In Image Comics’ The Department of Truth #16, by James Tynion IV and Alison Sampson, we learn about a very real conspiracy perpetrated by the CIA, that took place in the U.S. and abroad for 20 years, from 1953 to 1973. MK-Ultra was intended to achieve mind control, create “Manchurian candidates,” and other nefarious ends. The program often used torture, dosed unwitting and unknowing people with LSD, and utilized other forms of psychological manipulation. In the end, MK-Ultra achieved little more than driving some folks insane.
The entirety of this issue revolves around a trippy, hallucination-fueled conversation between Lee Harvey Oswald, the future director of the Department of Truth, and a mostly naked woman. As the two talk, it becomes clear that Lee has been dosed by the woman. This of course is a reference to Operation Midnight Climax, a sub-project of MK-Ultra, during which the CIA hired sex workers to dose unwitting subjects. Some of the CIA operatives would watch the ensuing mayhem from behind a mirror.
One of the most interesting and tangential references in Department of Truth #16 is Lee’s discussion about a (paranormal? ufological?) entity named Indrid Cold, who was introduced in the previous issue. Indrid Cold, sometimes called the “Smiling Man,” has been associated with Mothman and Men in Black lore.
What does that have to do with MK-Ultra? John Keel, author of The Mothman Prophesies and popularizer of the Indrid Cold legend, has described secondhand accounts of Men in Black witnesses who claimed to have had a powder or gas blown into their faces, or been given strange cigarettes. These were actually some of the less delicate methods of LSD delivery used by MK-Ultra. Keel never seemed to make the connection that supposed Men in Black encounters like these (if they actually occurred) could have been reported by unwitting participants in MK-Ultra.
At one point, the woman asks Lee if he believes in “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.” This was the catchphrase of psychologist Timothy Leary, who claimed his place in history by being one of the biggest acid gurus in American culture. Leary was also part of the Harvard Psilocybin Project with author Aldous Huxley. Unlike MK-Ultra, these experiments were voluntary, and utilized a chemical compound found in some species of mushrooms.
And let’s not forget the very real connection between Oswald and MK-Ultra: his broad daylight assassination by Jack Ruby opened a treasure chest of ready-made conspiracy theories. Ruby’s psychiatrist in jail was Dr. Jolyon “Jolly” West, one of the biggest players in MK-Ultra. Conspiracy theorists point to Ruby’s supposed lack of memory of the shooting as mind control. Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, reported a similar lapse in memory.
Lee also mentions the assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., all of which were later used to fuel conspiracy theories revolving around COINTELPRO, another illegal government operation, this time conducted by the FBI, from 1956 to 1971. COINTELPRO (“Counter Intelligence Program”) was designed to “disrupt” groups and people the FBI deemed “subversive,” like the Ku Klux Klan, the communists, and King, who COINTELPRO tried to blackmail into committing suicide.
Though MK-Ultra ultimately failed in its bizarre goals, its echoes ring to this day. The concept of mind-controlled “Manchurian candidates” has become part of almost every mass shooting event since the program came to light in 1975. Conspiracy theorists claim that the majority of these shootings are “false flags” conducted by the government as justification to disarm private citizens.
Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture, and skepticism *OF* pop culture.
AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.
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