The biggest scandals to ever hit the History Channel

Long ago, when the internet was young and facts still had meaning, there was a television network known as the History Channel. It featured shows about history. You know, past events that actually happened in real life? The channel specialized in documentaries about wide-ranging subjects, like World War II and the aftermath of World War II. It had adequate ratings and a solid audience of dads. But then something happened (extraterrestrial intervention?), and the History Channel began to pivot away from strictly historical programming. Instead, we were presented with a slew of reality shows about pawn shops, swamp people, and truckers driving on icy roads, plus a whole bunch of incoherent "documentary" series about how aliens built the pyramids (they didn't) and how Bigfoot was finally captured by scientists (he wasn't).

This baffling switch from history to nonsense has been a huge ratings boost for the channel, which has since rebranded from "The History Channel" to the sleeker, increasingly inaccurate name of "History." However, it has also landed the former History Channel in a whole lot of hot water. Here are some of the biggest scandals to hit the History Channel, and historical inaccuracy is just the beginning.

An 'Ice Road Truckers' star is arrested for kidnapping and extortion

Ice Road Truckers is one of History's best-known reality shows, depicting the perilous lives of drivers in the iciest regions of Canada and Alaska. And sure, it's been criticized by actual trucker media like Truck News for exaggerating or even outright faking some of the danger, but the real scandal hit the show in 2013, when Ice Road Truckers star Timothy Zickuhr kidnapped a woman and held her for ransom.

According to a CBS report, Zickuhr abducted Lisa Cadeau after hiring her for sex work in Las Vegas. He claimed that she had overcharged him by $1,000 and demanded she meet with him to settle the dispute. But instead of "settling" anything, he dragged her back to his apartment, beat her, tied her up with backpack straps, shoved her in a closet, and doused her with cold water from a mop bucket.

Fearing for her life, Cadeau gave Zickuhr the phone number of an undercover police officer, claiming he was a man who could pay her ransom. Zickuhr called the number and unknowingly arranged his own arrest. The Las Vegas Sun reports that he forced Cadeau to jump out a second-story window in order to avoid police detection … before he brought her directly to the undercover officer. Zickuhr confessed on the spot, admitting that he intended to hold Cadeau hostage and prostitute her through Craigslist and that he had "made a mistake." Yeah … no kidding.

'Ancient Aliens' is pretty racist

Ancient Aliens might hold the dubious crown of the History Channel's least historical show. It's well known for featuring men with wild haircuts spouting conspiracy theories about aliens and pyramids, but the show has also made its way onto Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch blog for showcasing so many white supremacist theories.

Yeah, Ancient Aliens might seem like a bit of silly, conspiratorial fun at first. But the idea that ancient African, Asian, and Native American architectural marvels could have only been built by some kind of mysterious, alien entity isn't a new one. Hatewatch reminds us that this concept was actually used as one of Andrew Jackson's justifications for the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Jackson insisted that Native Americans could not possibly have built all those big, cool, ancient mounds scattered throughout North America, and therefore they had murdered the magical super-race that came before them, and therefore the Trail of Tears was totally okay and scientifically sound.

In fact, quite a lot of white supremacist literature over the years has suggested that non-European civilizations didn't really build any wonders of the past, and that ancient Aryans are somehow secretly responsible. Switch out Aryans for aliens and you can see why some people find the show so distasteful. And, as Hyperallergic points out, we already know how the pyramids were built (ramps). Insisting on aliens at this point is more than a little willfully ignorant.

The devil on 'The Bible' looks like Obama

It was already somewhat debatable whether a TV adaptation of the Bible really belonged on the History Channel in the first place. Nevertheless, the mini-series The Bible was a huge hit for the network in 2014 … except for that one slip-up where the producers cast an actor who looked a whole lot like President Barack Obama to play the devil. Whoops. As described in the Guardian, the comparison went viral almost immediately after the 10-hour mini-series first premiered. You couldn't throw a stone emoji without hitting several hundred posts of Obama's face next to Moroccan actor Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni (who, to credit his devilish acting, definitely looks grumpier than the president). Producer Roma Downey claimed the resemblance was a total coincidence and that the controversy was complete nonsense and exactly what the devil would have wanted, but the damage was already done.

Time reported that when The Bible producers cut down their series for the feature-length film version, Son of God, they decided to nix Satan entirely, hoping audiences would focus their attention on Jesus instead.

'The Kennedys' was too controversial for television

Every so often, even the History Channel has to admit that some of their programming is a tad controversial. There was that one time that they commissioned and then abruptly canceled a $30 million mini-series about the Kennedys, for example. The Hollywood Reporter explains the bizarre fate of The Kennedys, which was a scripted, eight-part series about John F. Kennedy and his family, leaning hard into some of the more tawdry rumors about the famous clan. An early leaked draft of the script caused an outcry among Kennedy family allies, and after months of rewrites and filming, the high-profile project was pulled entirely for being pretty much wall-to-wall slander and lies. Or, as the official statement went, it was "not a fit for the History brand."

Co-creator Joel Surnow still defended his project in an interview with the Atlantic, saying people were biased against him for being a staunch conservative who wanted to make a Kennedy series. Conspiracy theorists also took the opportunity to insist that the surviving members of the Kennedy family had bullied the History Channel into dropping the show (because conspiracy theorists love the Kennedys), but all we know for sure is that when the mini-series eventually did come out elsewhere, the Hollywood Reporter review called it "dull," "unwatchable," and "a ham-fisted mess."

That 'Amelia Earhart' documentary that was debunked right away

Remember when the History Channel "solved" the mystery of Amelia Earhart, only to have their key piece of evidence debunked right away by a blogger? Because that happened. According to Vanity Fair, the documentary Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence caused some short-lived excitement when it presented a photo of Earhart and her navigator, alive and in the Marshall Islands after her mysterious disappearance. The documentary suggests that Earhart survived her infamous crash in 1937 and that the U.S. government knew she was alive but covered it up … because … conspiracy?

Anyway, the History Channel only had a brief moment of historical triumph before they were thwarted by a blogger with access to a library. National Geographic reports that Japanese military blogger Kota Yamano decided to do a little fact-checking on Amelia Earhart's fate. He looked up the alleged location of the photo in the Japanese national library's database and found it right away. He said it took him a half hour. Turns out, the photo was published in a Japanese coffee table book in the year 1935. Two years before Earhart took her flight. So even if it were Amelia Earhart in that photo (it's not), it definitely doesn't prove anything about her disappearance. In response, the History Channel promised that they have a team of experts "exploring the latest developments about Amelia Earhart," and they will surely keep the public informed if she should pop up again.

The cast of 'Swamp People' can't stay out of trouble

Swamp People rounds out the chaotic triumvirate of the History Channel's most inexplicable reality shows, alongside Ice Road Truckers and Pawn Stars. Instead of trucking or pawning, though, Swamp People follows the lives of alligator hunters living in Louisiana. Of course, alligators seem to be the least of the cast's worries. Sure, some of the alligator violence is exaggerated for dramatic effect, but according to TMZ, Swamp People stars R.J. Molinere and Jay Paul Molinere really were arrested for attacking a man with a beer bottle. TMZ also reported that Trapper Joe was arrested for burning his girlfriend with a lit cigarette and then punching her in the chest. Screenrant detailed a time that Roger Rivers Jr. got in trouble with the law for selling illegal meat.

The swamp people of Swamp People proved so troublesome, in fact, that the History Channel decided to just replace them. Starcasm reports that most of the cast was suddenly fired before season seven of the popular reality show, shocking fans and sending angry cast members into social media rants. The cast has denied rumors that they asked for more money, and they were vocally displeased with the network's abrupt, unexplained decision. Producers held firm, though, and remaining fans just had to deal with a whole new bunch of (hopefully less violent) swamp people.

'Bigfoot Captured' is 100 percent fake

In the grand tradition of that weird Animal Planet "documentary" about mermaids, Bigfoot Captured was a feature-length special about the discovery and capture of a real Sasquatch. It was also, as Paste Magazine put it, a TV abomination. See, the History Channel styled Bigfoot Captured as a real documentary, about an actual real live forest ape, despite the fact that the entire program was pure fiction. Only, some people didn't realize it was fictional, since the "scripted story" disclaimer was buried deep in the credits. This left some viewers furious about pseudoscience being presented as fact and some viewers thoroughly excited to discover "proof" of a "real" Bigfoot. Many took to Twitter to spread the good news about America's favorite cryptid.

I mean, sure, in theory a mockumentary about Bigfoot could be a bit of innocent fun. But not only did the History Channel fool their audience, they also more or less lied to their guest experts about the nature of the production. In an interview with Idaho State Journal, Professor Jeff Meldrum said he was disappointed to discover that the documentary faked evidence and had no interest in working from credible information. He confirmed that he had nothing to do with the overall plot, hadn't been told what he was getting himself into, and suggested that viewers "take what you can from it, and have a chuckle over the remainder."

The grandson of a Nazi war criminal is revealed on 'Hunting Hitler'

If the History Channel isn't yelling about aliens or pawn shops, there's a very good chance they're following up on a debunked conspiracy theory about Hitler. The channel was jokingly known as the "Hitler Channel" in the '90s, after all, and they haven't forgotten their roots. According to Variety, the show Hunting Hitler upset plenty of people by trivializing Hitler and giving credence to weird conspiracy theories about his escape to Argentina. The program was framed like any other thrilling cold case reality show, without much reverence for the fact that Hitler is a little less whimsical than Bigfoot. Even more upsetting is the fact that the History Channel promised anonymity to one of their key sources, and then clearly broadcast his entire face to more than 180 countries.

As the New York Daily News reports, the grandson of a Nazi war criminal agreed to appear on the program with the understanding that his face would be pixelated to protect him from the kind of people who are jazzed about watching Hunting Hitler. They do blur his face out — except for one shot where it is clearly visible, an obvious editing error that could have had serious consequences for someone who really doesn't want to broadcast that his grandfather was a Nazi.

The cast of 'Pawn Stars' was sued for $5 million

Pawn Stars is a wildly popular History Channel reality show, featuring the supposedly "real" day-to-day activities of the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. Much like Ice Road Truckers, the show has been widely criticized for having a rather loose definition of reality, and the shop itself has previously gotten into trouble over some of its merchandise. According to ABC News, they may have once melted down $50,000 worth of stolen coins. But the most valuable treasures at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, apparently, are the titular Pawn Stars themselves.

Huffington Post reported in 2012 that the former talent agents of the Pawn Stars stars were suing their ex-clients for switching agencies, demanding $5 million in lost commissions. The agency, Venture IAB Inc., claimed that History Channel executives had intentionally seduced the stars away from their original representation, convincing them to hire Venture rival Michael Camacho of UTA as their agent instead and losing Venture millions they would have made on that sweet, sweet pawn shop TV drama. It's unclear what happened with the lawsuit, which usually means it was either dismissed or settled out of court.

Chumlee has a less-than-stellar record

Pawn Stars fan favorite Austin Lee Russell is better known by his stage name, Chumlee. He's portrayed as the comic foil at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, where he's often the butt of jokes. Occasionally he'll impress his fellow pawn shop workers with his talent at the game of pinball. More frequently, he'll deliver his lines in a way that lets you know the money is only barely keeping him on the show. In non-televised reality, though, Chumlee's life is somewhat less whimsical and comedic.

As USA Today reports, police carried out a search of his house while following up on sexual assault allegations in 2016. They did not find the evidence to convict Chumlee of sexual assault, but they did find drugs in his regrettably named "Chum Chum" room, including marijuana and meth, as well as numerous illegal firearms, and quite a few items usually found with people who package and sell narcotics. According to the New York Daily News, however, the reality star was able to avoid jail time with a plea deal despite being charged with quite a few felonies.