The 10 Best Wikipedia Conspiracy Theories

Photo: Courtesy of FOX.
Summer’s finally afoot, so what better time to shut yourself indoors and dive down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia conspiracy theories? Really, who needs fresh air anyway? (Ah, we kid. We love the outdoors.)

Dogged conspiracy theorists were much harder to find before Wikipedia. Gone are the days when you had to know which head shops stocked Robert Anton Wilson's tomes on the Illuminati. No longer must you schlep to a sci-fi convention to swap theories with other X-Files-obsessed folks (unless you really want to). Now, all you have to do is fire up the old web browser and succumb to a Wiki vortex of little green men, shadowy government agencies, and other deeply unsettling ideas. Best of all? The extensive links and footnotes on each carefully curated Wiki page will just lead you deeper and deeper into a netherworld of weirdness.

But, you can't just plunge into the deep end and start reading about Satanic ritual abuse or the secret occult leanings of the Nazi party. Or, even how government leaders like George W. Bush are actually blood-drinking lizard people! These 10 conspiracy theories are good starting points for anyone who's ready to peek into creepy — but, you know, not too creepy.

And, remember: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you. 

1. Area 51: Ah, yes, Fox Mulder's home away from home. This is apparently where the government stores and studies alien spaceships and their contents, such as the UFO that supposedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. If you're in the mood for an out-of-this-world road trip, you can even hit up a little restaurant/motel near Area 51 called the Little A'Le'Inn.

2. Illuminati: This is the big mother of government conspiracy theories. The Illuminati was originally your garden-variety secret society when it was founded in Bavaria in the 1700s as a group whose "goals were to oppose superstition, obscurantism, religious influence over public life and abuses of state power" (according to the Wikipedia wizards). Since then, the Illuminati has become conspiracy theorists’ go-to scapegoat for every nefarious cabal they imagine is running the United States government, Hollywood, and even the United Nations. Basically, if you dig deep enough, someone will blame the Illuminati for whatever ails them. You could spend lifetimes learning about the Illuminati or coming up with your own theories — or, in author Dan Brown's case, make a bazillion dollars by writing airport novels about them.

3. COINTELPRO: The FBI's Counter Intelligence Program is not just a conspiracy dreamed up by Wiki editors. J. Edgar Hoover's band of government agents spied and attempted to disrupt the activities of political groups across the board, from the KKK to the Black Panthers. They famously had an eye on Martin Luther King, Jr., who received a mysterious letter urging him to commit suicide. 

4. Shakespeare: Who was Shakespeare? Was he actually some random dude named, uh, Shakespeare, or was he actually Christopher Marlowe or Sir Francis Bacon or — why not? — Gwyneth Paltrow? People who believe someone other than the Bard wrote the approximately 38 plays and 154 sonnets he's credited with even have a fancy name for themselves: the Anti-Stratfordians. They probably get made fun of a lot.
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5. Paul is dead: People were doing a lot of drugs in the '60s. Some of those people came up with a theory that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by someone who looked just like him. The "Paul is dead" conspiracy alleges that the Beatles left clues about Paul's death all over the place, like on the cover of Abbey Road (he's barefoot and out of step with his bandmates! What does it mean?!) or supposed messages embedded in lyrics, such as at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever": Some listeners believe John Lennon murmurs, "I buried Paul." 

6. The moon landing: If you or someone you love remembers July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, you should know that you were watching a collaboration between NASA and director Stanley Kubrick. Yep, some moon landing hoaxers not only believe that the whole lunar expedition was a lie, but that Kubrick was involved and that he left a ton of clues about it in his other movies, as per the documentary Room 237. It's a matryoshka doll of nuttiness. 

7. Crop circles: Sure, "America the Beautiful" may celebrate those waves of grain, but walking around in a field of wheat is spooky. What's spookier? Flying above a field of wheat and noticing all the concentric circle designs that were obviously left there by UFOs or freak weather patterns or faeries or lost and lusty English ladies who are stuck in the past and forced to marry super-hot Scottish dudes.

8. JFK assassination: Buckle up, because this is the type of conspiracy that has consumed people's lives. Did Lee Harvey Oswald kill JFK that November day in Dallas? Did he have accomplices? Was he working for or with someone, like the CIA, the Mob, or even the KGB? When you're done examining the various iterations of the Zapruder film on YouTube, book your trip to Dallas for a complete JFK Assassination tour, which will take you around the Texas School Book Depository, the knoll, and the historic Texas Theater, where Oswald was arrested.

9. Atlantis: At first, the island of Atlantis was just a cool allegory cooked up by Plato, but for one reason or another, folks latched on to the idea of Atlantis as an entire sunken city (or continent even) that was host to everything from the Garden of Eden to a crazy high-tech species of beings called the Atlanteans who flew off into outer space. Or, maybe they were giants. Or, something. The conspiracies about Atlantis have infiltrated pop culture in a major way, from DC Comics' Aquaman to MacGyver.

10. Project MK-Ultra: This super-creepy one isn’t even a theory. It’s a fact. From 1953 until the project was officially disbanded in the mid-'70s, under chemist Sidney Gottlieb, the CIA experimented with slipping acid to unknowing (and definitely non-consenting!) U.S. citizens from all walks of life, from a deputy U.S. marshall to the clients of a San Francisco brothel. As per Gottlieb's obituary, "a mental patient in Kentucky was dosed with LSD continuously for 174 days." Acid was just one form of behavioral modification with which the government was experimenting under MK-Ultra. After you emerge from this Wiki hole, pick up Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stare at Goats. The declassified documents are also quite a trip.
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