The Real-Life Conspiracy Theories Behind ‘Stranger Things’
The truth is out there and the government’s covering it up.
The “Stranger Things” season two trailer is here with more 1980s callouts than ever. But the real-life inspiration for the show goes much deeper than “Ghostbusters.” In fact, the entire series has its basis in widely believed conspiracy theories like the The Philadelphia Project, The Montauk Project and MK-ULTRA.
“Stranger Things” creators, the Duffer Brothers, originally sold the show to Netflix with the working title “Montauk,” so let’s start there.
The Montauk Project & the monster
Rumor has it the government experimented with psychological warfare capabilities at Camp Hero in Montauk, a town on the very tip of Long Island. Speculation took off in the mid-1980s when a man named Preston Nichols wrote a series of books detailing the experiments and his role in them. Due to the books’ popularity, many other alleged participants came forward, including a man named Al Bielek.
Bielek claimed he was actually born as Edward Cameron and he and his brother, Duncan, were subjects of the Camp Hero experiments in the 1970s and 80s. Bielek explained that Duncan possessed extreme psychic powers that were tested and strengthened in the “Montauk Chair,” a piece of furniture that enhanced Duncan’s powers.
After a few years, the brothers were fed up and decided to escape. Bielek says Duncan released a huge, hairy monster from his subconscious (sounds familiar, right!?) that ran loose in Montauk, eating anything it could find and scarring anyone who laid eyes on it.
In order to destroy the monster, they destroyed all the equipment that powered the Montauk Chair. The project was shut down, participants brainwashed and the underground facilities covered with cement.
The Montauk Project serves as fairly spot-on inspiration for the psychological testing at Hawkins Lab, but the Duffer Brothers didn’t stop there. Many fans speculate that the MK-ULTRA project also inspired the Duffers.
MK-ULTRA & mind control
These experiments ran from the 1950s into the early 70s on an enormous scale: The government spent more than $20 million. The goal? To find a “truth serum” of sorts, using a combination of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD. The supposed purpose was to use these mind-controlling methods on enemies during the Cold War, though the project’s precise intent is hard to come by considering the CIA destroyed nearly all of the project’s records in 1973.
A subproject of MK-ULTRA even involved experiments with sensory deprivation tanks like the makeshift one the “Stranger Things” gang makes for Eleven. Many of the patients participated completely unknowingly, believing they were receiving treatment from neuroscientists for anxiety and other mental health concerns.
The Stargate Project & telepathy
This project supposedly deals with further government research into telepathy.
The experiments seem eerily similar to the last test Eleven underwent in the sensory deprivation tank before creating the portal:
When a Stargate subject held someone’s personal object, they could become that person — seeing what they saw, hearing what they heard and even feeling what they felt.
Supposedly, the project also hired a psychic headhunter to recruit possible candidates for the study. Stargate loosely inspired the 2009 movie “The Men Who Stare At Goats” (itself based on a book) about—you guessed it—men who stare at goats in an attempt to kill them with their minds. Hmm, sounds like the experiment Dr. Brenner asked Eleven to carry out with a cat at Hawkins Lab.
The Philadelphia Experiment & the portal
The Duffer Brothers may also have borrowed a conspiracy-based explanation for how the portal to the Upside Down could actually exist.
Al Bielek (aka Edward Cameron aka participant in The Montauk Project) said that sometime in the 1940s, Nikola Tesla discovered a way to make ships invisible. That process was applied to the U.S.S. Eldridge, where he and his brother (aka Duncan Cameron aka psychic monster-creator) worked.
Supposedly the process of making the ship invisible created a time wormhole into the future. (Sounds pretty similar to Mr. Clarke’s explanation about how the gate to the Upside Down works, right?)
Bielek said that when this portal was created, the U.S.S. Eldridge was sucked in. When he and his brother (Duncan) jumped off the ship, they ended up on the shores of Montauk, 40 years in the future. In other words, it was the early 1980s—when the brothers became subjects of the Camp Hero experiments.
Conspiracies to come
This glimpse into season two seems to show Will receiving some sort of care after his exposure to the Upside Down, with HAWKINS LAB STAFF watching the feed. Does that mean he’s been manipulated into psychological testing, too?
The Duffer Brothers said the first episode of season two will open outside Hawkins, Indiana — perhaps on a trip to the town that inspired them, Montauk? Or perhaps they’ll take on another conspiracy completely — Area 51, anyone? After all, Bielek and other conspiracy theorists maintain that projects like Montauk, MK-ULTRA and Stargate are still occurring today. Strange things, indeed.