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Why Real Clandestine History Makes Conspiracies Plausible, According To MK Ultra Star Anson Mount - Exclusive

The CIA's highly illegal Project MK-Ultra was easily one of the darker chapters of modern United States history. It was a secretive project that used a wide array of methods against U.S. and Canadian citizens in the hopes of developing more effective interrogation techniques. Most notoriously, one of the methods employed was the administration of mind-altering drugs in order to manipulate human behavior. It was a horrendous betrayal of the U.S. citizenry and a major example of a proven historical conspiracy.

In a new interview with Looper, "MK Ultra" star Anson Mount discussed the impact of real conspiracies like this event: Real clandestine events like this impact other kinds of conspiracy theories' ability to insidiously embed themselves in society. The fact that projects like this or the Tuskegee syphilis experiment verifiably happened makes the existence of other conspiracies, even the most outlandish, sound more potentially plausible than they otherwise might. From reptilian aliens to the notion that the world's a simulation to the hypothesis that birds aren't real, experiments like those of Project MK-Ultra create a blank check for conspiracy thinking.

Real conspiracies fuel conspiracy thinking

During our conversation, Anson Mount discussed his longstanding interest in stories of the goings-on behind the curtain. "There's something I've always been fascinated by," he explained. In both fiction and nonfiction, he's drawn to "stories about the structure underlying what we think is the structure [of things]," the truth behind the appearance of what is. 

That instinct has a number of positive outcomes, from fueling the scientific method to inspiring some spectacular stories. Unfortunately, "That's really the stuff of conspiracy theories as well, [and] this idea that what you see on the surface of things is not reality — that there's a deeper structure that is actually running stuff." That's a fair point, regrettably.

While Mount noted that "there are some of the crazier [theories] that [are like] 'There's a microchip in everybody's brain,'" it's also worth noting, he reminded us, that "these things don't come out of nowhere ... at least, in the United States." Conspiracies take so well on U.S. soil because "we do have a not-so-squeaky-clean history of real conspiracies, of acting like the proverbial machine that does not care about its cogs." That element rears its ugly head in Project MK-Ultra, as demonstrated well in the film itself: When you have a government that clearly viewed its citizens like objects to be used toward some nefarious goal, it's more than slightly harder to trust the powers that be.

"MK Ultra" is available in select theaters and on VOD.