When I was younger, I was prone to conspiracy theories. For a while, it must have been in my mid-twenties, I did some fair amount of research into the various Kennedy assassination theories. Was it the Cubans angry about the Bay of Pigs invasion? Was it the Soviets sending in their Manchurian candidate sleeper agent? Was it the Mafia, killing John to send a message to Bobby to get off their back? Or, was it (Oliver Stone’s favorite) LBJ and the military industrial complex knocking him off so that they could drop some Agent Orange on those pesky Viet Cong?
As you read, you get deeper and deeper into the theory and you start getting caught up in the labyrinth of interlocking, contradictory theories that insiders debate endlessly. What’s up with the Magic Bullet? Who’s buried in Oswald’s grave? Who’s the Babushka Lady? The three tramps? The Umbrella man?
At some point, if you’re a reasonable person, you hit a point of no return. In my case, it could very well have been the Coca-Cola theory. IIRC, this is that Oswald was so addicted to refined sugar that he suffered severe impairment, which somehow caused him to assassinate JFK and then not remembering the act.
You emerge, blinking uncertainly back into the bright light of reality, slightly abashed and ashamed that you just dedicated some not insignificant amount of brain cells to this endeavor.
The fact is, IMHO, there are seldom conspiracies. I work for a very large company (>150,000 employees) and large entities like that just don’t lend themselves well to conspiracies. I’ve seen multiple things at work that, from the outside, could very well look like some nefarious plot of evil genius, but when exposed to the sunlight, they are the usual acts of unqualified people feebly trying to figure something out that is unimaginably complex to them.
So, my policy, for many years, is to never assume evil any act that can be explained by stupidity. I’ve taken off my tin foil hat and have placed it up in the high reaches of my closet shelf.
But every now and then…
Way back in the 1980’s, there was serious concern about the antics of the Reagan administration. I’m no fan of Reagan. Various wild eye conspiracy theories surrounded his terms, specifically in his relationships to minorities, who he pretty clearly had very little sympathy for and in fact, as Governor of California, used his strong arm stance against the ‘inner city hoodlums’ as a platform to national prominence.
However, there were rumors that the CIA invented AIDS to kill the black population. There were wild claims that the CIA funded/supported the crack epidemic, again target primarily against black people.
The CIA involved with the drug scourge of the 1980’s and 1990’s? That has to be crazy, right?
Well, let’s step back into the way back machine and talk about this.
The Reagan administration had a couple of problems. One problem was that there was a group called Hezbollah that was kidnapping Americans and holding them for hostages, sometimes for years. This was completely unacceptable to the macho posturing of Reagan; what’s up with this little collection of ragtag terrorists having the gall to hold American hostages?
The problem was that the hostages were being kept separately deep in the heart of Beirut. No westerners knew where they were. The American had no contacts within Hezbollah, so they were stymied.
However, the Hezbollah unofficial sponsor was Iran. Maybe America could somehow use Iran to assert some leverage upon their client and get the hostages freed? Unfortunately, America and Iran had no diplomatic relationship, so it was not obvious how do to this.
That’s problem number one. Problem number two was that Nicaragua was being ruled by the Sandinistas. They were a left wing government with some ties to Castro. Therefore, there was a commie government at our proverbial back door! This could not stand!
Luckily, there was another group in Honduras, called the Contras, who wanted to overthrow the Sandinistas. The Reagan administration desperately wanted to provide them money and weaponry so that the scourge of the Sandinistas could be destroyed and the Americas could be free from the threat of communism.
However, politics were murky in Central America. For the same reason as supporting the Contras, America also supported El Salvador, which was known for such lovely things as death squads and raping / murdering American nuns.
Congress, disgusted at acts such as these, passed the Boland Amendment. This Amendment explicitly disallowed spending any funds at all towards the Contras.
How to resolve these two big problems? Wouldn’t it be cool if there was some way we could solve both at the same time?
And away we go…
Iran was in the middle of an intense war with Iraq. They desperately needed military equipment. Since America had actually essentially built the Shah’s military force before he had fallen, the Iranians specifically had a need for American military equipment.
Through insanely deep back channels, America made contact with Iran. Would they be willing to purchase American military spares, and also, as a price for allowing the purchase, would they also be willing to put pressure upon Hezbollah to release hostages?
Remember, during all of this time, Reagan was boasting that he would never negotiate with kidnappers and that America had put Iran on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
Well, the Iranians, as a matter of fact, were interested. America sold some of its military spares (apparently it was considered pretty low quality stuff) to the Iranians for a huge sum of money. Apparently, at least in the beginning, in case this wasn’t crazy enough, Israel served as the middle man in this arrangement. Yes, the Israelis helped to close an arms deal with a country sworn to destroy them.
The Reagan administration then used the excess funds from this deal to fund the Contras. The fig leaf of legality here is that since this deal was run from the National Security Council (?!), that somehow the Boland Amendment did not apply. Few constitutional scholars agree.
Eventually, some hostages were freed. As more hostages were freed, additional arm sales proceeded.
So, to sum up, to free up a couple American hostages, America sold military supplies to a state sponsor of terrorism so that it could provide additional money and arms to a rebel force that it explicitly was prohibited to aid.
But wait, there’s more.
Those wonderful freedom fighters, the Contras, were part of a cocaine distribution network.
Ever in need of money, the Contras looked to establish a network in California. The CIA leaned upon the DEA to grant amnesty to Contra figures so that the network could be set up. A shadowy operative named Blandon set up a network with Freeway Rick Ross. They took the pure cocaine, converted it to the much cheaper crack, and an epidemic was born.
A journalist named Gary Webb exposed all of this. For his work, he was hounded out of his job. In fact, instead of supporting a fellow journalist, the LA Times literally hired a team of reporters, not to get to the root of all of this, but to discredit Gary Webb (and no, I’m not making this up; eventually the LA Times apologized publicly for this action).
Ultimately, Gary Webb committed suicide.
There’s some controversy in what I’ve just written, but honestly, not a lot.
A very real argument can be made that the administration of Ronald Reagan, the president that still today has a significant percentage of Americans wanting to make him the fucking fifth face on Mt Rushmore, had a huge role in causing the crack epidemic that wreaked untold havoc on an entire generation of Black Americans.
Still, I stand by my statement that most conspiracies are usually the act of stupid people blindly trying to discover a way through an unimaginably complex problem.
But Jesus Fucking Christ, don’t be throwing out that tin foil hat quite yet.