Stranger Things has more links to reality: the secret experiments behind the show

Here’s the true story behind Project MKUltra, a CIA operation that serves as part of the Stranger Things storyline.

The sci-fi series, created by the Duffer Brothers, first debuted in 2016. After emerging as a hit, viewership grew, making it one of the most popular Netflix series in the service’s history. The cast and crew are currently enjoying the success generated by the show’s fourth season.

Although it faced delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, the show enjoyed real success.

When Stranger Things began, the story took place in 1983 and followed the disappearance of a boy named Will Byers. At the center of the show was Eleven, a mysterious girl with psychokinetic abilities. As time went on, more was discovered about Eleven’s past, including her connection to a local lab that was involved in dangerous experiments. Their actions would breach a breach, threatening the lives of the town’s residents for years to come.

The Duffer Brothers may have taken a fictional approach with Stranger Things, but there are certain aspects of history mixed into the narrative. Aside from the supernatural elements, there’s a lingering conflict with the Soviet Union, as well as US government cover-ups. The presence of Project MKUltra might be the most compelling historical element woven into the plot. While the operation might seem bizarre, it has very real ties to the CIA and some of the government’s biggest secrets.

Project MKUltra explained

Project MKUltra, or MK-Ultra, was essentially a secret mind control program run by the CIA.

The covert operation began in 1953 as a way to develop techniques to gain an advantage over enemies during the Cold War. Through human experimentation, the CIA was trying to find ways to force enemies to share secret information using mind control methods. Many aspects of Project MKUltra were illegal, including the use of unwilling test subjects from the US and Canada. Experimentation was conducted at over 80 institutions across the country, including universities, hospitals and prisons. Some of the operation’s files were destroyed by the CIA director amid the Watergate scandal, but key information was not made public until 2001.

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Project MKUltra was a continuation of experiments begun during World War II in Japanese institutions and Nazi concentration camps. According to CIA documents, the operation focused on chemical, biological and radiological methods of mind control.

To test the mental states and brain functions of the subjects, they were exposed to high doses of psychoactive drugs such as LSD. Many participants were even dosed without their knowledge and then interrogated to see if they would reveal secrets. Test subjects also underwent sensory deprivation, hypnosis, electroshock, abuse and other forms of torture.

Large-scale experimentation with the drugs carried special code names such as Project Bluebird and Operation Midnight Climax.

If you haven’t seen Stranger Things be warned that below are spoilers related to the show.

How MKUltra fits into Stranger Things

The MKUltra project took decades to complete, allowing the covert operation to be a major focus for Stranger Things and the show’s novels and comics. Hawkins National Laboratory was one of the institutions that took part in the project under the direction of Dr. Martin Brenner. Based on flashbacks from the show, Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives, volunteered to participate in Project MKUltra. During the experiment, Terry was subjected to psychedelic drug treatment and sensory deprivation, just like the program’s real-life “volunteers.” She was unknowingly pregnant, but Dr. Brenner kidnapped the baby and the birth was covered up.

The child, Jane, was born with telepathic and telekinetic abilities due to her mother’s exposure to LSD. Jane was renamed “011” (Eleven) and became a member of a new operation, Project Indigo. Dr. Brenner took full control of the children born to Project MKUltra test subjects, as well as other children exhibiting special powers, to train them with their abilities. These other test subjects were also exposed to a pool of sensory deprivation and other forms of abuse. At one point, Terry returned to retrieve his daughter, but the woman was subjected to electroshock therapy, leaving her in a catatonic state.

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What happened to MKUltra

The MKUltra project lasted 20 years before officially ending in 1973. Aspects of the operation were made public two years later, but with so many documents destroyed, it was impossible to learn the full scope of the project. The existence of Project MKUltra became the focus of a Senate hearing in 1977, when the CIA declassified nearly 20,000 pages of documents that had not been destroyed. The documents revealed financial information but there were few details about the project itself.

At the peak of Project MKUltra, thousands of people were used for experimentation. Some died as a result, but the CIA would cover up any connections. Due to a lack of evidence and subsequent research, it was never known how many people would have died as a result of their participation. Even though the project stopped in the early 1970s, some investigators believed the CIA continued its mind control efforts in a new program. There is even some belief that similar experiments continue today.

The other real-life event that inspired strange things

When developing Stranger Things, the Duffer brothers used a handful of real-life conspiracy theories and secret government experiments as inspiration. In addition to Project MKUltra, the duo did a lot of research on Project Montauk, a conspiracy theory that suggested certain government projects took place in Montauk, New York. The projects were aimed at developing psychological warfare methods and researching time travel, teleportation and mind control.

When Stranger Things was still in its early stages, the working title was Montauk. Rather than the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, the series was to be set in Montauk with an emphasis on supernatural elements in 1980.

Later, the creators altered the setting but kept the main theme intact, with a strong inclusion of questionable scientific experiments.

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