Have you ever seen a baby pigeon? No? It's probably because birds aren't real but rather government drones used to spy on you and steal your information. That's according to the Birds Aren't Real movement, and a movement it is: hundreds of thousands of young people are now on board. Some will even tell you that woodpeckers are fluent in Morse code. Thankfully, it's all a joke, as the 23-year-old founder of Birds Aren't Real finally admits in a New York Times interview. "Yes, we have been intentionally spreading misinformation for the past four years, but it's with a purpose," says Peter McIndoe of Memphis, Tenn. "It's about holding up a mirror to America in the internet age."
It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. McIndoe was in downtown Memphis in January 2017 when he spotted a women's march and counterprotesters in support of then-President Donald Trump. He grabbed a poster, flipped it over and wrote "Birds Aren't Real," then began spouting stuff about a government cover-up. "It was a spontaneous joke, but it was a reflection of the absurdity everyone was feeling," he tells the Times. The episode went viral, drawing in Generation Z, which grew up in "a world overrun with misinformation," per the Times. McIndoe knew a thing or two about that himself, having been homeschooled in rural Arkansas, where he was taught that "evolution was a massive brainwashing plan by the Democrats and Obama was the Antichrist."
He began embodying the character he'd created, not faltering once in a 30-minute interview with Audubon in 2018; paid actors to pose as bird truthers; and built a fake history of the movement with friend Connor Gaydos. It fooled the public and local media, but members knew the reality. One describes the movement as "fighting lunacy with lunacy," per the Times. Another says it's "more about media literacy." Or as Audubon described it: "a chimera of conspiracies that wraps satire, modern insecurities, and internet culture into a successful marketing scheme." Merchandise sales not only cover McIndoe and Gaydos' living expenses but support the movement overall. As McIndoe tells the New Statesman, it's "a safe space of sorts, for people to come together and laugh at the absurdity of the world that we're in right now." (Read more conspiracy theories stories.)