Operation Paperclip is the historical inspiration behind Hunters, a television series on Amazon Prime, depicting a ragtag band of Nazi hunters operating in New York in 1977, who discover that hundreds of Nazi war criminals are conspiring to establish a Fourth Reich in the United States. Significantly, the real-world events underpinning Operation Paperclip have fueled conspiracy theories regarding CIA corruption, espionage, and government smokescreens for decades, and continue to influence neo-Nazi recruitment to this day.
Throughout the Second World War, Nazi Germany maintained a particular technological superiority over its adversaries in the creation of chemical weapons and reaction technology, medicine, and aerodynamics and rocketry (the V-1 and V-2). As the Allied forces advanced into Germany during the final stages of World War II, the race was on between the United States and the Soviet Union to seize as many German scientists as possible in anticipation of the Cold War. Through the efforts of a newly formed and highly secretive government organisation, The Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA), Operation Overcast (later renamed Paperclip) was launched; its objective – to recruit and smuggle into the United States 1,600 German engineers and scientists, many of whom had worked for the Third Reich and had been leaders of the Nazi regime.
Notably, President Truman had publicly forbidden the recruitment of anyone who was a member of the Nazi party or was more than a nominal participant in its activities, thus rendering many of the scientists ineligible. To circumvent this restriction, the files of such recruits were altered by the government, and the only evidence of their Nazi past was in the form of the paperclip that had attached their original files to those being whitewashed.
The Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union was a remarkable time in history, when the world’s two superpowers competed bitterly in a series of technological initiatives to demonstrate their superiority in spaceflight. Many of the scientists recruited through Operation Paperclip were instrumental in the United States nuclear and space programmes, of whom probably the most infamous, with ties to the Nazi war machine, was Wernher von Braun, the aeronautics engineer behind one of Germany’s potentially most effective weapons – the V-2 Rocket. Von Braun became an integral part of the United States weapons and space programmes, eventually becoming the director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre and the chief architect behind the Saturn 5 launch vehicle, responsible for sending US astronauts to the moon.
Also contributing to USA space dominance was German physiologist Hubertus Strughold, hailed as the ‘father of modern space medicine’ for designing NASA’s on-board life-support systems. He gained much of his knowledge by conducting experiments on prisoners in concentration camps, where they were placed in low-pressure chambers and frozen, often dying in the process. Perhaps more well-known is Arthur Rudolph, NASA’s project director of the Saturn V moon rocket, who was chief of operations at Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp where 20,000 slave labourers died. Significantly, though Rudolph was much honoured as the lynchpin of the Apollo 11 mission, 21 years later he was arrested for his war crimes, and remains, to this day, the only Nazi to be stripped of his American citizenship and deported.
Further controversy arose in the mid-1970s, when over 20,000 CIA documents became public, detailing covert attempts to develop psychological, biological, chemical, and even radiological procedures to turn both foreign and domestic spies into sleeper agents. During the early stages of the Cold War, the CIA were convinced that communist regimes had discovered drugs and techniques that enabled them to control human minds for intelligence purposes. In response, MK-ULTRA was established, a highly classified project in which the CIA conducted clandestine experiments, sometimes on unwitting subjects, to assess the potential of LSD and other drugs in mind control techniques that could subsequently be used against enemies.
MK-ULTRA was not a single project, but a network of interconnected experiments, the most notable of which were the projects BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE that focused on inducing amnesia to create hypnotic couriers and ‘Manchurian Candidate’ super spies. In addition, BLUEBIRD focused on behaviour modification and hypnosis to prevent agency employees from divulging intelligence to adversaries, and ARTICHOKE on creating post-hypnotic triggers by which sleeper agents could be activated from a state of ignorance about their assignments. As a matter of fact, MK-ULTRA was a continuation of work that had begun in Nazi concentration camps, which explains why the CIA specifically used Operation Paperclip to recruit the scientists for the project. The main contributors were Walter Schreiber, former Surgeon-General of the Third Reich, and Kurt Blome, leader of the Nazi programme to weaponise Bubonic Plague.
False Flags – government-led covert operations designed to deceive the general population that the actions have actually been carried out by other entities, groups, or nations – have long been at the forefront of conspiracy theories concerning government smokescreens. Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Fulgencio Batista’s regime was overthrown, paving the way for Fidel Castro to establish a new communist Cuban government, with close ties to the Soviet Union. To combat what was seen as a threat to the United States, all American intelligence services combined in 1962 to launch Operation Mongoose to depose Castro. The Joint Chiefs of Staff maintained that the most effective way to remove Castro from power would be through military force, but it was recognised that an unwarranted invasion of Cuba would not be supported by the American people, and thus hold disastrous political consequences.
To get the American public on side, Operation Northwoods was proposed: a series of ‘False Flags’, including fabricated terrorist attacks on United States cities, plane hijackings, and the sinking of boats, all being made to appear as though carried out by Cuban operatives. Although Operation Northwoods was immediately rejected by President Kennedy, the fact that the United States government had once considered staging fake terrorist attacks to justify going to war with another country is one that fuels conspiracy theories to this day. Indeed, nearly 40 years later, an event took place on American soil that allegedly bears all the hallmarks of Operation Northwoods – the destruction of the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001.
No conspiracy theory resonates more powerfully with the contemporary political climate than that of Project Monarch, named after the annual migration behaviour of the Monarch butterfly, when millions fly south from the United States to a small area of pine groves in central Mexico. The time it takes for this journey is longer than the butterfly’s lifespan, thus offspring born during the migration know to continue the quest, demonstrating the power of instinct. Scientists have questioned whether there is a genetic memory at work, hardwired in individuals, guiding them toward their destination. The Monarch butterfly has consequently become the symbol of a type of psychological programming that is said to permeate modern society and control millions of people across the world.
Conspiracy theorist Cathy O’Brien maintains that Monarch mind-control is a sub-project of MK-ULTRA combining occult rituals, psychology, and neuroscience to create alter egos within desired subjects. Under Project Monarch, victims, usually young children, are subjected to intense trauma to the point that their minds disassociate from the experience, causing a form of multiple personality disorder, known as Dissociative Identity Disorder. Monarch handlers are subsequently able to mould these disassociated minds into new and controllable personalities. Monarch conspiracies are becoming increasingly intertwined with radical-right propaganda, particularly surrounding the ‘Pizzagate’ scandal: the allegation that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign manager, John Podesta, were involved in an organised criminal network running a human trafficking ring in Washington D.C, involving the sexual exploitation of children.
A major impact of overlapping conspiracy theories, particularly in relation to the radical right, is the powerful psychological destabilising effect they can have on individuals, who become increasingly separated from reality. As a result, affected extremists often view their victims as righteous objects of their anger, and thus act out violently without conscience. The desire for scientific superiority at all costs, demonstrated by ‘Operation Paperclip’, represents the rapidly spinning moral compass of the United States government and intelligence agencies, in turn raising questions regarding national honour and security.
Perhaps even more concerning is that the scientists placed on a pedestal, are not only celebrated in contemporary propaganda, but also play a key part in the revival of support for fascist and National Socialist ideologies. Thus, the most extreme right-wing radicals, operating on forums such as Fascist Forge and Siege Culture, are increasingly focusing on the recruitment of scientists, particularly chemists and geneticists, as well as philosophers, historians, and cybersecurity experts, highlighting the efforts being made by contemporary neo-Nazis to rebrand themselves as an educated elite capable of advancing the fascist worldview.