OR… STOP THE FLAT EARTH, I WANT TO GET OFF
November is Conspiracy Month at Tea’s Weird Week. Reporting live from Dallas…
Well, as I mentioned on Facebook, here in Dallas is probably where my story jumps the shark or falls off the edge of reality. The edge of the Flat Earth, that is. Yes, this “globehead” (which is what suckers like me who believe the world is a sphere are called) went undercover to hang out at the Flat Earth International Conference the last two days here in a suburb called Frisco in a hotel conference center.
You’ll be able to read more about the experience in my upcoming book, American Madness (Feral House, August 2020) but for now, here are some random notes, observations, and a couple photos.
- First of all, yes, these people really do believe the earth is flat. Or at least they think that they think they do. I think it’s more cult-like, a group of people looking for a place to belong.
- Some demographics: my estimate was 300-500 attendees. Mostly white, but not exclusively. Wide age range and I would say more men than women, but not by much. Some observations from my note pad, people that looked like “eccentric professors” “kind of punk rock” “family: man with beard, woman in prairie dress, 3 kids–Amish? Mormon?” “bros with backward baseball caps” “Latino bodybuilder with Flat Earth tank top” “sunburnt bald guy with Snidley Whiplash mustache.” But a lot of people looked like regular everyday people you might see in line at the grocery store.
- Enemies of Flat Earthers, called out repeatedly during the conference: NASA (“masonic and Satanic,” as one speaker said), Neil Degrasse-Tyson, Bill Nye, MythBusters (all guilty of ridiculing flat earth), Albert Einstein, Elon Musk, and mainstream media. They did seem to admire Nikola Tesla.
- There were about a dozen young kids in attendance. I did make me really sad to think of these kids growing up being told that space and space exploration and science in general is FAKE. Science is very cool, kids.
- I recommend the Netflix doc on FLat Earthers. Behind the Curve. Most of the people in that doc were here, including main subject Mark Sargent.
- There are religious flat earthers, who believe the Bible provides clues that the earth is flat. Then there are flat earthers who have pieced together some pseudo-science experiments, like bring a carpenter’s level onto an airplane or shining a laser across a flat area to prove there’s no curvature.
- One moment I kept thinking about– during a break I went across the street to get a slice of pizza from 7-11. I sat on a bench outside to scarf it down. A guy came walking up and gave a little wave. “Hey, fellow Flat Earther,” he said. “Hey man!” I replied. He looked like he wanted to say something more, but he shyly turned away. I saw him around the conference, sitting by himself. He seemed awkward, lonely, in need of a friend. He probably fell down a YouTube hole (that’s how many Flat Earthers are converted) and ended up here.
- The most popular flat earth pseudoscience podcast is GLOBEBUSTERS (their experiments were featured in the Behind the Curve documentary). I got to see a recording of the podcast including a live performance of the Globebusters theme song! It’s not quite a parody of the Ghostbusters song, but kind of an odd remix and it’s been stuck in my damn head all day.
- Speaking of music, Flat Earthers have a rich output of music geared toward them, which makes them unique in conspiracy culture (where is the anti-vaxx or Reptilian themed songs?) Flat Earth Man sings country tunes on flat earth related topics. He sadly didn’t perform live this year, but he popped up in no less than four Flat Earth Video Awards nominees and I bought a signed copy of his CD.There also is a flat earth hip hop genre, there were a couple of live performances of booty shakin’ hits like “Lean Flat.” I think I’ll be writing a column or article on flat earth hip hop someday soon.Also performing were a couple of vocalists I’d describe as…pop? Soul? Imagine Mariah Carey singing about how NASA lies and believing your own eyes about not seeing a curvature on the earth.
- I was excited to see a “Flat Earth Game Show” but it turned out to be a scene they’re shooting in a movie about Flat Earth…but the cast were all Flat Earthers (Mark Sargent was the host).
- When I saw a comedy show listed, I had high hopes it would be like an open mic where Flat Earthers roasted globeheads or made Seinfeld like observations about day-to-day life on flat earth. I did get to see a bit of this at the awards show, but the main comedy event was Alt-Right comedian Owen Benjamin who has been shunned by mainstream comedy and has found refuge here in the fringe. His set bashed gay and transgendered people, he ranted a defense about being able to use the N-bomb in a comedy bit, blah blah– complete shit. Bad form, Flat Earthers.
- I watched about six talks, including “NASA: Going Nowhere Since 1958” and “Coming Out of the Flat Earth Closet: A Call to Activism.” In between, I checked out the vendor floor, spread down the conference hallway. It included flat earth models, clocks, posters, self-published books, DVDs, clothes, jewelry, and busts of Nikola Tesla.
- I was really excited to see the “Flat Earth Mega Panel” and submitted questions to it, but because the other speakers were longwinded, it was canceled. Flat Earthers not only don’t use globes, they also don’t like to use watches, apparently.
- The conference ended with the Flat Earth Video Awards, aka the “Flattys.” It featured live music performances, and included awards to “Best Flat Earth Awakening Video,” “Best Flat Earth Proof Experiment” and “Best Flat Smacking.””Flat smacking” is when you drop the truth bomb that the world is flat on a poor, unsuspecting globehead, you see. Now you know! The conference was a very interesting experiment, and I’m excited to write on it in more detail for American Madness. Time for me to get to work, my friends– as the Flate Earthers like to say– keep it flat!
Next week: My conspiracy journey continues here in Dallas. Will things get even weirder? I don’t think that’s possible. Will they remain reasonably weird? Yeah.
Tune in here every Friday for Tea’s Weird Week.
Today starts my 3-day vacation, where I’ll be doing nothing but laying in a hammock drinking pina coladas. Just kidding. I will be doing some kicking back at the Moonlight Retreat, but I’ll also be taking a red pen to a couple manuscripts and leading a ghostlore workshop.
Being somewhat in vacation mode (and looking forward to fall), for today’s column I thought it would be appropriate to round up of some stories I’ve studied this summer. I’m working on finishing up a book about conspiracy theory (American Madness) and 2019 has been a helluva year for it. This summer in particular feels like the one where we collectively lost our damn minds. [I included links to further reading.]
Here’s my top 5 Summer of Conspiracy stories:
(1.) Storm Area 51: I wrote about the viral “Storm Area 51” event in this column a few weeks ago. Now there’s going to be a 3-day “Alien Stock” music fest, already drawing comparisons to the disastrous Fyre Festival. As I wrote before, I’ve been through the area and Rachel, the town the fest is happening in, has a population of 58 people, no infrastructure, no shelter, no nothing– the nearest gas station is 50 miles away! Not the best place for an EDM festival. [USA Today]
(2.) QAnon Vigilante: One of my editors sent this article to me and I’m surprised I haven’t seen it more in the news cycle. Francesco “Franky Boy” Cali, who was head of the Gambino crime family and spent most of his life avoiding death, had his ass capped by a vigilante conspiracy theorist named Anthony Comello, inspired by QAnon. I’ll be dissecting the story more in my book. [New York Times]
(3.) Flight of the Flat Earther. After aborting his mission last weekend, Flat Earther and rocketeer “Mad” Mike Hughes is set to blast 5,000 feet into the stratosphere in his homemade rocket tomorrow, which reads “Research Flat Earth” on the side and was funded by a hook-up dating app called Hud. The attempt will be filmed for an upcoming show called Homemade Astronauts for the Science Channel, which sounds fun. At first I was completely confused as to how launching 5,000 feet in the air could prove anything about Flat Earth as we have planes, hot air balloons, and hang gliders that can rise higher than that, but then I realized this is more about publicity. It’s not the journey, it’s how you get there. [Space.com]
(4.) V is for…Anti-vaxxer? This year’s San Diego Comic Con featured an appearance by a large group of protesters dressed as V, the character from V for Vendetta in a protest appearance made popular by Anonymous. A couple months earlier, the same (or similar) group protested outside of Disneyland for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, dressed as Star Wars characters. [respectfulinsolence.com]
(5.) Epstein Suicide Conspiracy. The most interesting news story of the last week for me was the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein. It was just crazy to see conspiracies explode and proliferate online within minutes of his death being reported. Because Epstein had some connection to both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, the theories were partisan– Trump had him rubbed out or the Clintons had him whacked (to fit the Clinton Body Count theory) or a Deep State cabal did. I even saw theories that Epstein made a getaway, leaving a dead hobo’s body in his place (a theory spread by the band Foster the People, among others, who tweeted “Epstein’s on a private plane to somewhere in the middle east getting prepped for plastic surgery right now”). [NBC News]
Alright, enough conspiracy– I’m off to the Moonlight Retreat. Have a good weekend!
My favorite barbershop is Jose’s. Sad to hear of namesake Jose Ortiz’s death. Here’s an “Off the Cuff” I wrote on him for the Shepherd Express back in 2008, after someone suggested I stop in and talk to him because he was an interesting person. Indeed he was.: https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/off-the-cuff/barber-extraordinaire
My latest book is Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers. You can find it here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow