Mythical creatures. Alien autopsies. Secret societies. Mind-control laboratories.
These are but a sample of the strange and fascinating conspiracy theories that have captured the attention of the American people over the years. Ever the point of contention, many of them could shake the very foundation of our belief system if proven true.
Below are twelve of the most popular conspiracy theories. Some are quite convincing, while others are downright laughable. Which ones will you believe?
12. Flathead Lake Monster
The Loch Ness Monster has captured the interest of Scottish locals and tourists alike for decades, but there are not many people who know that the United States has their own mythical sea beast: the Flathead Lake Monster of Montana. It is often described as being an eel-like creature with fins, blue-black skin, and steely eyes. Those that have supposedly seen the thing clock it in at forty feet, but naysayers are adamant that it is only a large fish no more than ten feet long. Regardless, the first sighting was in 1889 by Captain James Kerr and a steamboat full of passengers, but since, there have been approximately 109 sightings of the beast.
11. Mount Rushmore
With construction starting in 1927, it took fourteen years before Mount Rushmore was open to the public, but even then, it was not finished. In addition to wanting to depict Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln from the waist-up, sculptor Gutzon Borglum intended to built a massive chamber behind the monument. Accessed by an 800-foot granite staircase, this chamber was supposed to house America’s most prized historical documents and artifacts, including the Declaration of Independence. Construction on the chamber had begun, but it remains mostly incomplete because all funds were eventually funnelled into the war effort. While it does not contain the Declaration of Independence, many conspiracy theorists believe that the government is using the chamber to store the nation’s secrets, such as untold treasures or even alien bodies.
Thanks to blurry photographs and video footage, few people are unfamiliar with the ape-like creature Bigfoot who skulks about on two legs in forested areas. The original concept dates back to 1958 when a man left suspicious footprints as a prank near Bluff Creek in Northern California, but conspiracy theorists have recently flagged Washington State as its home. According to reports, there have been over 2,000 sightings of Bigfoot in the Evergreen State alone, the most recent being from January 2020. Some people believe he is a ferocious beast that should be avoided, while others think he wants to live a quiet life in isolation.
9. Truman Capote and To Kill a Mockingbird
Authors Truman Capote and Harper Lee grew up as childhood friends in Monroeville, Alabama. The former went on to write Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Cold Blood, and a handful of other stories throughout his illustrious career. Up until the 2015 release of Go Set a Watchman, the latter only wrote one: 1960’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s only literary work won her a Pulitzer Prize, which supposedly planted the seed of jealousy within Capote who began distancing himself from her. This prompted many literary conspiracy theorists to speculate whether Capote was the actual author of To Kill a Mockingbird. In their opinion, why would such a talented individual write one book—later two—only to effectively cut herself off from society after it earned her so many accolades?
8. John F. Kennedy and the Umbrella Man
Most theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy involve the possibility of an accomplice to Lee Harvey Oswald. One of the most popular stems from video footage of a mysterious figure holding a black umbrella along the motorcade’s route in Dallas on that fateful day. Some theorists claim that the opening of the umbrella was a signal to Oswald that the president was approaching. Others argue that he paralyzed JFK via a poison dart, making him an easier target. In 1978, the man was identified as Louie Steven Witt. He explained that he had sported the umbrella as a criticism against patriarch Joseph Kennedy who had supported British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain, who frequently carried an umbrella as an accessory, had appeased Hitler for much of the 1930s.
7. Area 51
Is there intelligent life out there? Until 2013, the American government had never publicly acknowledged the existence of Area 51, a military base located deep in the Nevada desert. Because of this denial, many people believe that it is a secret research station where scientists are performing experiments on extra-terrestrial beings. One of the main sources of inspiration behind this theory is a 1947 weather balloon crash in Roswell, New Mexico which—thanks to flashy headlines—is often viewed as a cover-up for a UFO landing. In reality, as far as the government claims, Area 51 is a base for testing experimental aircraft for the United States military.
6. The Moon Landing
When footage was released of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag in the moon in 1969, many conspiracy theorists claimed it was a fake production made on a secret Hollywood filmset or in Area 51. According to naysayers, the flag’s movement indicates the presence of wind which should be impossible in the vacuum of space. Others claim that the footage was shot by famed director Stanley Kubrick, whose 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey had looked just as believable. While the hoax is not as widely believed today, it has carved out a place in pop culture, being referenced in such works as James Bond, the X-Files, and even Family Guy.
5. The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex
During the Cold War, the United States government approved the construction of the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in North Dakota, a military facility designed to detect incoming Soviet missiles. The main building is shaped like a pyramid and cost up to $500 million. The complex became a place of interest to conspiracy theorists when it opened on October 1, 1975 and then promptly shut down the very next day. In operation for only 24 hours, people began to wonder exactly why it had been built in the first place. Because of the pyramid-shaped building, many suspect it is the headquarters for the Illuminati, a secret historical society that has been greatly fictionalized over the years.
4. Snapple and the Ku Klux Klan
For over forty years, Snapple has offered parched picnickers a wonderful selection of iced teas and juices, but in 1992, rumors began swirling about the company’s possible secret ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Such rumors started because their label for raspberry flavored iced tea featured a miniature “K” above what looks suspiciously like a slave ship. Snapple’s three co-founders adamantly denied the connection, explaining that the letter stood for “kosher” and that the ship was taken from a drawing of the Boston Tea Party. Despite the clarification, many skeptics still buy into the conspiracy.
3. Alaskan Mind-Control Lab
Since its establishment in 1993, the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) has been the subject of many conspiracy theories. Nestled in an Alaskan mountain range, some people think it caused the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia, while others believe it is a giant device with the power to manipulate the weather. With over 180 antennas, the most popular theory is that it is a secret government mind-control facility. In actuality, HAARP is a laboratory that allows scientists to study the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Researchers have recently allowed the public to enter the facility to show that there is nothing sinister going on.
2. Tupac is Alive
One of the most popular conspiracy theories in pop culture revolves around the fate of Tupac Shakur, an influential American rapper. On September 7, 1996, he was in Las Vegas to see a Mike Tyson boxing match when he died as a result of a drive-by shooting. He was only 25 years old. One theory, however, suggests that Tupac is not dead. After learning about a plot against his life, Tupac planted a double in his BMW with help from his bodyguard and fled to New Mexico by helicopter where he gained sanctuary among the local Navajo people. Since then, many of his devoted fans have claimed to have seen the rapper in Cuba and South Africa.
1. 9/11 and the Twin Towers
On September 11, 2001, two hijacked airplanes—American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175—flew into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. There are a handful of conspiracy theorists who believe that George W. Bush and his administration orchestrated the whole attack as an excuse to declare the War on Terror on the Islamic world just five days later. In their minds, the United States government is responsible for the near 3,000 fatalities. Many of these individuals claim that the devastation was exacerbated by hidden bombs planted in the towers, which caused approximately sixteen percent of the damage.