Birds Aren’t Real: LIVE from the Columbus Arts Festival
BIRDS AREN’T REAL! You may have seen signs at political rallies or internet memes expressing this satirical conspiracy theory. In this episode, we recorded LIVE at the Columbus Arts Festival from the WCBE 90.5 FM booth to tell the story about the Birds Aren’t Real movement, how it got started and how it went viral. Then we put the conspiracy theory to the test by talking to a real raptor expert, Joe Dorrian of the Ohio School of Falconry.
The town of Bielefeld, Germany doesn’t exist. At least that’s what an early online conspiracy theory wanted you to believe. And when I say early, we’re talking 1994. That’s before hardly anyone had the Internet. In a usenet group, a German computer science student started an online rumor that the entire city of Bielefeld – a city that, in reality, does very much exist – is a made up story by a mysterious group known only as SIE (which is they in German). The conspiracy is proved by asking questions like “Do you know anybody from Bielefeld? Have you been there? Do you know anyone who’s been there? More than likely, they would answer no. This proves the conspiracy. If they answer yes, then they are just part of the conspiracy and helping to cover up the truth. Bielefeld is a city of 341,000 people. It exists. But it doesn’t have any famous landmarks or tourist attractions, so it’s a great target for a conspiracy theory.
A similar satirical conspiracy theory started a few years ago about the existence of the entire country of Finland. It appears to have started on Reddit, but now you can find tons of videos and articles online about how Finland doesn’t really exist. It’s just part of Sweden and the existence of Finland was made up to protect a portion of the Baltic Sea for Japanese and Russian fishing interests. It’s actually quite an in-depth and well-constructed conspiracy theory, but it’s mostly just in jest. It’s satire. And that brings us to the conspiracy theory that we’re talking about today.
It’s called “Birds Aren’t Real” and it posits that the birds we see in the sky aren’t real birds, but are actually government drones spying on us. It seems like it’s reached viral status.
The Birds Aren’t Real Conspiracy theory can all be traced back to one guy. Peter McIndoe of Fayetteville, Arkansas. He’s this young college age guy in 2017 and he was at a women’s march in Memphis. When he saw a bunch of Pro-Trump counter-protesters, he wanted to poke fun at them by making up a conspiracy theory on the spot. He wrote the words “Birds Aren’t Real” on a sign.
When people asked him about it, he just started spouting whatever nonsense came to his head. A video of McIndoe holding up the sign went viral and that’s when this thing really got legs, particularly with younger Americans. Some news stations started reporting it as if it were a real conspiracy, not realizing the whole thing was a parody.
After awhile, Peter even created an online wiki for the conspiracy theory and added in more details. Most of these were things he had been making up on the spot about the conspiracy. It even gave a backstory involving President Eisenhower and CIA Director Allen Dulles. On BirdsArentReal.com, the history says, “Dulles and his team hated birds with a passion, and were heard on many occasions calling them,” flying slugs” and,” the scum of the skies,” as they would often poop on their cars in the parking lot of the C.I.A. headquarters, and quite frankly- all over the D.C. Metro area. I believe this was one of the driving forces that led Dulles to not only implement robots into the sky, but actually replace birds in the process.”
So they claim the government extinguished over 12 billion birds between 1959 and 1971 and replaced them with government spy drones. There are even additional details about how when birds perch on high voltage wires, those are the drones charging. Or how when they poop on your car, the bird poop is really tracking you. From their website: “Bird poop was originally thought to be oil discharge from earlier bird drone models. After further research though, this was disproven. Bird poop irregularly falls on vehicles in large amounts. Recent studies show that 87% of Bird Poop in populated areas falls on people’s cars. Why is this? Confidential documents leaked in 2018 revealing that “Bird Poop” is actually a form of liquidated tracking apparatus.”
There are so many details, I’m not gonna keep going with all of it, but it’s so well thought out…you know what? Yes I am. Let’s keep going with this stuff. They have even claimed that different types of birds have different roles. For instance, pigeons are used for city surveillance while owls are night surveillance drones. Bluebirds are retinal scanners and parrots are linguistic analysts. Watch out for hummingbirds though, because they are attack drones used for assassinations. Ravens are stealth attack drones. If you can’t remember all this, Peter sells a Tee Shirt for $32 with a chart.
Now you might wonder – what about the birds I’ve seen on the side of the road that have been hit by cars? They look real to me. I can see bird guts. I see vultures eating them. According to the FAQ at BirdsArentReal.com, the government has access to futuristic technologies that allow the drones to be indistinguishable from a biological organism. And those vultures? Those have a job too. Sanitation. They’re cleaning up lost drones.
So what about birds you eat like Chicken and Turkeys? Those are drones too, according to this theory. But the technology allows them to have consumable synthetic meat so no one suspects anything.
If you have a pet bird, by the way, be careful having conversations around them.
Of course, none of this birds aren’t real stuff is true. It’s not even a real conspiracy, and – unless they’re completely missing the joke – no one actually believes it. Peter McIndoe has done an amazing job of keeping up the appearance of it being a real conspiracy. But eventually, he came out and told people the truth about how and why he started it. And that’s where this gets into some real introspection into the state of the country today.
We live in the era of QAnon, Flat Earth, Election Conspiracy, Reptilians and a dozen other conspiracy theories that – had they existed before the Internet – would have never gained this sort of traction with these large groups of people. But now anyone can create a fake history on the Internet, cherry pick and edit videos and audio to prove their point, and gain a following. I’ve seen some numbers that say something like 2% of people believe the Earth is flat. What? We all saw in real time the amount of conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the vaccines. If you get a person in a lab coat to make a statement on YouTube that Bill Gates is putting microchips in your vaccine in order to get you to obey some secret cabal of global elites, then there are a certain percentage of people out there who will buy it. Like how JFK Jr. didn’t die in a plane crash, but is secretly the Vice President. These people are nuts, but the mere accessibility of information and the fact that they can put it on the Internet makes some people believe it’s true. And if the Internet Says it’s True…well just listen to these guys for a minute.
So what Peter McIndoe is doing with Birds Aren’t Real is holding up a giant mirror. It started as a joke, but it came from a place of real concern. One group of young people who participate in Birds Aren’t Real were interviewed by 60 minutes about how their generation is surrounded by conspiracy theories. One of those students was a survivor of the Parkland Shooting.
Now the movement has become so ubiquitous that it’s hard to see a giant crowd of protesters without at least one “Birds Aren’t Real Sign.” So in a way – the Birds Aren’t Real movement has something in common with this podcast. The title of this show, “The Internet Says it’s True” is satirical. It’s obviously a satirical statement. It just so happens that the topics I cover each week are pretty meticulously researched and verified. They’re true stories. But everything you read on the Internet isn’t the truth. In an age where we rely on the Internet for information, people have to try harder to disseminate what’s real from what’s fake – and in my opinion – this is going to be one of the biggest challenges we face as a society.
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