Dark Secrets Exposed In 2021 That No One Will Forget

To say that 2021 really rocked triggers images we'd rather soon forget. COVID-19 continued to shake our worlds, even in the wake of vaccines developed to mitigate the pandemic. As if life wasn't topsy-turvy enough, along came a former U.S. president's directive toward his minions to "fight like hell" and restore the old political order, while a social media giant turned a blind eye to the seismic levels of divisiveness and toxicity within its own platform. Meanwhile, media darlings from Bill Gates to the Cuomo brothers realized they weren't immune to the ravages of those tremors, and scandal debased a long-running Hollywood awards show. And we haven't even touched on headier stuff yet.

Most of these events manifested themselves from what were supposed to have been closely guarded secrets, while others confirmed innuendo already familiar to us. Sometimes you don't need a cruise missile to raze an establishment when a simple blow on a whistle will do.

Founding Father and "Poor Richard's Almanack" author Benjamin Franklin was prophetic when he wrote, "a small leak will sink a great ship." As we shall discover among some of these dark secrets exposed in 2021, there's no doubt that gatekeepers wanting such information to remain classified had bucket brigades working overtime to mitigate the proverbial flood damage.

More people knew about the insurrection than we thought

Right after rioters broke into the Capitol building in Washington D.C.  on January 6 to overturn an election that hard-line Republicans claim was rigged, scuttlebutt blamed a spiteful former president and a core of right-wing zealots for the carnage. Subsequent investigations revealed several higher-ups, from members of Congress to White House insiders, may have helped plan the attack.

Of late, the House select committee investigating the incident interviewed many accused rioters claiming they talked to some prominent Republicans and Trump allies before the incident, originally designed to discourage Vice President Mike Pence from certifying the results of the election, won by President Joe Biden. But the committee recently focused on text messages from former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that not only revealed ways Trump could get the Department of Justice to overturn the election results, they also included correspondence with a member of Congress about how Pence could disavow Biden's victory, per CNN. Even Fox News apparently knew about how violent the riots could get, with network celebrity Sean Hannity texting Meadows days before the insurrection that he was "very worried about the next 48 hours."

According to Robert Costa and Bob Woodward, who co-wrote "Peril," a book documenting the insurrection, persons of interest go right to the top. "They're all trying to figure out, can they push Republicans in Congress to really cause chaos on January 6," said Costa on "The View." 

Donald Trump had COVID during a presidential debate

On October 2, 2020, President Donald Trump announced he tested positive for COVID, resulting in a three-day stay at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was hooked to a respirator and administered a cocktail of antibodies. But White House insiders never let on that he was already infected during his first presidential debate against challenger Joe Biden. 

More than a year later, The Guardian revealed that secret, contained in an advance copy of "The Chief's Chief," a memoir written by Mark Meadows, Trump's Chief of Staff at the time. In the book, Meadows wrote that Trump tested positive for the infection after a Rose Garden ceremony in honor of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett held three days before the September 29 debate. Immediately before the showdown with Biden, Meadows wrote that Trump didn't look well. "I could tell that he was moving more slowly than usual," wrote Meadows. "He walked like he was carrying a little extra weight on his back."

Interestingly, neither Trump nor the White House submitted mandatory negative test results to officials 72 hours before the debate. Had Trump managed to pass on the virus to his opponent — and given that both men were in their high-risk 70s — it's staggering to consider what political picture would have been painted in a worst-case scenario involving the two candidates.

Mass unmarked graves unmask a dark chapter in Canada's history

While the U.S. continued to grapple with sociopolitical divisions within its own borders, Canada's apparent squeaky-clean reputation as an inclusive country was shattered in the summer of 2021 by discoveries of unmarked gravesites containing the bodies of nearly 1,000 aboriginal children. The remains were found in two western Canada locations, both near schools that were part of a century-old master plan designed by the federal government and the Catholic Church to indoctrinate aboriginal children into a predominantly white society and eradicate native culture altogether.

All the discoveries involved aboriginals, using radar technology to search for missing schoolchildren, casualties of a residential school system that at one point accommodated more than 130 schools that frequently abused its young pupils into adopting Caucasian culture. The last such school shut down in 1996, but not before at least 4,100 children died, with thousands more scarred by the system. The grisly finds, listed as Canada's top news story of 2021, inflicted additional pain into aboriginal communities already trying to heal via initiatives set forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, launched in 2007 to deal with these incidents and other atrocities aimed at the native population. 

"These are uncomfortable truths, and often hard to accept," said Mary May Simon, Canada's Governor General, herself an aboriginal citizen. "But the truth also unites us as a nation, brings us together to dispel anger and despair, and embrace justice, harmony and trust instead."

Reddit pranksters make a fool out of Wall Street

In January 2021, a little-known stock for a fading retailer called GameStop nearly pulled off an endgame on Wall Street by jumping in value from $19 to $325 in the space of two weeks, almost putting a few established investment firms out of business. The work of an insidious, savvy insider? Hardly. It turns out a group of hobbyist players on Reddit invested heavily in the company on a whim and drove the price up by 1,600%.

Established traders initially guffawed at the move, until hedge fund brokers, who make their money through financial leverage and "selling short" (bailing on a stock before it's predicted to drop in value), started losing cash. One hedge fund company, Melvin Capital, lost more than half its assets and had to be bailed out.

Eventually, GameStop's stock dropped, and a year later, hovered around the $116 mark. But what is now being recognized as the Reddit Revolt is symptomatic of how vulnerable Wall Street is to outside influence. It also addressed the issue of how other stocks on the market might not be properly valued. "If you're just wrong as a society in terms of where you place your bets about businesses, ultimately that's pretty bad," said Harrison Hong, a financial economics professor at Columbia, to The Washington Post.

Wall Street coined the term "meme stock" in recognition of the maneuver's social media origins.

Britney Spears' controversial conservatorship

For most of her life, singer Britney Spears ruled the pop charts. But for 13 years, she couldn't even access the bank account containing the spoils of her lucrative career. That changed in 2021 when Spears — under a court-ordered legal arrangement which had her father, Jamie Spears, in charge of all her personal and financial affairs — finally managed to break the shackles of that conservatorship

Spears' erratic behavior, from shaving her head to hitting a photographer's car in 2007, suggested mental health struggles on her part, warranting the conservatorship to protect her well-being. But in June 2021, it took a scathing probate court testimony in Los Angeles from Spears to reveal that her conservatorship was far more abusive than what anyone ever imagined. Everything involving Spears' life was out of her control, including social media posts, finances, touring itinerary, and medication. Add to that cajolery from her therapists and even threats from lawyers if she dared make her conservatorship public.

"I just want my life back," said Spears in a court transcription published in Variety. "And it's been 13 years. And it's enough."

No doubt Spears fans are overjoyed to have their star back. But whether her ability to reverse a conservatorship will set a precedent for those less rich and famous caught in a similar abusive situation remains to be seen.

Facebook turns a blind eye to online abuse on its website

For years, Facebook has promised its social media platform would be safer for users prone to receiving hate messages, fake news, and other threats. Mark Zuckerberg even appeared before Congress to say, "I'm committed to getting this right." But in 2021, a whistleblower in the form of Facebook product manager Frances Haugen demonstrated that commitment was an empty gesture. To prove it, she leaked thousands of documents citing her employer for continuing to facilitate hate speech and causing numerous other violations, including some that may have led to the January 6 insurrection.

NBC News was among the media receiving the documents, revealing improprieties like an unwillingness to follow research-based recommendations to decrease misinformation, failure to filter offensive posts, and an inability to police sites outside the U.S. Haugen became concerned about Facebook's integrity before the 2020 election, when her superiors killed initiatives to eliminate misinformation surrounding the event. "I was learning all these horrific things about Facebook, and it was really tearing me up inside," she said to Time.

When she found out later that year that her civic integrity group at Facebook's San Francisco headquarters was being dismantled, she went public. Haugen testified before the Senate in October 2021, outlining Facebook's violations and suggesting recommendations like a task force to investigate social media algorithms. Today, she lives in Puerto Rico, using encryption technology to keep her specific whereabouts a secret.

Bill & Melinda Gates split in the wake of an infidelity scandal

Bill Gates has long been admired for his genius behind his lucrative Microsoft conglomerate, before starting a worldwide foundation to support international causes with his wife Melinda. But in 2021, the revered philanthropist also became notorious as a philanderer. In May, the couple announced their plans to divorce after 27 years of marriage, following the news that Gates had carried on an affair with a Microsoft employee. According to Vanity Fair, the shenanigans might have continued had Melinda not hired a private investigator to gather evidence on her husband's activities that eventually led to one of the darkest periods of his life.

"Melinda and I continue to run our foundation together and have found a good new working rhythm," wrote the billionaire in his GatesNotes blog, "but I can't deny that it's been a year of great personal sadness for me."

Affair notwithstanding, Gates had some explaining to do regarding his relationship with politically influential and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in a jail cell while awaiting trial that summer. "I had several dinners with him, hoping that what he said about getting billions of philanthropy for global health through contacts that he had might emerge," he said to CNN's Anderson Cooper. "When it looked like that wasn't a real thing, that relationship ended. It was a huge mistake to spend time with him." 

The Cuomo brothers get nailed with allegations of inappropriate behavior

While New York City endured the pandemic and came to terms with the political carnage of former President Donald Trump (a former resident who became reviled long before he ran for office), residents could always rely on positive reassurances from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his brother Chris, a CNN op-ed celebrity. But thanks to a few leaks and public complaints, Big Apple residents discovered things about the highly regarded siblings that were rotten to the core.

First it was Andrew Cuomo, who denied several sexual harassment allegations against him, until a scathing report issued in August 2021 by New York Attorney General Letitia James outlined detailed accounts of inappropriate touching and sexist comments from 11 women, several of them public employees (per Associated Press). By September, the governor resigned in disgrace.

Meanwhile, Chris Cuomo, who frequently had his political brother guest on his show, stayed silent about the situation. But CNN later fired him after finding out the host used his credentials to get information deemed helpful to his brother. "This is not how I want my time at CNN to end," he said on Twitter. But the former CNN star of late has also been the subject of sexual allegation rumors, including one by TV executive Shelley Ross, claiming in The New York Times she was groped by him at a party in 2005.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The Golden Globes get the NBC axe

The Golden Globes' absence from NBC airwaves in January 2021 spoke volumes about the precarious state of the awards show in the wake of scandal plaguing its organizers, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. While improprieties have dogged the HFPA for years, including allegations that a billionaire husband of actress Pia Zadora bribed the board into awarding two Globes for her lead role in the largely lambasted 1981 outing "Butterfly," accusations of racism were harder to ignore. 

Credit a Los Angeles Times exposé for stoking those fires, including how a membership board of fewer than 100 could have zero Black representation and a "culture of corruption," according to one source. Reaction was fierce, as the Black community called out the HFPA for snubbing the critically acclaimed series "I Must Destroy You," while twice nominating the frequently panned "Emily In Paris." Anger intensified after Deadline broke a story about a former HFPA president's email calling Black Lives Matter a "racist hate movement."

Additional backlash ensued, including a Time's Up campaign, a boycott staged by the likes of Netflix and TimeWarner, additional condemnation from celebs like Tom Cruise (who returned his awards in protest), and NBC axing the broadcast of the 2022 gala, which wound up being a modest private ceremony. "We celebrate the work of artists from around the globe," said HFPA Vice President Helen Hoehne at the low-key event. "We recognize we have our own work to do" (per CNN).

Indeed they do.

The South Pole punches a hole in the Big Bang Theory

Ironically, in a year that accentuated our fears for the future, one little-known story questioned our very existence. That item addressed the long-accepted Big Bang Theory, which deduces that the universe originated from a tiny, super-compressed object that exploded nearly 14 billion years ago. However, data retrieved in October 2021 from a South Pole-based telescope strongly suggested the theory needs a massive revisit.

Many scholars have long questioned parts of the theory, including how the universe's current layout would have required the explosion's debris to travel faster than the speed of light, a scientific impossibility. But the biggest scientific bone of contention argues why there's no evidence of any "footprints" in the form of celestial trails to trace all that debris which eventually morphed into stars, planets, galaxies, and other bodies.

That Antarctic telescope dubbed BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) was supposed to find those trails in the form of cosmic gravitational microwaves. So far, the data has revealed a dead end, ruling out several models explaining the expansion of the universe. Is the Big Bang a Big Blooper? Not quite, according to senior scientist Don Lincoln, reminding his disappointed colleagues in a CNN opinion piece that "there are no sacred cows in science."

But while we ponder the precarious nature of our future, it now seems even our origins are more ambiguous than ever.