Robert “Bobby” Eugene Crimo III, age 21, is in custody as a “person of interest” in the mass shooting at a Highland Park, Illinois, celebration yesterday and – within a day – rumours have circulated online connecting him to MK-Ultra – but what is it?

US police arrested Robert Crimo III after six people died following a shooting attack on the Independence Day parade.

A gunman climbed on to a roof and shot indiscriminately at spectators using what the BBC has called a “high-powered rifle”. CBS News describes Crimo as a rapper who went by the name “Awake”.

What is MK-Ultra, and is there any substance to rumors that associate Highland Park suspect Robert Crimo III with the decades-old project?

Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Project MK-Ultra is trending, writes activist Joe Katz, because of a fake Instagram post featuring Robert Crimo III calling himself “a product of MKUltra and a liberal”.

Find the image here.

In the fictitious post, a user who goes by the Instagram handle @robert_crimo_iii writes: “Yes, I am a product of MK Ultra and I am a liberal”. However, as others have pointed out, the post supposedly emerged after his arrest – meaning it is fake.

Others have described some of Crimo’s lyrics – he’s an amateur rapper, on which more later – as somehow reminiscent of MK-Ultra. But even if such comparisons have been made independent of any fake Instagram post about Robert Crimo III and the experimentation program, there’s no evidence that connects them.

Photo by MAX HERMAN/AFP via Getty Images

What is MK-Ultra? Unfounded Robert Crimo III rumors circulate a day after July 4 shooting

Project MK-Ultra (or MKUltra) was the codename for an illegal human experimentation program run by the CIA from 1953 to 1973.

It was top secret. Details of it didn’t emerge until two years after it closed down. A congressional investigation into what History calls “widespread illegal CIA activities within the United States and around the world” uncovered it in 1975.

Project MK-Ultra was approved by Allan Dulles in 1953. He was director of the CIA at the time. The program aimed to develop techniques the US military could use against Soviet bloc enemies to “control human behaviour with drugs and other psychological manipulators” – History adds.

During its 20-year span, it consisted of more than 150 human experiments. Some involved psychedelic drugs (such as LSD), paralytics, and electroshock therapy. Test subjects were sometimes aware, but not always.

Anglo-American Summit in Washington 1954
Anglo-American Summit in Washington 1954;Left to right: Allan Dulles, Sir Winston Churchill,Pres.Eisenhower and Sir Anthony Eden.

When did details relating to MK-Ultra become public knowledge?

The Church Committee of the US Congress and Gerald Ford’s commission on CIA activities in the US first brought Project MK-Ultra to public attention.

However, investigative efforts progressed slowly following then-CIA director Richard Helms’ 1973 order that all MK-Ultra files be destroyed. As such, the Church Committee relied on sworn testimonies, plus a small number of surviving documents. 

Then, in 1977, a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request led to the release of 20,000 documents relating to Project MK-Ultra. Senate hearings followed.

More declassified documents became public in 2002 (find examples here, here and here) and 2004 (following an FOI request made in the 1990s). The CIA insists now that MK-Ultra-style experiments are a thing of the past.

Inscryption | Accolades Trailer

Inscryption | Accolades Trailer

Why are people saying Robert Crimo III and/or his rap music reminds them of MK-Ultra?

Robert E Crimo III also goes by the alias “Awake the Rapper”. He started uploading his music when he was 11 years old, as reported by Fox News

He first made an impression with his 2016 track By The Pond, featuring another rapper called Atlas – listen to the Bobby Crimo track via BeatStars.

Then, in October 2021, he released Are You Awake. Fox writes it “appears to suggest Crimo was planning a life-defining act beyond his ability to stop”.

Its music video includes drawings of a man aiming a rifle at someone and an image of a newspaper clipping featuring Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated John F Kennedy.

“Like a sleepwalker, I am unable to stop and think,” Crimo raps in the track. “My actions will be valiant and my thought is unnecessary. I know what I have to do, I know what’s in it, not only for me, but for everyone else.”

It’s for this reason people have suggested there’s something vaguely MK-Ultra-esque about Robert Crimo’s lyrics and video archive. However, Robert Crimo III is 22 years old. MK-Ultra ended in 1973.

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