front of our work desk with multiple browsers open displaying an average 20-30 open tabs, and then end the day with a live YouTube stream and a “couple” of TikTok views (a gross understatement) before heading off to bed with a Kindle book, only to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. Whew, information is absolutely everywhere, literally feeding every fiber of our beings. With so much blasting us at a constant rate, it’s really tough to say what’s actually grounded in reality and what is a fictional concoction. It’s quite easy to get lost in a wave of anxiety navigating this barrage of information, especially during a time when information seems intentionally manipulated to cause polarizing responses which makes for heated debates and passionate Facebook posts. But before we decide to take a stand on perceived misinformation as “Fake News” or “Conspiracy Theories” (and unfriend your brother-in-law in the process), it might be wise to take advice from ancient philosopher Confucius who once stated, “Study the past if you would define the future.” So, let’s take a deep breath and revisit some history.
"Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death"
What is the price to pay when a company forces its right to operate despite the consequences of their action, or a governing system does what they think is right with disregard for civil liberty?
We can easily start with two of the biggest conspiracy theories of the last century. Both fought for decades to remain untold stories and unfortunately, both turned out to be very true, in complete violation of the air our parents and grandparents grew up breathing, and commonplace in and around institutions like hospitals and schools.
The Air We Breathe
The first medical paper was published in 1924 with many more to follow corroborating the dangers of Asbestos. Regardless, the industry proceeded to stay in business for 40+ years until 1964 when irrefutable claims came out confirming that it caused cancer. The industry of course claimed to have no prior knowledge (cue eye roll), though the countless pieces of evidence would claim otherwise.
Spanning an entire decade, lasting from the late 1800s until the early 1990s, tobacco was a routine part of the American hospital landscape proliferating the air anywhere you went. Doctors, nurses and patients frequently smoked inside the hospitals, where there was oftentimes even an ashtray on a patient’s nightstand. In the early 1950s, research was starting to show an indisputable link between smoking and lung cancer. This somehow didn't convince too many people that it might not be the best idea to keep the habit. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, after a very long and expensive battle, that tobacco company Philip Morris finally admitted smoking could cause cancer. The reason it took so long is that tobacco companies were major lobbyists and generous donors to political campaigns. Sound familiar? They were able to buy favor with politicians to help refute the science behind smoking’s health risks, claiming it was uncertain. Finally, in 2006, a heroic federal judge found tobacco companies guilty of conspiracy, specifically for suppressing research, destroying documents, and manipulating the use of nicotine to increase addiction, fining them with a multi-billion dollar settlement. During the period of 1930-1948, the death rate from lung cancer rose from 5.3 per 100,000 to 27.1—an increase of 411 percent. Since the 1990s, the rate of smokers has significantly decreased. I’m certainly not one to judge a vice, but knowledge is power. Whether that power is suppressed or used is another story.
And what could possibly go better with a cigarette than a cocktail? George Washington, the nation’s first president was known as one of the country’s best brewers and founding fathers. As the country developed and went through several stressful events including the Civil War, Spanish War and World War I, perhaps the country’s alcohol consumption may have gone a bit too far. When Prohibition was introduced in 1920 in an attempt to control the country’s alcohol consumption, it resulted in a natural backlash with widespread speakeasies (a reference to the secretive nature of the establishment including whispered codewords at the door) and illegal production and distribution of alcohol, known as bootlegging (thought to be a reference to soldiers in the Civil War sneaking bottles of booze into camp hidden in the tops of their boots) . The government was not satisfied with merely curbing drinking habits during prohibition, so they decided to take more drastic measures. They “encouraged” illegal liquor manufacturers to cut their products with toxins, including highly-lethal methanol. In total, it is estimated around 10,000 people died as a result of the government’s indirect poisoning. Talk about tough love. At least the ban was lifted in 1933, coincidentally a few years after the onset of the Great Depression.
Fifties Futurism Gone Wild
The 1950s and 60s seems to be when science was running around with loose morals, as some research scientists may have gotten a bit carried away.
The "fruit machine", an attempted Gaydar, was employed in Canada beginning in 1950 during a campaign to eliminate all gay men from the Civil Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the military. Frank Robert Wake developed this device to identify homesexuals (derogatorily referred to as "fruits"). The subjects were made to view pornography; the device then measured the diameter of the pupils of the eyes (pupillary response test), perspiration, and pulse for a supposed erotic response. This test initially presented itself to the public as a stress test, and stressful it was as thousands of workers did lose their jobs. In 2017 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered an apology in the House of Commons to those caught in the "gay purge," resulting in a settlement with survivors that includes $110 million in compensation.
On the subject of unethical testing, beginning in 1953, the British detonated seven atomic bombs in the Maralinga area of Australia; one was twice the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The United States Atomic Energy Commission then started testing tissue samples from newly-deceased children and babies from around the test sites to study the effects of radioactive strontium-90 on them (Strontium-90 is considered the most severe threat to humans in the event of nuclear fallout). Throughout what was called “Project Sunshine,” conducted under the auspices of the “U.S. Department of Energy and the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority”, more than 1,500 samples throughout Europe and Australia—often without the parents’ knowledge or consent—were gathered to test the hazardous effects on young human tissue. Young bones were chosen because they were particularly susceptible to accumulating the Sr-90 isotope. Years later, a British woman named Jean Prichard reported that she hadn’t been allowed to dress her stillborn daughter’s body for the funeral in 1975, because (as she later found out) her baby’s legs had been removed by British doctors and shipped to the U.S. government. “No one asked me about doing things like that, taking bits and pieces from her,” she said. This experiment wasn’t exposed to the public until years later.
Around a similar time, from 1953 to 1964, the CIA got a little too excited about the opportunity to study potential mind control techniques and decided to secretly dose individuals with LSD to test its effects. During this practice—called Project MKUltra—thousands of U.S. citizens were given LSD without their knowledge or consent. This had the stated goal of developing biological and chemical weapons capability during the Cold War. During the program, the CIA established front companies to work with more than 80 institutions, such as hospitals, prisons, and universities. With these partnerships in place, the agency then ran experiments on subjects using drugs, hypnosis, and verbal and physical abuse. On a brighter side these tests may have been responsible for some notable cultural staples, as best selling author of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, Ken Kesey had volunteered to be a test subject of this study during his formative years at Stanford. Kesey later went on to promote the drug, hosting LSD-fueled parties that he called “Acid Tests.” Other subjects had been exposed to this testing without much of a choice, resulting in more negative consequences. One of the most notable was that of Frank Olson, a United States Army biochemist and biological weapons researcher who was given LSD without his knowledge or consent in November of 1953 resulting in his death. In 1973, CIA Director Richard Helms ordered the destruction of all records related to MKUltra. So now there’s very little evidence that remains about this immoral research. It wasn’t until 1995 when President Clinton issued a formal apology on behalf of the U.S. government for the MKUltra program that the public realized this prior “conspiracy theory” could have actually been real.
Experimentation with drugs seemed like a big mistake in hindsight, but what about a mistake with experimental drugs? In 1960 it was discovered that monkey kidney cells used to make the Salk polio vaccine were infected with virus strain SV40. This was later found to be a contributing cause of cancer in humans. Americans were not told about this, and between 1955 and 1963, nearly 100 million children were given this contaminated vaccine. Although the cells were removed from polio vaccines in 1963, scientists around the world continue to identify them in the human brain, bones and lung cancers of children and adults. When taking into account the lab animals that continuously give their lives for this extensive research, it’s an even harder pill to swallow that FDA approved medicine could be so harmful to the public it’s intended to help…
At the wrap of the 1950s, and in response to the cold war, more sustained efforts were made by the governments of both the United States and the Soviet Union to use media companies to ensure the influence of public opinion internationally. The CIA project known as Operation Mockingbird spied on members of the Washington press corps. As part of this operation, they paid journalists to publish CIA propaganda, wiretapped their phones, and monitored their offices to keep tabs on their activities and visitors. The CIA paid student and cultural organizations, as well as magazines to serve as front organizations, but it was the relationships with major United States media institutions that helped propel the initiative. Bernstein lists The New York Times, CBS and Time inc. as the most productive relationships that the agency cultivated. They also created front organizations overseas who publicly maintained an appearance of a free press but privately were operated by the agency. This covert operation went on for nearly three decades and was finally uncovered in Senate hearings in the mid-1970s. I’d love to believe it actually ended then, but I have a pretty logical understanding that “Those who remember the past … can predict the future.”
War, What is it Good For?
With purported control and manipulation of the media, the sky becomes the limit with all that one can then do and disseminate in an effort to serve an agenda. Approved by the Pentagon chiefs, the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the CIA, Operation Northwoods was a proposed plan to fabricate acts of terrorism on U.S. soil. If carried out, it would’ve killed innocent citizens to trick the public into supporting a war against Cuba in the early 1960s. The operation even proposed blowing up a U.S. ship and hijacking planes as a false pretext for war. Luckily, John F. Kennedy, who was the President at the time, put a stop to this planned operation. Why does such a plan sound oddly familiar? I have no idea, but I would like to repeat the “sky’s the limit” with this stuff. This document actually highlights some of this immoral and ruthless plan. Some “theorists” wonder if this had anything to do with Kennedy’s eventual assassination.
Operation Mockingbird had quite the lifespan and many officials benefited from that service-to-self initiative. President Nixon had the opportunity to partake in the media frenzy, and he very well did as this conspiracy theory is now one of the latest to resurface with whistle-blowers like former Nixon official, John Ehrlichman who admits the 1968 campaign’s implemented drug war had been used as an effort to intentionally target and potentially lock up their two largest enemies: blacks and anti-war leftist “hippies”. This allowed something that was once left to the local officials to be at the hands of the federal government. A bill was written and passed allowing crimes most people feared like street robbery and burglary to become a federal offense as long as the presence of drugs was merely insinuated. This led to forceful arrests and previously seen as unlawful entrances and conviction. The DPA responded to this recent disclosure as “nothing new” and that it’s been “long known that U.S. drug policies have been inherently racist and discriminatory.”
So the government has seemingly found roundabout ways to manipulate information and their consumers, but surely a theory about weather manipulation couldn’t be true? Take a look at the five-year project called Operation Popeye, in which the U.S. government used a technique called cloud seeding to increase precipitation during the rainy seasons over the North Vietnam Army’s movement 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. With a need for innovation, preliminary testing for Operation Popeye began in October 1966 under President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Vietnam War had already spanned a decade and had already taken more than 8,000 Americans. The technology used in cloud seeding had been around since the 40s and is still in the process of being tested costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Although this conspiracy theory was actually proven, it’s impossible to keep this disclosed information from spurring on thoughts of other weather manipulation patterns that have potentially gone on and could continue to be tested as technology continues to advance.
Discernment, Discretion, Deciding. What's Your Key?
These few examples of what were previously thought to be conspiracy theories have now been proven as historical facts. While some took decades to disclose, these are just a few moments in history where massive information was hidden from the public in an effort to control and manipulate instead of informing to serve and protect. Why am I sharing this information right now anyway? With respect and reverence for some very brave and ambitious alternative news sources and journalists that have paved the way for people to open up to the notion that perhaps they can decide for themselves whether the information they are being fed is in fact informing them or in fiction manipulating them. We all need to know, or should I say be reminded, that truth can be stranger than fiction. During a time when sources of information are more abundant than just about anything else, it's an opportunity to define how we’d like to move forward. It’s a time where we can truly begin to stock our knowledge toolkit. The discerning mind is perhaps one of the most resourceful tools in navigating confusing times, provoking us to question our reality. If you’re one of 30 million Americans that have taken psychedelics (no, that’s not an exaggeration) you may even question the validity of reality as we know it to be. But you certainly don’t need to take a hallucinatory trip to see that the information that proliferates the landscape may be the very thing constructing the reality in which we reside. Therefore, the information we choose to take in and believe may be the very thing that defines (or expands depending on what it may be) your reality right now. What’s the key to your reality? Stay centered; stay conscious; stay well.