“Hide the lightning” (Tesla cult)


The universe is amazing and captivating enough that there’s no reason to fabricate the fascinating. But some want still more, which is one reason there are champions of pseudoscience, the supernatural, and the paranormal. But the stories they create are still less captivating that what is really happening.

For example, last year astronomers landed a satellite on a comet. How much cooler is that than the landing and all other NASA and cosmonaut missions being hoaxes to enrich Jesuits, Free Masons, or Bilderbergers?

Or think about the mechanics and engineering that went into crafting the castles and great houses of Europe. How much more appreciation should there be for the architects than for the beeping ghost-chasing device being bandied about these grand structures by the host of a schlocky TV unreality program?

Also, consider also fascinating aspects of the animal kingdom. The North American opossum has evolved a built-in antivenin that offsets any venom injected by bees, scorpions, or snakes. This defense mechanism has even proven effective against predators from other continents that the opossum would normally have no contact with. Traits like this bring an appreciation of animals that renders unnecessary the imagining of a Chupacabra or Skunk Ape.

All this creativity does show that pseudoscientists are an indefatigable lot. Flat Earthers have already launched preemptive ad hoc strikes against any Elon Musk space tours that may take place. They haven’t come up with any definitive answers yet since the question hasn’t been asked. But my guess is they will say that instead of seeing space and astronomical bodies through rocket windows, passengers are instead seeing simulated computer imagery in a rocket attached to gears and levers that moves it a la an amusement park ride, and that no one ever left the ground.  

Musk named one of his more terrestrial pursuits, Tesla, Inc., after the Serbian-American electrical engineer genius. Also inspired by Nikola Tesla has been a conspiratorial cult that, like the pseudoscientists and paranormal investigators, takes something that is impressive and tries to turn it into something better without regard to reality. Members of the Tesla cult ostensibly praise his genius and accomplishments, but these distinctions are actually bit players in a tale where his inventions and visions have been suppressed, purloined, and used for malevolent ends.  

Tesla has enough of a hold on the public imagination that a quarter century before Musk named one of his companies after him, a 1980s hard rock band did the same. That group was referred to as the “no image” band, a description that was repeated often enough that it paradoxically became their image. One of their tracks, “Edison’s Medicine,” made reference to a coordinated suppression of Tesla that often benefited the Wizard of Menlo Park. It was a catchy enough track, but spotty at best historically and it underlies the myth that surrounds the man. The song has plenty of company in that regard and another example is the photo showing him working in his lab while simulated lightning bolts emanate from Tesla coils. That picture is the result of double exposure, a precursor of today’s PhotoShop trickery.

Like comet-landing satellites, opulent residences, and marsupial defenses, there is much about the real Telsa to admire. He spearheaded the practical widespread distribution of electricity via the alternating current (although he did not discover it, as is commonly misperceived). He was awarded more than 300 patents and had blueprints for many other potential inventions. He made his first splash by illuminating the 1893 World’s Fair with AC and he keyed the creation of the Niagara Falls power plant. But this is inadequate for those who prefer a narrative drenched in deception, plotting, and plundering.

One accuracy from conspiracy theorists is that the U.S. government did seize Tesla’s papers through probably extralegal means. He died in January 1943 and government agents, having heard rumors he created or was working on a death ray, used a law enacted during the Constitution-shredding heyday of World War I to pilfer about his home. The law allowed an entity called the Alien Property Custodian to seize the assets of any enemy during wartime, with the custodian given authority to unilaterally declare someone a combatant. In this case, the enemy was a recently-deceased inventor who specialized in electromagnetics. The custodian’s office found little of use because much of Tesla’s later work was speculative and he made few notes of it.  The government report of what was seized revealed that “his thoughts and efforts during the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.”

This bland sentence, almost literally, describes nothing. Tesla had done pioneering work early in his career but was sidetracked due to a lack of funding in the Great Depression and he spent his last several years finalizing few inventions while possibly spiraling into madness or at least showing signs of what would become known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This speaks to some unfulfilled potential and is a sad ending for a great man, but nothing terribly extraordinary is going on here. But conspiracy theories don’t become such by strict adherence to facts, investigation, reason, and Occam’s Razor. So a tale was hatched whereby government agents or other authoritarians complete the work begun by a mad genius and use it to control the world. That would make for a B movie and is an even worse conspiracy theory.  

The most widely-spread myth is that Tesla discovered the AC current, even though this was done 25 years before his birth. He is also credited by his enthusiasts as having been rooked out of receiving credit for taking the first X-ray photo. The truth here is a little more complicated. While photographing his companion Mark Twain, Tesla used an early form of fluorescent tube light called a Geissler tube. Unbeknownst to Tesla or anyone else, the tubes emitted X-radiation, so this innovation was unintentional, not repressed.

The invention most associated with a supposed theft and cover-up is the radio. Tesla did predate Marconi in demonstrating wireless communication and Tesla posthumously won all patent disputes.

But the controversy was the result of normal competition among scientists in an emerging field. Tesla and Marconi were both using and improving on theories and experiments of scores of inventors stretching back nearly 100 years. Patents for various wireless communication apparatuses had been filed beginning in the 19th Century and by the mid-1890s inventors on three continents were giving demonstrations of radio prototypes. Tesla made substantial contributions to the field but he borrowed ideas and techniques from others (and they from him), and this was all part of an explosion in knowledge related to the workability of wireless communication.

There are competing winners for the inventor of many devices. Edison, for example, was far from the first person to get heat to flow through a coil wire with illuminating results. But he was the first to devise a light bulb that lasted long enough and could be manufactured easily enough for it to be commercially viable. There was never a cover-up to deny Tesla credit for the radio, nor was that the incentive in giving Marconi the Nobel Prize. While the radio is the one invention most associated with the conspiracy theory, from a conspiratorial viewpoint it makes the least sense. That’s because the government that supposedly contributed to the repression recognized him as the inventor in a Supreme Court ruling the year he died.

There are several other purported Tesla inventions or accomplishments that are said to have been covered up and/or stolen. This includes his causing a field of light bulbs 26 miles away to illuminate wirelessly. This supposedly happened during the two years Tesla lived in Colorado Springs. But he kept detailed records of his time there and no such experiments are referred to in his papers. Photographs exist of his experimenting with this idea on a small scale in his lab but there is no evidence he took the idea any further.   

There has also been speculation that he had created artificial ball lighting. Portions of his notes taken out of context make it seem like he is describing having done this, but a more careful perusal of his writing and speeches reveal no such claims. But it does serve to heighten the myth, as Tesla is presented as a real-life Thor who can create and direct lightning at will.

One of his more ambitious pursuits was to transmit wireless power worldwide. But his only movement toward this goal was to partially constructing one tower. Another claim is that he had learned how to draw electricity straight from the atmosphere, but was silenced to protect energy companies. There’s no telling if he ever had this idea, but in any case, many of his proposals stayed in the embryonic stage.

That these devices were never seen by the masses, along with the government having seized his notes, fuels the conspiracy theory that his inventions are being used, but are being kept hidden. One example is the assertion that HAARP is Tesla’s worldwide wireless power grid in action. There is nothing at HAARP that even vaguely resembles a worldwide power grid, but to the theorist that appearance is all part of the cover up that keeps Tesla’s inventions in the hands of Rothschild Reptilians. 



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