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This episode contains discussions of violence that some may find disturbing discretion is advised, especially for listeners under 13.


It was a brisk spring night in 1918 and six young men dressed in black were standing in a tomb. One kept watch through a cracked open door, while another, a man named Prescott dug into the soft earth with a military issue shovel. Suddenly, the lookout notice to figure out in the graveyard coming their way, they had to leave quietly. But Prescott didn't stop shoveling.


He only dug faster.


The figure in the graveyard emerged into the moonlight. It was a military policeman on foot patrol. If he saw them through the doors, narrow opening, it would all be over. A prank wasn't worth being thrown in lock up and their father's learning about what they'd done.


And yet Prescott was on a mission. Sweat beating down his face, he muttered to his friends just a little bit more as the cop inched his way closer to the tomb, Prescott's shovel connected with a piece of wood.


The military policeman hesitated about 10 feet from the tomb, listening with his head cocked in anticipation. But there was only silence. After a moment, he walked on the young man's side in relief. All except for Prescott, who reached into the hole and wrenched open the coffin inside. The men shifted uneasily, but Prescott beamed, lifting a human skull into the light and speaking only one word, Geronimo.


Welcome to Conspiracy Theories, a Spotify original from past every Monday and Wednesday, we dig into the complicated stories behind the world's most controversial events and search for the truth. I'm Carter Roy. And I'm Molly Brandenberg. And neither of us are conspiracy theorists, but we are open minded, skeptical and curious.


Don't get us wrong. Sometimes the official version is the truth, but sometimes it's not.


You can find episodes of conspiracy theories and all other originals from Park Cast for free on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.


This is our first episode on the Bush family, one of the most powerful political dynasties in American history. Today, we'll explore the official histories of three generations of Bush family patriarchs, Senator Prescott Bush, President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush.


Next time, we'll dive into some conspiracy theories that have haunted the Bush family legacy for Prescott Bush. We'll examine the rumors that he desecrated the grave of an Apache leader for H.W. Bush. We'll explore whether he worked for the CIA on the day John F. Kennedy was shot.


And lastly, for George W. Bush, we'll investigate whether the Iraq war was really a war for oil and not a war on terror. We have all that and more coming up.


Stay with us. The Bush family's role in America dates back to well before the country was founded, the arrival of the Mayflower, Paul Revere's midnight ride, the War of 1812, members of the family were supporting players in all of these events.


And since 1952, three successive generations of the dynasty have served in political office, two of them as president of the United States.


But for as long as they've been an example of the lofty heights that an ambitious family can ascend to in America, they've also garnered controversy. Rumors of conspiracies have swirled around them for nearly a century. The first Bush to have his motives and morals questioned in the public sphere was Prescott Shelden Bush.


He was the most well known patriarch of the family in the first half of the 20th century, as well as its first elected politician. But it's his actions before he took office which have raised the eyebrows of seasoned journalists and conspiracy theorists like.


Prescott Bush was born in Columbus, Ohio, on May 15th, 1895, his father rose through the ranks of a railroad company before becoming the president of the Buckeye Steel Castings Company. But Prescott's first stop on the road to success was Yale University, regarded as handsome.


At six feet and four inches tall, he cut an impressive figure on campus. A talented athlete, he played for both the baseball and golf team.


He was apparently an excellent singer, too. While there may not be any surviving public recordings of his performances, Prescott was a member of Yale's Whiffenpoofs, a student a cappella group, the club's musical entertainment was wholesome, serenading audiences with closely harmonized covers of popular tunes. But at school, Prescott Bush was involved in another campus club that wasn't nearly so innocent, a so-called secret society. Yale is far from the only university in the world to have underground clubs made up of students and alumni, but in terms of culture and political impact, few secret societies rank higher than Yale's, among them Skrull and Key Mithen Sword and the notorious Skull and Bones.


At least three American presidents and several more senators were members of Yale's Skull and Bones, but none have publicly spoken about the happenings inside the club. Not in detail, anyway. The society called their campus clubhouse the tomb, and they called their members bones.


Man Prescott Bush was a bondsman during his time at Yale and likely took part in their rituals, most of which have been kept hidden from the public.


However, information about a few rituals has leaked. One was a game called Crooking, which apparently involved stealing items from some other clubs.


Another involved the selection of new members called DTAP Day. Juniors would gather in courtyards and Yale societies would signal which students they were interested in by tapping them on their shoulder. While out on campus. A tap meant return to your dorm room immediately and wait for further instructions. This is how Prescott Bush joined Skull and Bones, and it's how he recruited new members. Outside of those few details, his activities in the society exist in the realm of rumor and speculation.


Prescott graduated from Yale in 1917 as the First World War raged in Europe, enlisted in the armed forces and trained as an artillery captain at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. During that time, he maintained connections with his Skull and Bones friends. But he didn't return to Yale from Fort Sill.


Prescott went to war. He served in France during the First World War as a field artillery captain.


Presumably, his time spent on the battlefields of Europe was traumatic, but Prescott rarely spoke publicly about his wartime experiences afterwards.


In the 1920s and 30s, Prescott threw himself into professional life as one of his many endeavors. He became the director and co-founder of the Union Banking Corporation.


If you recognize the name. It's because UBC became infamous for its connection to the Nazi regime.


Though the connection wasn't direct, UBC profited off their work with the German industrialist Fritz Taesan, who made money helping Hitler build up German munitions in the 1930s as Hitler was building his army and started to organize the Holocaust.


You BK's profit rose, that is, until the U.S. government put a stop to it.


In 1942, the company was seized by the U.S. government for violating the Trading with the Enemy Act for aiding and abetting Nazi Germany.


It would have been a horrible stain on the Bush family legacy, but Prescott was never implicated or prosecuted for any kind of collaboration with the Nazis.


In fact, he was so successful at avoiding blame that in 1952, when he was 57 years old, he was elected to Congress, where he served for a decade. Prescott Bush died in 1972 at the age of 77, but the controversy over his possible ties to Nazi Germany only grew after he passed, as did some enduring mysteries about his actions as a member of Skull and Bones.


However, while Prescott was the first member of the Bush family to invite conspiracy and rumor, his son George carried on that legacy and then some. Next, George H.W. becomes the first member of the Bush family to be elected president listeners.


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Now back to the story, George H.W. Bush was born on June 12th, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts. It was named after his maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker. At the time, the elder George ran a Hiraman and company, which would soon merge with one of the oldest private banks in the U.S..


Accordingly, H.W. grew up in the lap of privilege, but he wanted to make his own way in the world. He had the outsized ambitions of both his father, Prescott, and his maternal grandfather. So when World War Two erupted, H.W. enlisted in 1942 on his 18th birthday, H.W. went straight from his high school graduation ceremony to the naval recruitment office. One year later, he flew his first mission on a bomber, becoming at the time the youngest pilot in the Navy to do so.


On August 1st, 1944, he was promoted to lieutenant junior grade, it was an auspicious advancement and a point of pride for H.W. But only a few weeks later, his plane was shot down over the Pacific.


A 20 year old H.W. was the only one of his crew who survived for the rest of his life, he was haunted by the deaths of his friends.


H.W. was lucky and not just because he survived. When he was picked up in the ocean by a Navy submarine, he avoided what some would consider a fate even worse than death.


Other American planes were also downed, but many of his fellow survivors were captured by Japanese soldiers. Those airmen were taken to the island of Chichi Jima, where they were executed by beheading, then enemy soldiers ritualistically ate their livers on the orders of their lieutenant general. The horrific fate of those captured soldiers was not public knowledge at the time, but in 1946, once the war ended, the U.S. government held a secret war crimes trial about the events of dogma.


As a result, the commanding officers were hanged. While it's unknown whether H.W. knew about these atrocities at the time, he was made aware of them.


Decades later, while H.W. was likely traumatized by this news, the fact that he'd survived such a gruesome fate instilled in him a sense of purpose. He later stated that he felt some kind of destiny. He believed that he was being spared for something, and he was right.


After the war, H.W. went to Yale just like his father before him. And like Prescott, he joined Skull and Bones in 1946 while he was still in school. H.W. and his wife Barbara welcomed their eldest son, George W. Bush, into the world after he graduated Yale in 1948.


He took his young family and moved to Texas, where he became an oil man. In the 1950s, H.W. co-founded and ran a corporation called Zapata Offshore Company. Zapata's specialty was building oil platforms.


H.W. traveled around the world on behalf of Zapata for more than a decade, growing the company and increasing his family's wealth.


What's more, in doing so, he managed to distinguish himself from his father and paternal grandfather, who had made their fortune in the world of East Coast finance.


But by 1963, H.W. was restless, perhaps a success in the oil industry. He didn't make him feel like he was fulfilling the destiny his life had been spared. For whatever the case, he decided to run for political office.


That year, he won the chairmanship of the Harris County, Texas Republican Party. Not long afterwards, according to one biographer, H.W. arrived in Dallas on the day President John F. Kennedy.


November 22nd, 1963, was one of the most infamous days in American history, officially, H.W. had no involvement in Kennedy's assassination, but there is record of a peculiar call he made that day, according to documents uncovered in a Freedom of Information Act request.


After learning of JFK's death, H.W. phoned the Houston office of the FBI. He provided them with a tip that a man named James Milton Perret had discussed killing Kennedy.


Parratt was a member of the John Birch Society, a far right organization that was staunchly against Kennedy's left leaning policies. Perret also opposed H.W. during his campaign in Harris County. After an interview with the FBI, Perret was cleared of all potential charges.


Of course, it was far from the only person the FBI interviewed about the Kennedy assassination.


The Warren Commission report, released in September 1964, detailed the extensive investigation into the murder. Furthermore, the Warren Commission stated that only one person was responsible for the president's death that day in Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald.


But this did nothing to quell public speculation and conspiracy theories around certain aspects of the event. Many people weren't satisfied by the commission's so-called lone gunman theory, which insisted that Lee Harvey Oswald was the only assassin. So they filled in the gaps themselves.


However, at the time, even as many speculated that H.W. was secretly a member of the CIA and thus somehow tied up with Kennedy's murder, H.W. focused on his political career.


In 1966, he rose to statewide office after being elected to the House of Representatives for Texas's 7th Congressional District. He was seen as a rising star of the Republican Party.


Then, in 1968, he made one of the shrewdest moves of his political career. Unlike many other Texas Republicans who backed Reagan in the primary, H.W. declared himself a Nixon man. And after Nixon won the presidency, H.W. found himself in the good graces of the winning team.


So in 1970, with President Nixon's blessing, H.W. ran for a Texas Senate seat while he managed to get more than 45 percent of the vote he lost to his Democrat opponent. But it ultimately didn't matter because Tricky Dick came to the rescue.


Nixon hired H.W. as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. This position immersed him in foreign policy and gave him insight into the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. H.W. also became familiar with the People's Republic of China at a critical moment in time when the communist state was actively raising its stature on the world stage.


After his second presidential victory in 1972, Nixon rewarded H.W. with another feather in his cap. He appointed him as the chairman of the Republican National Committee. For a moment, it seemed like H.W. was fulfilling his destiny.


But then Nixon's administration fell to pieces.


Famously in 1972, there was the Watergate break in initially, Nixon's administration convinced the public that they had nothing to do with it.


But as the months passed, investigations found the administration was far less innocent than it claimed.


In 1973, Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned as a result of his own unrelated bribery and extortion scandal with two public disgraces. It was starting to seem like Nixon's second term was coerced.


Finally, on August 9th, 1974, after being exposed as a liar, cheat and fraud. Nixon resigned from the presidency. As Marine One rose into the sky over the White House, carrying the disgraced former president, attention naturally turned to his appointees. Like H.W., the public wanted to know how deep the corruption ran. But after a thorough investigation, a Watergate special prosecutor found no evidence of wrongdoing and Bush was cleared of any potential charges.


Two years later, H.W. remained unsullied by the Watergate fiasco, and in 1976, he climbed another political rung when President Gerald Ford awarded him a surprising new role in government.


The director of the CIA.


In HWC Later autobiography, he first described his appointment as a real shocker, given that he was a non-professional outsider and a politician to boot.


But later in his book, he seemed to contradict himself. He wrote, I had come to the CIA with some general knowledge of how it operated. But beyond his role as ambassador to the U.N., he didn't elaborate on where that knowledge came from.


Those words seem innocuous enough on their surface, but in hindsight, they fed theories that maybe HWC 1976 appointment to the CIA hadn't been his first contact with the agency. Theorist's wondered whether he'd been an agent since the 1960s when Kennedy was shot, or even since the 1950s when he founded Zapata and started traveling to places like the Caribbean and South America.


When business, substantive or not, the rumors did nothing to stop HWC meteoric rise in Washington in the 1980s, H.W. reached the White House on the Reagan ticket, or at least he arrived at a small office in the West Wing.


In another stroke of political good luck, Ronald Reagan had tapped H.W. as vice president, despite H.W. not endorsing Reagan's run for the presidency more than a decade prior.


As the 80s wore on, it became a golden age for Republicans in America. They saw eight years of Reaganomics and growth and a nearly unmatched stature on the world stage. In 1984, H.W. and the Gipper were re-elected in a landslide to their second term, with the second highest percentage of electoral votes in American history. The Reagan Bush ticket was unstoppable.


It's no surprise that when H.W. ran for president in 1988, he won another sweeping electoral victory. The country appeared to want the glow of the Reagan years to extend into the 90s as well. But fate had a different plan.


In 1990, a recession swept through the country that affected the working class most of all. All of a sudden it seemed quite clear that the so-called benevolence of Reagan's 80s had left the Bush White House for good.


The country was in a funk and H.W. couldn't get them out of it. In 1992, he was defeated by Bill Clinton, ending 12 straight years of Republican leadership.


It was a stinging defeat for a man and a dynasty that appeared to be experts at wielding power and weathering any storm. But while HWC defeat forced him into an early retirement, it wouldn't be the last that the American people heard from a member of the Bush family. Not by a long shot. Next, another Bush makes it to the White House, and this time he starts a war. Now back to the story.


George Walker Bush was born on July 6th, 1946, the eldest son of George H.W. Bush, W or W, as he was called, grew up mostly in Texas, where he developed an affection for traditional country music.


But while W. embraced the culture of Texas, his father, who came from Upper Crust East Coast origins, still exerted an outsized influence on him. As a result, much of his adult life was spent tracing his father's path to the world of the elite, like H.W. and Prescott. Before him, W. attended Yale, and just like them, he joined a fraternity, the cheer squad and the Skull and Bones Secret Society. But despite their similar trajectories, W did not seem to inherit his father's penchant for hard work and excellence.


He had a hard partying lifestyle at college and was a proud C student.


But he managed to graduate Yale with a Bachelor of Arts degree in hand after W. eventually met his wife Laura and stopped drinking. In 1968, he joined the Texas Air National Guard, where he did not excel.


In fact, he was accepted into the Air Guard despite earning 25 percent on the pilot's aptitude test. This was the lowest grade possible one could receive while still being allowed to join.


What's more, there are reportedly no records of attending regular drills, even though he was required to. Yet somehow in 1973, he achieved an honorable discharge from the Air National Guard as a result. Questions have been raised about potential unethical interference from W's congressman.


Father W. had other failures during this time in his life. In the early 70s, he worked as an aide in the Senate campaign of a man named Winston Blunt, a former postmaster general and businessman from Alabama. Despite the efforts of his entire campaign staff, Blunt lost.


W. was down, but not out in 1973. He enrolled at Harvard Business School, likely utilizing his family connections in order to do so two years later. He earned an MBA and in 1975 he took his degree back to Texas. For the next decade or so, worked as an oilman, like his father, he formed a company whose purpose was to find and exploit new oil wells and for years, whose profits soared as the price of black gold reached unprecedented heights.


But then in the mid 1980s, W. saw a storm brewing. Oil prices around the world fell precipitously. The market became oversaturated with producers.


And as demand crashed, so did the value of a barrel, using his family name to his advantage.


Managed to sell his firm in the nick of time. Fortunately, when his father was elected as the Republican nominee for president in 1988, a new opportunity appeared before W.. First, he joined his father's presidential campaign, then in 1994, W. ran for governor of Texas.


He was charming with a folksy demeanor and a tendency to use country metaphors. He was also an ardent conservative, which meant that his platform included opposition to gun control and a pledge to cut taxes.


W won the state gubernatorial election handily. Then four years later, the people of Texas did it again when they elected him to a second term with nearly 69 percent of the vote. It was a remarkable political feat.


Not only was W. the first governor of Texas to win two consecutive four year terms, but his margins of victory set records as well from their debut set his sights on the presidency.


On November 7th, 2000, W lost the popular vote, but won 271 electoral votes to Al Gore's 266. The infamous part was the fact that Florida's vote was too close to call. As a result, that state's 25 Electoral College votes hung precipitously in the balance.


Then on December 12th, more than a month after the general election, the United States Supreme Court ruled against a Florida Supreme Court decision that would have allowed for a selective manual recount. As a result of the case, George W. Bush was awarded the presidency. It was a highly controversial decision. Many believed it created a dangerous precedent for voting rights in America. Many claim that it effectively took power away from the American people and handed it to the Supreme Court.


But the decision stood W. As President George W. moved into the White House in January 2001, only the second son in U.S. history to claim the presidency after his father, the other father son pair being John Adams in 1797 and his son John Quincy in 1825, immediately set about fulfilling his campaign promise of lowering taxes on June 7th, sign the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 into law.


It was a major and sweeping tax bill and his signature accomplishment of his first term. And then disaster struck. Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts.


These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed, our country is strong, a great people has been moved to defend a great nation. America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism.


Like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the September 11th attacks changed the world by the end of that day, George W. Bush used the words war against terrorism on live television. And sentiment in the United States was that a conflict was inevitable.


By mid-December 2001, government officials announced that U.S. forces and their allies had toppled the Taliban government of Afghanistan and the al-Qaida hierarchy had gone into hiding. So began the war on terror.


One year after the invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. turned its gaze to Iraq, the Bush administration formed plans to invade. They made their case to the American people with the following points.


First, Saddam Hussein's dictatorship had been in control of Iraq for more than two decades. The Iraq people needed a regime change.


Second, the Bush administration alleged that Iraq was harboring members of al-Qaida. Third, they said there was evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.


The administration cited classified documents which noted that Hussein had attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from the country of Niger. Yellowcake can be enriched to levels that allow for the production of nuclear weapons, something the U.S. government did not want in Hussein's possession.


But by early 2003, doubts had arisen about the veracity of the information in the classified documents, weapons inspectors working for the U.N. dismissed the intel as fake, a claim that was supported by the CIA. Furthermore, it wasn't clear who created the forged documents or why. And yet the administration still moved ahead with plans for an invasion. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that despite the counterfeit intel, the invasion of Iraq would happen as scheduled. In his words, we don't believe that all the issues surrounding nuclear weapons have been resolved.


On March 19th, 2003, coalition forces led by the United States invaded Iraq. Within three weeks, the Iraqi government fell. Saddam Hussein fled into hiding and his army was defeated.


On May 1st, W gave a speech declaring that the combat portion of the Iraq war was over by defeating Hussein's government. W said that an ally of al-Qaida had been vanquished. He also claimed that coalition forces would continue to look for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A large banner hung behind him. On it were two words mission accomplished. But the Iraq war was far from over. In 2004, the deaths of U.S. service members increased as attacks from insurgents spread across the country.


And that death rate would remain high for the next seven years.


The United States decision to interfere in Iraq was internationally unpopular. Many viewed it as unnecessary bloodshed. The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, even declared the war. A legal theorists and world leaders alike had concerns about W's true motivations.


Some speculated that he wanted to secure Iraq's oil reserves. Many of the people in W's cabinet were millionaires with oil industry ties.


Of course, W and his administration never cited oil as the reason behind an invasion, but their most stated reason for invading weapons of mass destruction were never found. In 2004, W was elected to a second term, and in the process he eclipsed the one term presidency of his father. However, U.S. deaths in Iraq continued to climb throughout his second term. What's more, the government's response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster earned wide ranging criticism when he left office in 2009.


His approval ratings were among the lowest of any second term president in American history.


Today, more than 10 years after the end of his presidency, his public image has softened. And now, like his father and grandfather, he casts a long shadow on American life. He was once at the center of some of the most pivotal events of his time, just like his forefathers before him. So it's no surprise that conspiracy theories have swirled around the Bush family for decades, like the three we'll discuss next time. Conspiracy theory number one, while attending artillery training school in 1918 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Prescott Bush plundered Geronimo's grave and stole the Apache leader's skull.


Then he brought the morbid trophy back to the Skull and Bones clubhouse near the Yale campus where it remains today. Conspiracy theory number two.


In the early 1960s, Herbert Walker Bush was secretly working for the CIA and he played some small role in JFK assassination conspiracy theory number three, George W. Bush bought the Iraq war for oil instead of his administration's stated reasons of removing weapons of mass destruction and instating new leadership. In other words, the true purpose of that war was to make a few people a lot of money with the closely guarded secrets of the Bush dynasty at the center of all these topics.


The truth is hard to unravel. Next time, I'll draw back the veil of power in search of answers. Thanks for tuning into conspiracy theories. We'll be back Wednesday with part two of our exploration of the conspiracies around the Bush family. In the meantime, you can listen to conspiracy theories and all of their Spotify originals from Park Cast for free on Spotify.


Until then, remember, the truth isn't always the best story, and the official story isn't always the truth.


Conspiracy Theories was created by Max Cutler and is a Spotify original from Perkasa. Executive producers include Max and Ron Cutler, Sound Design by one border with Production Assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Travis Clark. This episode of Conspiracy Theories was written by Nicholas Swart with writing assistance by Ali Whicker and stars Molly Brandenberg and Carter Roy. Don't forget to check out our love story, the newest Spotify original forecast every Tuesday, discover the many pathways to love as told by the actual couples who found them.


Listen to our love story. Free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcast.