6 Wild US Government Conspiracy Theories Explained

Buzz Aldrin, left, and Neil Armstrong, practicing moon rock collection on Earth in April 1969. (NASA)

When it comes to conspiracy theories, the belief that big government would go out of its way to pull off a massive hoax isn’t limited to the lunatic fringe. A lot of people tend to believe in one conspiracy theory or another.

For example, 28% of Americans believe a secret elite power is trying to rule the world. That’s more than 84 million people. This would require more than two million pounds of tinfoil just to make enough hats to keep the Illuminati from reading their minds. That same poll found that 4% of Americans believe that secret elite power is run by shape-shifting reptile aliens.

While it might be fun to joke about the strange beliefs people hold, the pervasive belief in strange conspiracies is actually more reflective of their mistrust in their own government or authority in general. And the most widespread theories about the U.S. government illustrate that mistrust.

1. The U.S. Helped Hitler Escape Germany.

The United States emerged from World War II a completely changed nation. The war effectively ended the Great Depression and ballooned the size of the federal government in ways the American people had never seen. The U.S. suddenly went from a third-rate power to global superpower. It was a lot of change in a short period of time.

Global bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the United Nations were created and headquartered inside the country. The exclusive meetings that established these bodies, like the Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire, are exactly the kind of fodder conspiracy theorists need to get their minds rolling.

So almost as soon as the war ended, Americans were ready to believe the Soviet disinformation that it wasn’t Hitler’s body found outside a Berlin bunker, but that of a body double. American newspapers repeated the assertion, made by Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, and Americans were ready to believe it.

Add in the very real operation to bring hundreds of former Nazi scientists and technicians to the U.S., codenamed Paperclip, and it doesn’t take long to see how a skeptical public could believe Hitler’s survival was engineered by U.S. intelligence. Studies have since shown that the remains discovered by the Red Army were, in fact, Hitler’s.

2. Fluoride in Water Is a Communist Plot.

The debate over forced COVID-19 vaccinations should be a good reminder that Americans do not trust the government when it comes to taking medication. Anyone who’s tried to explain the benefits of a flu shot to their elderly parents have been having this debate for years. Whether water fluoridation is a good or bad thing, the idea of adding fluoride to water supplies started kicking around in the years after -- you guessed it -- World War II.

In the 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove,” Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper suggests that adding fluoride to the water was destroying “our precious bodily fluids” and leaving the U.S. weak and ready for a communist takeover. Ripper was just parroting one of many widely held beliefs about fluoride at the time. Another theory is that fluoride makes Americans apathetic, which if you’ve ever seen anything political in the past 20 years, makes little sense.

3. The CIA Assassinated John F. Kennedy.

Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald. Winner of the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for Photography. (Robert H. Jackson)

The death of President Kennedy and its aftermath had all the makings of a Hollywood-baked conspiracy thriller, and Americans watched it all play out on television. On top of the shocking event itself, justice was never carried out against the man who pulled the trigger as local strip-club owner Jack Ruby fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald during a jail transfer.

Responsibility for JFK’s assassination has been linked to the CIA, Cuba and the KGB, because Oswald earlier had defected to the Soviet Union. Claims of a Russian body double for Oswald forced the government to exhume his body to confirm his identity.

Ruby was known to be involved in the Dallas underworld of racketeering and prostitution, and the Kennedy White House was targeting New York’s mafia families. But even Ruby would be unable to say whether he was silencing Oswald for the KGB or the Mafia, because he died of a pulmonary embolism in jail.

A former KGB officer named Vasili Mitrokhin, who defected to the West, brought with him an archive of secret KGB documents. They revealed the KGB propagated the conspiracy that the CIA was involved, using forged documents made after the assassination.

4. The Moon Landing Was Faked.

Probably the most well-known conspiracy theory in America, short of the Kennedy assassination, is that the moon landing never happened. Some say it was staged on a Hollywood backlot and directed by Stanley Kubrick.

NASA, they say, staged the landings to get increased funding. The U.S. government went along with the hoax for fear of being eclipsed by the Soviet Union’s space program, to accomplish Kennedy’s assertion that the U.S. would land a man on the moon within the decade and to distract the public from the Vietnam War.

All of these reasons have been debunked in some form from actual high-resolution images of the moon landing sites, to congressional hearings to declassified Soviet archives. Why the myth endures is anyone’s guess, but one physicist developed a mathematical model that says it would require a conspiracy of 411,000 people to keep a staged moon landing secret, and that it would have been revealed in fewer than four years anyway.

It probably doesn’t help that NASA accidentally erased all the original tapes of the Apollo 11 mission. And don’t mention it to Buzz Aldrin -- the last time someone tried that, Aldrin punched him in the face.

5. ‘Chemtrails’ Are Used to Control the Population.

(U.S. Air Force)

When jet aircraft reach cruising altitude, the combination of temperature, exhaust particles and water vapor can form condensation trails in straight lines behind the jet engines. These are known as “contrails.” Depending on the humidity, they usually dissipate in minutes to hours after forming, according to the FAA.

The Chemtrail conspiracy posits that some of these trails aren’t water vapor at all, but top-secret chemicals used by the federal government on Americans to some nefarious effect. These chemical trails are said to be anything from mind-control agents to weather and even population control.

It first emerged after the U.S. Air Force was accused of forming bizarre contrail patterns, which some believed were spraying Americans with unknown substances. The accusation was linked to a USAF paper called “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025,” which basically discussed weather manipulation scenarios in wartime.

The U.S. already experimented with wartime weather modification in the Vietnam War with Operation Popeye, which led to the 1977 Environmental Modification Convention in Geneva, outlawing its use in combat. The Air Force paper was purely speculative. Subsequent government investigations by the FAA, EPA, NASA and NOAA found that there are no such things as “chemtrails.”

6. Birds Aren’t Real.

By far, the most outlandish conspiracy on the list is the idea that all birds have been systematically exterminated and replaced with exact-replica drones. The Birds Aren’t Real movement says it's been around since 1976. Like many great conspiracy theories, it brings together many other theories to form a grand, unified theory of government surveillance, “Birds Aren’t Real.”

The CIA used poison gases (chemtrails) to kill off all live birds in the country in an operation called “Water the Country.” They then were replaced with drones built at Area 51 to watch people and monitor their behavior. They believe Kennedy was assassinated because he refused to implement the bird watching program. The engineers who built the birds were sent to Vietnam and were captured by the Viet Cong.

(Ismael Olea)

In the past few years, “Bird Brigades” have popped up in six cities to form a movement to inform the American people about their avian overseers.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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