Birds Aren’t Real is a conspiracy movement that’s exactly what it sounds like: the concept that birds aren’t real, and they’ve been replaced by robotic replicas, installed by the “deep state.” But founder Peter McIndoe, 24, broke character on CBS 60 Minutes on May 1 to explain that his conspiracy theory is simply a parody and that his movement is more of a social experiment—and it’s working like a charm.
Bird Aren’t Real slogans and imagery appear on billboards, bumper stickers, and even places such as an NCAA men’s basketball national championship game. The website sells “Truther Gear” like crazy. Birds Aren’t Real now boasts over 1 million devoted followers and over 400,000 followers on Instagram.
“Once a preventative cause, our initial goal was to stop the genocide of real birds,” the organization states on its website. “Unfortunately this was unsuccessful, and the government has since replaced every living bird with robotic replicas. Now our movement’s prerogative is to make everyone aware of this fact.”
The organization provides a faux history of supposedly launching in 1973 after learning of a secret C.I.A. operation to wipe out birds dating back to the 1950s.
Despite the level of absurdity, the movement attracted actual followers who are convinced birds aren’t real. On April 14, profiled in The Guardian, McIndoe said the “absurdity is getting more intense.” McIndoe realized his own movement had become larger than he could control. “I remember seeing videos of people chanting: ‘Birds aren’t real,’ at high-school football games; and seeing graffiti of ‘birds aren’t real.’ At first, I thought: ‘This is crazy,’ but then I wondered: ‘What is making this resonate with people?’”
Sometimes, he joined in on the fun himself and fanned the flames. “If it flies? It spies! If it flies? It spies!” McIndoe chanted at a Birds Aren’t Really rally in Hollywood, California. “If it flies, it spies!” they chanted in return.
“Birds aren’t real!” McIndoe shouted. About 200 protesters joined McIndoe at that rally, but he admitted that some of the protesters were part of the plan.
Keeping a straight face is part of the game. “I wake up every morning, just like you do. I brush my teeth; I wash my car, and I have an avid disbelief in avian beings,” McIndoe said with a straight face on WREG’s Live At 9 in 2019.
On 60 Minutes
Sharon Alfonsi of the CBS News show 60 Minutes interviewed the founder of Birds Aren’t Real, profiling McIndoe and his bizarrely successful social experiment. McIndoe broke character again, after doing the same in an interview with The New York Times in December 2021.
A clip of the interview generated 1.1 million views and counting on YouTube.
Following the election of Donald Trump, McIndoe noticed that at Trump protests for the Women’s March, the events would attract random counter protesters for various movements. The world felt so unstable to him that he thought he’d join in on the fun. McIndoe and some friends went to a protest in Memphis, Tennessee in 2017 and thought it would be funny to start shouting random absurd slogans such as “Birds aren’t real!!” Friends Claire Chronis, Cameron Kasky, and Connor Gaydos are now part of the movement.
“So it’s taking this concept of misinformation and almost building a little safe space to come together within it and laugh at it rather than be scared by it,” McIndoe said. “And accept the lunacy of it all and be a bird truther for a moment in time when everything’s so crazy.”
Misinformation affects us all, which is why High Times profiled “Eight of The Craziest Weed Conspiracies That Might Be True” in 2020.
One of the most prevailing conspiracy theories about cannabis is that it can shorten penis length by a centimeter or that lowers sperm count. Yet, you can find peer-reviewed studies that both say cannabis can negatively impact sperm count, and a Harvard-led study showing that cannabis is linked with higher sperm concentrations.
But the biggest cannabis conspiracy of all is the racist misinformation campaign led by people like Harry J. Anslinger. Angslinger’s conspiracy, however, had real and dangerous implications, leading to people being targeted.
Today, the rise of conspiracies is fueled by “digital cults” like QAnon, with people who are convinced that Satanic, cannibal politicians are indeed real, that celebrities secretly take Adrenochrome harvested from children, or that Bill Gates orchestrated COVID.
Is Bird’s Aren’t Real any more absurd than those conspiracy theories?