Can these Flat Earthers convince you the planet isn't round?
In every age, brave heroes challenge convention and alter the world for good. With his voyage, Columbus showed Europeans the planet is bigger than what they always knew. With his theory of evolution, Darwin taught everyone that we're connected to all living things.
Ryan Beatty, 41, thinks he's onto an idea even bigger than that. And he's on a mission to spread it.
Right now, he may just be a firewood delivery guy. And yes, his friends all laugh at him and call him crazy. But Beatty is rock solid in his belief. And he dreams of creating seminars good enough to convince his friends, then convince his town of Baton Rouge, and then convince the rest of the globe.
Er, not the entire globe. The entire disk. Frisbee. Dinner plate. Whatever.
See, Beatty is a Flat Earther. He has believed, since July 2015, that the world is not round: "99.999999 percent sure," he says.
He is far from alone.
"We are all Flat Earthers," says his friend Karlee Midrano. Most people "just don't know it yet."
Go ahead. Giggle. Flat Earthers are accustomed to ridicule. To most, "Flat Earther" is a synonym for "stupid" or "willfully ignorant." It's the de facto Internet insult. President Obama even compared climate change deniers to Flat Earthers.
They've faced it all. Midrano says people in real life will get "downright aggressive." Amanda Lynne Grimes, a mom and Flat Earther in Reno, Nevada, says she got in a fight with her mom over it. Meghan Rasor, a 37-year-old salesperson and Flat Earther in Westminster, Maryland, gets laughed at by all her friends.
But Flat Earthers are appearing more into the public consciousness. Rapper B.o.B. launched a Twitter rant about the flat earth a few months back, before the great astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson smacked him down with a rap of his own. Then reality star Tila Tequila (before she started dressing like Hitler) demanded proof of an existing globe. It's gone mainstream ...
What's crazy is that Flat Earthers aren't a dwindling minority who have been living in caves or monasteries since before Galileo. They are computer-literate, Internet-savvy, and adopting the Flat Earth view as adults.
The half-dozen Flat Earthers we contacted denied being trolls, in it for the lulz. They aren't secretly scientists trying to make people think critically for themselves. They say the have never been diagnosed as mentally ill, either. We asked them again and again: "Are you serious?"
Yes, of course, they all said. They are totally super serious.
Which just proves: in the age of the Internet, everyone has their own reality, even on something as basic as this.
Mark Sargent, 48, one of the leaders of the Flat Earth movement, says he gets drunk voicemails from angry people and teased by other podcasters all the time. But Sargent says being a Flat Earther isn't all bad. There's a lot of money to be made pushing the Flat Earth movement. And a lot of love to be found.
Sargent used to live in Boulder, Colorado, and made his living as a video game tester. In the last two years, since he started looking at the Flat Earth, he has made 80 weekly podcasts, done 400 videos and gathered 27,000 YouTube subscribers. He quit his other job and makes a living off the ads.
"Revenue streams just appear out of nowhere," he says via Skype. Behind him is a giant banner that reads "It's flat."
He thinks the Earth is like a snowglobe, with a flat bottom and a big dome over it, which God built, and inside which are the sun, moon, stars — everything. Like this:
Armed with this new picture of our reality, Sargent has built a new life. He moved from Boulder to Seattle to be in a bigger media market. He's talked to producers about a reality show. He had a hand in two smartphone apps about Flat Earth — there are at least three others. He's riding a wave. Sargent estimates that there were 50,000 hits on YouTube for Flat Earth a year ago. Today, there are 10 million.
Sargent is a nice guy, and fun to talk to. All the Flat Earthers were: pleasant, friendly, warm and open. They told us about their lives, their families, their dreams. And while a few of them grew prickly, defensive, and elusive when we asked them to critically examine their beliefs, most answered our questions plainly, as best they could. Except, of course, when they couldn't.
What's beyond the edge of the disk? We asked.
"No one knows," they answered, or "God."
What's on the underside of the disk? We added.
"No one knows," or "God."
How come no one has ever gone out and taken a look?
A few said, "The government won't let anyone."
The … government .. won't let anyone?
That's right. The government. Or the freemasons, corporations, financiers, Illuminati, lizard people, aliens, God or the "trillionaires who control the population," in Beatty's words.
See, to Flat Earthers, the Round Earth isn't just a wrong belief, it's a giant conspiracy, deliberately tricking all of us. So, no matter what evidence you show them for a Round Earth, they bat it away as propaganda, made by "them."
All the videos from space are fake. All the astronauts have been paid off. All the engineers sending robots to Mars and Pluto are liars. All airline pilots are in on it. That Red Bull guy, who parachuted from the stratosphere and got amazing footage of the round Earth was paid off. Your uncle, who flew on the Concorde at 50,000 feet and told you about the curve? He is a liar. (Christmas is going to be awkward this year.)
(The media's in on it, of course. Which makes our questions particularly irrelevant.)
Why this global conspiracy? The most consistent answer we heard was: oil. On the edges of the disk are huge fields of oil and other natural resources. "They" want to drill for oil out there without any of us snooping around.
What about before oil? Before that (goes one theory), God was 'fucking with us.'
Flat Earthers are nice, but talking to them is exhausting.
They live in worlds full of very little trust. God and governments are liars. They didn't trust our own motives. We might've just been out to mock them. We might be one of the "them."
The Flat Earthers dwell in those corners of the Internet where everything is a conspiracy, everything is a lie: 9/11 was an inside job, money is fake, the economy is rigged, UFOs are everywhere. We the sheeple just don't buy these stories because "they" have dropped chemtrails from the sky or poisoned our water with fluoride or sent radio waves at us to control our minds.
Only Flat Earthers stand alone, the only sane ones.
So, spreading their truth is almost a divine mission … especially for Mark Sargent.
When he finally proves that we're living in a kind of snow globe, Sargent says, it will show that "this place was built, which means there was a creator."
"I'm not saying this is total proof of a god," he says, "but it's the closest thing we have." This knowledge, he believes, will usher in a new Golden Age. Truth will reign. And the truth will set you free.
And Beatty will be a hero in his hometown. And Grimes will reconcile with her mom. And Rasor will get the last laugh.
So, move over, Darwin. Step aside, Columbus. Look out, Round Earthers. You can't run from the truth. Or, rather: you could try, but the dome won't let you get very far.