In the winter of 1692, the isolated Puritan community of Salem, Mass., was horrified to witness young girls from its best families suffering agonizing and uncontrollable fits. During these seizures, the girls professed visitations by otherworldly apparitions and seemed to suffer violent assaults from an unseen tormenter.
These days, scholars have floated various possible medical causes for the girls’ affliction. But centuries later, mass hysteria remains the simplest and most widely accepted explanation. This explanation is supported by the contemporary account of John Hale, a prominent Puritan minister, who presided over the trials and chronicled the events leading up to them.
Hale explained that an Amerindian slave named Tituba used to entertain the girls with lively tales of witchcraft and occult lore. One of the girls later confessed that she and her friends had even dabbled in divination in hopes of learning who their future husbands would be. The girls apparently panicked when one of them received a vision of a coffin instead. It wasn’t long before the “hex” spread to other girls in Salem and beyond.
The girls, encouraged by their elders no doubt, went on to accuse hundreds of people in the local area. The trials that followed were obscene by any modern standard of jurisprudence. The proceedings were quickly weaponized by the notoriously fractious and quarrelsome Salemites to settle old scores, gain footholds in land disputes and target local undesirables. Based on “evidence” that no court would admit today, and which many citizens denounced at the time, 30 people were convicted of witchcraft and 19 were executed.
The lessons of the Salem Witch trials have long cautioned us against zealotry, prejudice, and paranoia. But even 300 years later, we remain vulnerable to the same pitfalls that led the Puritans astray.
The Havana Syndrome
Since its first appearance in Cuba in 2016, the Havana Syndrome has received increasing attention both in the press and in governmental circles. To date, there have been over 200 reports of Havana Syndrome cases among U.S. diplomatic and military personnel in over a dozen countries. The symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headaches, and disorientation. Most victims report hearing a piercing “directional” noise, which they can sometimes step into and out of by moving behind barriers. Some have suffered long-term neurological damage including headaches, memory problems, and “cognitive fog”.
For two successive administrations, the official U.S. government position has been that the Havana Syndrome is a real affliction with unknown external causes. A necessary pillar of this position is that a foreign government, hostile to U.S. interests, is somehow behind it. And yet no one can really say who, or how.
When covering the Havana Syndrome, the media almost unfailingly mention a study by the National Academy of Sciences from last year. That study concluded that the observed symptoms were most likely the result of a directed energy pulse. The authors further speculate that the source of this pulse was some sort of “microwave weapon”, though they can provide few details.
By the way, this NAS report which the State Department always cites as validation of an “enemy action” explanation for the Havana Syndrome was commissioned by … the State Department.
Or is it crickets?
Scientists who have independently reviewed the NAS study have found it deeply flawed. In short, its premise is faulty, its supporting sources are either outdated or disproven, its evidence is nearly non-existent, and its conclusions are decidedly inconclusive. Even one of the study’s own authors admits the group had little confidence in its findings (listen from 8:10 onward). Crucially, the study dismisses the most straightforward explanation that accounts for every aspect of the phenomenon: mass hysteria.
Moreover, another study from 2018 concluded that the mysterious noise recorded by one of the Havana victims was, in fact, the call of a cricket. (Here’s the sound recorded in Havana, and here are some audio clips of the Indies short-tail cricket). The authors even account for some of the unusual features of the described attacks. For example, the experience of being able to “move in and out” of the noise could indicate that the victim startled the cricket into silence with their sudden movement. This study also concluded that mass hysteria was the most likely explanation for the victims’ symptoms.
The NAS study basically fails every test of scientific rigor. Nevertheless, the State Department has selectively dismissed any studies pointing to the more plausible explanation of mass hysteria. This may be because mass hysteria comes with an unusually high degree of stigma for its sufferers. It’s assumed that only the ignorant, weak-willed or weak-minded can suffer from a delusion. Hence, while it’s easy to believe that children in a culturally backward community could suffer from such a malady, it’s more difficult to accept in the case of people with high-level diplomatic postings. But the truth is that all kinds of people can suffer from mass hysteria, including educated professionals in high-stress jobs.
The Ramirez Case
The events surrounding the 1994 death of Gloria Ramirez illustrate this perfectly. Ramirez was a 31-year-old cancer patient in Riverside, California. I won’t go into exhaustive detail about the case, but anyone interested in medical mysteries can read about it here.
To give the shortest possible version, Ramirez was rushed to Riverside General Hospital in late-stage kidney failure. Several of the ER staff attending Ramirez were overcome by “fumes” emanating from her blood. A general panic ensued, during which several other staff also collapsed, many of whom had no contact with Ramirez.
The first thorough scientific investigation of the incident concluded that the staff had experienced mass hysteria. Unsurprisingly, this explanation did not please the staff. Fearing bad press and possible professional consequences for the afflicted, the Riverside Coroner’s Office sought a second opinion from a federal laboratory called Livermore. And Livermore duly produced a theory that was more palatable, but also infinitely more convoluted.
Livermore’s explanation was entirely speculative and remains a matter of intense scientific debate to this day. The theory assumes a chain of events that is unverifiable, leading to a series of chemical reactions which many experts consider improbable. It also fails to explain how the ER staff who’d had no contact with Ramirez became afflicted. In many respects, Livermore’s theory is not dissimilar to the infamous “Magic Bullet” theory surrounding the JFK assassination.
Regardless, Livermore’s theory became the accepted version of events. For those involved, it was preferable to accept a speculative and unprovable theory, rather than admit the possibility that a group of highly trained professional people could fall victim to a delusion. But to imprecisely paraphrase the principle of Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is most often the correct one.
Fake syndrome, real victims
While some of the proposed causes of Havana Syndrome may be fanciful, the consequences for its sufferers are very real, as you can see in this video report. It is worth considering that most Havana Syndrome victims have jobs that place them in stressful situations among unfamiliar surroundings.
Imagine you are a U.S. diplomat in China, for example. Your job requires you to live and work among people who may be hostile to your mere presence. You take for granted that your most personal and banal conversations are being monitored and that your every movement is being shadowed. You’re a high-value target for anyone looking to make a political point or collect a hefty ransom.
Now imagine that your superiors have alerted you about an undetectable weapon with the power to rob you of your senses with the flick of a switch. The weapon can strike anytime, anywhere. You’re not safe at work, at home, getting groceries, or even behind the wheel of your car. Suddenly, every unusual or unfamiliar sound or sensation could become a sign that you are under attack.
An already stressful existence becomes absolutely terrifying. You live in daily horror of the unknown, the unseen, the inescapable. All of this produces heightened levels of stress, which is a proven killer. We all know that stress can manifest a variety of adverse physical symptoms. Prolonged stress can even cause chemical and neurological changes in the brain, with lasting or even permanent consequences.
By perpetuating the Havana Syndrome panic, the Pentagon and State Department are, intentionally or not, perpetrating psychological warfare on their own personnel. The more they feed into this delusion, the more people will fall victim to it and the greater the disservice to the victims.
The devils we know
One may well ask why the government would perpetuate the Havana Hoax, despite the lack of evidence. The most benign answer is that, like the Riverside Coroner’s Office, they want to spare their employees the humiliation of invalidation. Even if well-intentioned, officials are only exacerbating the problem by ignoring the science.
The more nefarious answer is that, like the Salemites, they are using these events to further their own interests. In this case, of course, I mean geopolitical interests. It’s easy to demonize an enemy that deploys such a uniquely vicious and, by virtue of its invisibility, cowardly weapon.
The most wondrous thing about this “microwave weapon” is that it apparently only affects U.S. diplomatic and military personnel. You never hear of embassy staff of other governments suffering from Havana Syndrome. And considering the present state of the world, that really is remarkable. All the more so considering the growing list of suspects, by direct accusation or implication, which includes Russia, China, Cuba, and now Venezuela.
Just for giggles, let’s assume that the Russians possess this powerful, portable and undetectable weapon. Wouldn’t you expect to hear of them using it on their own political dissidents? If the Kremlin had such a weapon, would they have bothered having agents stalk Alexei Navalny for weeks just to poison his underwear?
If the Chinese had such a wonder weapon at their disposal, the list of potential targets would be virtually limitless. The U.S. may be number 1 on China’s enemies list these days, but it’s still a pretty long list.
Where to invade next
So, let’s arm ourselves with Occam’s razor and ask ourselves, which is the simplest explanation? Did all the members of Global Baddies, Inc., get together and create an undetectable, invincible, but highly selective superweapon? Or is the military-industrial complex looking for its next big payday?
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It would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.
Thanks for sticking with me, here’s your reward, because the scariest thing to the mind is the unknown! Happy Halloween!
China, Cold War, Gloria Ramirez, Halloween, Havana syndrome, mass hysteria, mass psychogenic illness, Northeast Mississippi news, Pentagon, Russia, Salem witch trials, Satanic Panic, US State Department