11 Unbelievable Conspiracy Theories That Were Actually True

By: Kevin Saltarelli
A stack of letter blocks spelling 'fact' and 'fake'.
Not all conspiracy theories are false. Constantine Johnny / Getty Images

There are plenty of conspiracy theories out there that help fuel the imaginations of the truly paranoid; NASA faked the moon landing, Paul McCartney has been dead since 1967, 9/11 was an inside job, and hybrid lizard humanoids are the real rulers of planet Earth. While it might be difficult to disprove the existence of our lizard overlords, most of these conspiracy theories fall apart with even a small amount of research. Here is our list of 11 unbelievable conspiracy theories that are actually true.


11. Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

In 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service conspired with the Tuskegee Institute to create a phony syphilis treatment program. The experiment, which involved lying to almost 400 African-American men who had been diagnosed with syphilis, was initially only supposed to last six months. It took until 1972 before the public became aware of the research and the government was forced to investigate and shut the program down.

For 40 years these 400 men were often given dangerous chemicals and offered painful and unnecessary medical procedures under the guise of actual treatment. The fact that penicillin had become a known cure for syphilis was hidden from the patients so that the researchers could learn more about the disease. A government panel eventually deemed the study “ethically irresponsible” and in 1974, a class action suit was settled out of court for $10 million with lifetime health benefits for the surviving participants.


10. MKUltra: the CIA Mind-Control Project

It’s the 1950s and Communist spies are everywhere. The cold war is heating up and it looks as though the Soviet Union might gain the upper hand on American Democracy. What would you do? With the hopes of discovering a “truth serum,” the CIA decided they needed to secretively dose unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens with LSD, and then interrogate and occasionally torture the participants.

The CIA paid hospitals, prisons and universities for their participation and their silence. In 1973, CIA director Richard Helms ordered that all documents related to MKUltra be destroyed. While the conspiracy was eventually uncovered, nobody involved in the project “remembered” the details and a complete timeline of events remains incomplete.


9. The 1990 Testimony of Nayirah

In October of 1990, a 15-year-old girl named Nayirah offered testimony to the U.S. Congress stating that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers taking 15 Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and leaving them on the floor to die. This testimony aired on about 700 television stations throughout the United States. President George Bush Sr. repeated the story at least 10 times in the following weeks in an attempt to sway public opinion towards supporting the Gulf War.

The problem is that the events described by Nayirah were a complete fabrication. The CIA requested that Nayirah receive acting lessons before she testified. It was also discovered that Nayirah was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S. who worked with the Kuwaiti government to promote U.S. involvement in the Gulf War. In response to these findings, Amnesty International accused the Bush administration of “opportunistic manipulation of the international human rights movement.”


8. Operation Snow White: The Church of Scientology Versus The U.S. Government

During the 1970s, 5,000 covert agents from L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology conspired to perform the largest infiltration of the U.S. government in American history. The church infiltrated 136 organizations including the IRS, the DEA, foreign embassies and other government agencies. They installed wiretaps and stole hundreds of documents with the hopes of protecting their church and from paying millions of dollars in taxes.

The U.S. government fought back. In July of 1977, the FBI organized a raid of various Scientology locations involving 156 agents. The raid uncovered the group’s illegal actions against the government as well as additional conspiracies against other perceived enemies of the church. On December 6, 1979, Operation Snow White ended when Mary Sue Hubbard, wife of L. Ron Hubbard, and 10 other high-ranking Scientologists received five-year prison sentences. L. Ron Hubbard remained an “unindicted co-conspirator” and spent the rest of his life in hiding.


7. CIA Assassinations

In 1975, after the Watergate scandal, Senator Frank Church helped form the precursor to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Commonly referred to as the Church Committee, their purpose was to investigate the CIA and FBI to ensure that they were operating within the law. The Committee quickly discovered that the CIA had started a hit man business.

The CIA were responsible for the assassinations of Mossadegh in Iran, Allende (below) in Chile, as well as other leaders and revolutionaries in Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Asia. They made their assassinations appear like car accidents, suicides, cancers, and heart attacks. When their declassified “Heart Attack Gun” wasn’t necessary, they would just shoot their targets with actual bullets. While all of this is part of the congressional record, it’s still common for people to laugh this one off as a nutty conspiracy theory.


6. The Business Plot: Fascism in America

In 1933, Senator Prescott Bush (pictured below) – father of George Bush Sr. and grandfather of George W. Bush – tried to create a military coup against President Franklin D. Roosevelt and install a fascist dictatorship in the United States. The plot included wealthy businessmen from Chase Bank, Goodyear, Standard Oil, GM, and the Du Pont family. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler was asked to lead the coup. Apparently no one did a background check before they approached him.

Smedley Butler, who was a vocal supporter of FDR, gathered evidence of the conspiracy and presented it to a Congressional Committee. Everyone implicated in the plot fiercely denied any involvement and no criminal charges were ever filed. The Committee confirmed Butler’s allegations, but was satisfied with having the conspiracy stopped before it started. The people who backed the Business Plot maintained financial ties with Nazi Germany until America entered World War II.


5. Operation Mockingbird: The CIA Propaganda Machine

In 1948, Frank Wisner was appointed director of the Office of Special Projects and told to create an organization that was capable of producing propaganda and engaging in economic warfare as part of the global war against Soviet Communism. The CIA took control of the office in the 1950s and maintained a secret campaign to influence media around the world for almost 25 years.

Wisner “owned” respected members of The New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other media outlets. By the 1950s there were around 3,000 CIA employees and dozens of large global media outlets working to maintain a complex propaganda machine. Wisner, who was always looking for new ways to convince the public of the dangers of communism, facilitated the 1954 animated Hollywood production of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The Church Committee exposed the conspiracy in 1975 and calculated that misinforming the world cost taxpayers $265 million a year.


4. COINTELPRO: The FBI vs. 1960s Activists

The 1960s were a time of radical social change. The counterculture blossomed into a full-blown anti-establishment phenomenon that spread across much of the western world. In response to the growing counterculture, the FBI created COINTELPRO, or the Counter Intelligence Program, for the purpose of “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order.” In other words, its purpose was to illegally disrupt dissident political organizations within the United States.

COINTELPRO was active between 1956 and 1971. According to FBI records, 85% of the programs resources were spent on marginalizing, infiltrating and disrupting groups, such as the women’s rights movement, the non-violent civil rights movement, the Congress of Racial Equality, the American Indian Movement, and other civil rights groups. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered FBI agents to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” the activities of these movements and their leaders.


3. Operation Paperclip: Nazi Scientists Find Employment in America

In 1945, the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency was given authorization to offer over 1,500 German scientists, technicians, and engineers from Nazi Germany and other countries employment in America. President Truman agreed to the program with the explicit instructions that it only includes those who were not found “to have been a member of the Nazi party, and more than a nominal participant in its activities, or an active supporter of Nazi militarism.”

This meant that Wernher von Braun, Arthur Rudolph, and Hubertus Strughold, who were listed as a “menace to the security of the Allied Forces,” would not be allowed to find new employment in America. The Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency decided these men were of vital importance to the development of the U.S. rocket program, created false employment and political biographies for the scientists and completely destroyed all evidence connecting them to the Nazi war machine.


2. Operation Northwoods: How to Wage War on Cuba

The U.S. government was involved in several crazy conspiracies during the 1950s and 1960s. Operation Northwoods was probably the nuttiest of them all. In 1962, the CIA planned to stage terrorist attacks on American citizens and military targets in Miami and Washington, blame it on the Cuban government and convince the American public to wage war on Cuba, which had, under the direction of Fidel Casto, recently become communist.

The plan involved killing innocent people and soldiers, blowing up U.S. ships and Cuban refugee boats, hijacking airplanes and planting phony evidence to implicate the Cuban Government. Operation Northwoods was authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and presented to the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, before President John F. Kennedy rejected it. Of all of the great things JFK is remembered for, we should be most thankful that he had the power to stop this buffoonery.

1. Bohemian Grove: The Rich, the Powerful, and the Giant Stone Owl

The mysteries surrounding the Bohemian Grove in Mont Rio, California, have been a favorite topic amongst conspiracy theorists for many years. The stories usually involve rich and powerful men meeting in the woods every year where they engage in pagan rituals and worship a giant stone owl. The owl reportedly plays voice recordings of member Walter Cronkite. Sounds pretty kooky right? Well, it turns out that CBS, NBC and ABC have confirmed the existence of the Grove.

The Bohemian Club was formed in 1872 and quickly received attention and funding from wealthy businessmen. In 1942, the Grove hosted a meeting for the Manhattan Project that led to the creation of the atomic bomb. While it’s true that the most powerful men in the world come here and perform strange rituals in front of a giant owl, its mostly just a place for powerful men to behave like drunken frat boys.