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 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."

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 (an unpixelated version of the shot above) 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.

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 Curse of Oak Island featured (surprise!) fake documents

Everything about The Curse of Oak Island feels totally fake, or at the very least just stupid. Like oh, wow, look, it's a piece of wood. That probably has nothing to do with the fact that human beings have been building stuff for thousands of years and the island is covered with wood. But hey, no one can really say for sure where those bits of wood came from, so go ahead and call that proof of buried treasure. Knock yourself out. 

But here's a piece of so-called evidence that we know is fake: the Oak Island map that appeared during season 6. This particular map includes a drawing of the island and looks like it got torn out of a journal someone purchased at the Dollar Tree, but the notes are in French. That means it's authentic, right? According to the show, this map is somehow supposed to be connected to a much more mysterious and valuable "Templar document."

But according to Donald Ruh, who was once in possession of both of those documents, the two have nothing to do with each other. In fact, Ruh believes that the Oak Island Map is actually a fabrication, created by someone in the 1970s (which, granted, does predate the Dollar Tree). If the show's use of those two pieces of evidence is what amounts to "proof," we don't really think much of everything else that's happening on Oak Island.

The History Channel gave this dumb conspiracy theory a platform

It's one of the world's most ridiculous conspiracy theories: the government is filling the air with chemicals so that they can mind-control everyone on planet Earth, or make everyone sick, or control the weather or something. Just pick your favorite. Most people intuitively understand the sheer stupidity of this idea, because if it was actually true that the government was filling the air with chemicals in a bid to mind-control everyone, they appear to be really, really bad at it. Have you noticed an unusually large number of people stumbling around in our streets muttering things like, "Must manipulate futures prices?" Neither have we.

Anyway, the whole idea is so patently stupid that most people don't even think about it, except History, who evidently felt like it was worth an entire show. But according to Contrail Science (and now everyone who believes this stuff is shouting, "You can't trust Contrail Science because they are totally in on it!") the History special basically just repeated the whole stupid conspiracy theory and provided a platform to the whack-jobs who actually believe it, thus making the theory seem credible ... which is just such an awesome thing to do in an era where half the population already doesn't trust science. Thanks, History, for making it someone else's job to remind everyone that you can't trust a conspiracy nut, even one who gets to be on the History Channel.

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.

In the wild, no one can hear you scream. Except all those camera people.

The reality competition Alone is totally about history, because everything you'll see in any given episode was shot in the historical timeframe of six months ago.

This particular reality show tries to one-up Survivor by abandoning its contestants in the middle of nowhere and then following their journey to survive alone in the wilderness. Happily, none of these people are naked, because another truly awful reality show already did that.

According to E-Celebrity, one really stupid thing that got viewers fired up about the show (and not in the good way) is the fact that contestants aren't being forced to survive miles from civilization, which is what the showrunners want you to believe. No, in many cases the contestants are actually within an hour's walk of the nearest town, and sometimes they're in a place where there is a network of trails, which definitely seems to suggest that they're just not really that isolated.

The Mountain Man who got busted for building code violations

History's Mountain Men is totally about history, because it features people pretending like they are living in the 17th century ... except for when they watch television while no one is looking.

One of the stars of Mountain Men is Eustace Conway, and his deal is teaching people how to be self-sufficient and also how to be super pretentious about their self-sufficiency. "Like Thoreau," says Conway's bio, "Eustace has gone to the woods to live deliberately, fronting only the essential facts of life, to see if he could not learn what it had to teach, and not when he came to die discover that he had not lived." Oh wow, dude, seriously? Yeah, he's that kind of guy.

When he's not being pretentious on Mountain Men, he's being pretentious on his 1,000-acre wildlife preserve in North Carolina, where he teaches people how to live in the wilderness for a mere $700 a week, or $65 an hour if you'd rather just spend an afternoon riding around in a horse-drawn carriage. According to The Wall Street Journal, the preserve was recently raided by health, construction, and fire officials who deemed many of Conway's buildings "[not] fit for public use." But you know, Daniel Boon's outbuildings also weren't fit for public use, and you didn't see health inspectors crawling all over his property. Modern safety standards are so unfair.

I am a lumberjack and I'm illegally logging

When you think of lumberjacks, you usually think of burly dudes in plaid, chopping down trees, putting "wipe your butt on a spotted owl" stickers on their trucks, and maybe pressing wildflowers like in that Monty Python song. You don't typically think of them pulling stuff out of the water, because that's not where trees usually are.

According to NPR, though, there was a time when lumberjacks used to put felled trees on rafts and float them down the river, and every now and then the trees would fall off the raft and sink to the bottom. And they don't rot down there, either — if the water is cold, the trees will stay preserved at the bottom for a long time, and can eventually be salvaged.

The problem is, salvaging sunken trees is not legal in the state of Washington. That didn't stop Ax Man star Jimmy Smith from fishing those logs out of the river on national freaking television, which was either ridiculously arrogant or ridiculously stupid. Smith had an entirely altruistic reason for his actions, though: to protect people participating in water sports on the river, in case they're using like an 11-foot-long oar or something and they accidentally get it stuck on a log. "If I can save on kid or one boater, I think it's worth it," Smith said. And we're sure that the money he got for those logs didn't factor into it at all.

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.

Danny Koker from Counting Cars made some ignorant statements about the environment

Counting Cars is totally about history because its star has a core value system from 1969.

The fact that Danny Koker is living in a hippy-hating, muscle car-loving, masculine stereotype with its roots in a gentler time, when no one cared about things like being able to breathe or actually see the horizon is not too surprising. He's a car guy, and he likes combustion engines, loud noises, and high speed, and really none of those things are compatible with a world in which people can breathe or see the horizon.

"Prius, I've got no use for," he told the Canadian Morning Show in 2013. "If it gets 4 miles to the gallon and has 800 horsepower, I'm thrilled. We've got more oil than we can shake a stick at. The politicians are playing a game. Let's burn this stuff and have a good time."

So okay, we get it Danny. Clean air isn't exactly good for your bottom line. But most people can't spend 40 bucks a day on a 5-mile round-trip commute, either, so you might want to rethink your opinion about fuel economy just a little.

Rick Dale from American Restoration got called out for doing shoddy work

When your livelihood depends on your reputation as a purveyor of high-quality work, and your work is suddenly on display to an enormous television audience, it seems like it would be in your best interests to make sure you keep producing high-quality work. Sure, you might feel like your fame has put you on the top of the world and it will never end, but that's how Spencer Pratt felt, too. Who is Spencer Pratt, you ask? Exactly.

So our advice to reality stars is this: Do high-quality work. According to the Vegas Tourist, though, at least one reality star has failed to follow that piece of advice.

Rick Dale from American Restoration was called out in 2012 for restoring a 1950s-style jukebox but failing to actually repair the thing. He kept the jukebox for two months, did a great job making it look good, but when the owner got it back he discovered that it wasn't in working order, even though restoring it to working order was part of the original agreement. Now, it's great to have a sharp-looking, jukebox but what you really want is a sharp-looking jukebox that plays music, and you especially want that if you paid someone $4,000 to make it look sharp and play music. But not only did Dale reportedly fail to acknowledge that the work wasn't complete, he also cashed the check and stopped returning his customer's phone calls. How professional.

The shamelessly offensive American Jungle

Reality television is part exploitation, part making fun of people who deserve it, and part totally, utterly, and completely fake. But there are lines that even reality television producers try not to cross, and the producers of American Jungle definitely crossed one or two of them. It's one thing to exploit swamp people or weird mountain men who maybe want to be exploited, and it's quite another to exploit native people who do not want to be exploited.

The 2013 show American Jungle was short-lived, so you might not even remember it. Basically, it was a show about native Hawaiians from rival clans fighting each other over hunting rights. Just reading that synopsis probably gave you a bad taste in your mouth, but for some reason it never occurred to anyone at the network that maybe exploiting native people was a terrible idea. The Hawaiian government was certainly not amused, claiming the show was culturally insensitive and also inaccurate. According to CBS, the show depicted illegal activities, too, such as hunting at night and hunting feral cattle without a permit. We're not sure how much any of this had to do with the show's swift cancellation, but it didn't get past its first eight episodes.

Pirate Treasure of the Knights Templar was condemned by UNESCO

Shows about buried/sunken treasure and unsolved historical mysteries tend to do well for History, but as anyone who was inspired by Indiana Jones to become an archaeologist can tell you, real treasure hunting is super-boring. So to get people to actually tune in to a show about buried/sunken treasure, you kind of need to sensationalize, embellish, and just make things up as you go along. The trouble is, most people believe reality television will contain some actual reality, and the accuracy of most treasure hunting shows is questionable at best.

The History show Pirate Treasure of the Knights Templar was a short-lived series starring forensic geologist Scott Wolter and treasure hunter Barry Clifford. Their team was searching sunken wrecks off the coast of Madagascar that they believed were connected to the Portuguese Templars.

The show was called out for unprofessionalism by UNESCO, which accused them of treating the research and recovery of the vessels in "an unscientific manner, without the necessary precautions and leading to damage to the sites as well as making it more difficult to understand the historic background of the sites." In response, Wolter basically claimed that UNESCO was just jealous. "UNESCO hates Barry Clifford simply because he is the most successful pirate ship discoverer in history," he wrote on his blog. Oh, okay, that must be it. Still, the show only lasted one season, so he clearly isn't that successful of a discoverer.

Surprise: The Founding Fathers probably weren't that hot

Sons of Liberty is what American history would look like if the Founding Fathers were all moonlighting as characters on Riverdale. If you believe that the Founding Fathers were hot, mostly-young men who were super-athletic and totally rocked those tricorn hats, you might also be tempted to think you can get an American history education by devoting a few hours to this miniseries. But you would be totally wrong.

History (real history, lowercase "h") remembers the Sam Adams of 1765 as a middle-aged dude with a paunch, but in Sons of Liberty he's, um, not. In fact, he's not only swoonworthy, he's also surprisingly nimble for a 43-year-old dude. And that's not the show's only inaccuracy — the Journal of the American Revolution listed 22 missteps just in the first episode.

Now, this is historical fiction, and almost every piece of historical fiction ever written contains inaccuracies — sometimes it's just sloppy research, and sometimes it's done deliberately so events will be more entertaining, or because the storyline needs to move along more quickly than actual history does. It's called creative license, but the problem with using it in History (the channel, uppercase "h") dramas is that just about everyone who watches is going to assume that the things unfolding on the screen come directly from history. So when you tune into Sons of Liberty, it's worth keeping this in mind: Fiction is fiction, whether it's on HBO or History.

The Vikings weren't like that (sorry)

You will be shocked to hear that History's Vikings is a dramatization, not a documentary.

Now in History's defense, Vikings is based on the old Norse sagas, which National Geographic says were written down in the 13th century but were passed down verbally for centuries before that. So the "facts" that are recorded in the Norse sagas probably aren't really facts — they've likely been embellished, altered, or even completely made up. Historians don't really even agree on whether the show's central character, Ragnar Lothbrok, even existed.

One of the biggest liberties showrunners took was with the relationship between Ragnar and Rollo. In real life (assuming Ragnar existed, obviously), the two men were not only not brothers, it's unlikely they ever even met. And the show's timeline is all off, too — we see our favorite marauders raiding a monastery in Season 1, and then attacking Paris in Season 3, which are two events that happened 120 years apart. Also, the Vikings did wear helmets (though not horned helmets like you're probably picturing), Christians didn't crucify heathens (crucifixion was purely a Jesus thing), the Vikings almost never fought pitched battles (they preferred raids), and as much as we love the shield maidens, there probably weren't that many of them, if they existed at all. Sadly, that doesn't leave a whole lot of room for the truth.