Peter McIndoe is living in a van. The vehicle is small, with a sleeping bag at the rear and posters of the old-fashioned pop singer, Clay Aiken – his childhood hero – taped to the interior bodywork. He says it is the cheapest and most convenient way to campaign across the United States. It has a very specific mission: unite and cheer on the bird truthers. A movement of boys born after 2000 that fight against fake news and misinformation. And they do it through satire, a language almost lost in the world of political correctness.
Since 2017, when 23-year-old McIndoe dropped out of Memphis University, he has dedicated himself to telling the world that “The birds are not real.” Or at least, that’s what journalists and anyone who wants to listen like to say. Like all good satirists, perfectly mixes parody and reality. “In America, at least, everything we see is full of bird propaganda. Our national mascot is a bird, the bald eagle, and each of the 50 states has a bird as its flagship bird. The most used social network has a bird as its logo. With the bird pets, at one point, you have to start asking yourself some questions“He told a journalist for the English magazine New Statesman.
Everything is based on one of the many conspiracy theories that circulate in the networks, particularly among the followers of Donald Trump, by which it is ensured that “The birds are not birds, but spy drones launched by the government to control the population.” Building on that idea, McIndoe, his friends, and the millions of fans around the world, launched the “Birds Aren’t Real” campaign. Peter started by sticking some posters on the light poles in his neighborhood in California, then he printed the logo on some T-shirts and from there everything was unleashed. He managed to collect enough money to start a more sophisticated campaign and, among other initiatives, they have already put up large posters on the main highways of the country and launched a merchandising paraphernalia that Gen Z youth love and Trumpist deniers hate.
In his parody, McIndoe, he assures that between 1959 and 2001, the American State “It exterminated all existing birds using killer toxins dropped from airplanes.” He cites as evidence an alleged archival video that is posted on You Tube, supposedly made at the end of the 70s. There are testimonies of some people (actors) who claim to have discovered the conspiracy of the US government and They founded the group “Birds are not real” to combat the abuse of power.
The satire is based on conspiracy theories launched mainly by the QAnon or Q (short for Q-Anonymous) movement of the American extreme right, who believes that there is a supposed secret plot organized by a supposed “deep state” against Donald Trump and his followers. The theory began with an October 2017 post by an anonymous on the 4chan forum claiming to have access to classified information about what was happening. “Q” is a reference to the Q access authorization used by the Department of Energy required to access top-secret restricted data and national security information. It could be defined as an update of “the protocols of the wise men of Zion”, the anti-Semitic theory. The general idea of the conspiracy is that there are progressive Hollywood actors, Democratic Party politicians, and high-ranking Washington officials who participate in an international network of child sex trafficking and carry out pedophile acts. And that Trump is investigating them to prevent an alleged coup orchestrated by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros.
While McIndoe’s “counter-campaign” does not appear to have a very sophisticated organization, the group has been very active on social media for four years. On Reddit, the r / BirdsArentReal account has over 400,000 followers, while his TikTok has over 600,000. The YouTube channel has more than a million views. And they have already begun their expansion to the streets. Last month, fans of Birds Aren’t Real protested in front of Twitter‘s headquarters in San Francisco to demand that the company change its logo, which features a bird.
They even constantly launch new “theories”. “It is CONFIRMED that Canadian Geese are promoting an anti-vaccine agenda,” publish a user to accounts. “I believe it 100% and I have believed this to be real for a long time, even before hearing it,” shares one user. “I would give myself the pleasure of thinking that there are a few flying at the moment for that purpose,” writes another. Something that would appear to be a teenage joke ends up being a very effective “antidote” to combat fake news and conspiracy theories how much damage they do to the American and global democratic system. “In the post-truth world, dominated by online conspiracy theories, young people have rallied around this effort to criticize, combat and poke fun at disinformation“Taylor Lorenz wrote this week in the New York Times.
With his Ned Flanders movements from The Simpsons, permanently color-changing glasses and a cowboy hat, McIndoe defends his idea and the movement as a Mussolinian-style political warrior. “We have suffered a lot of prejudice in the media, especially from the Newsweek folks; They published a whole article saying that we are a comedy project”, He says indignantly in the interview with the British journalist. In response to this Newsweek article, McIndoe edited a short video in which several dark figures disguised as birds stare menacingly at the camera. “Its a classic. Some guys say something you don’t like and suddenly it’s ‘that guy is a clown’, ‘that guy is a joke’, you know, they immediately discredit the group, ”he says. “What Newsweek didn’t know at the time was that we had just discovered hundreds of emails with the filtration of the poultrygate That revealed that, you know, even people at the top of Newsweek were very involved in this. “
‘Poultrygate leak’ refers to what the group’s website calls “The biggest email leak in history.” According to the satire of McIndoe and his group, the movement received emails from whistleblowers from the White House and the Pentagon confirming that the birds are actually drones: “All we know is that these emails were sent and found on the servers from Yahoo. Hollywood elites and stars are also involved in this, as we assumed, as Kevin Sorbo (actor known for his portrayal of Hercules and participation in Xena, the Warrior Princess) and Clay Aiken (the old-fashioned pop singer)”.
When he takes off his actor’s mask, McIndoe explains the phenomenon clearly: “I think that even though people perceive us as a joke, we are providing a kind of safe space for people to come together and laugh at the absurdity of the world we are in now, a place where the truth seems to no longer exist ”. It is no accident that the page was created after Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016. As online conspiracy theories like QAnon and Pizzagate (another far-right conspiracy theory) quietly divide America, McIndoe’s words offer a description of our era of disinformation. And it shows how he could have been one of the conspiracyists himself. “I didn’t have many friends growing up and I had a hard time in life. In places like 4chan he could be the protagonist of the world, he was no longer a secondary character“, He says. “He was no longer the type to lose the game, a ‘looser.’ I got into 4chan and felt like the protagonist of a suspense movie ”. When he understood what these sites were all about, he began to fight them. It was when he invented Birds Aren’t Real with a delicate mix of post-truth satire and “shitposting”; plausible enough to get media attention, but ironic enough to attract a cult following among young people online, all of whom are happy to join in on the joke.
Is that McIndoe know the conspiracy movement inside. During her first 18 years, she grew up with seven siblings in a deeply conservative and religious community outside of Cincinnati, and later in rural Arkansas. He was homeschooled and taught that “Evolution was a massive brainwashing plan by the Democrats and that Obama was the Antichrist”. He read books like “Remote Control” that “analyzed” Hollywood’s supposed anti-Christian hidden messages.
While McIndoe’s irony is clever, there are some critics – particularly among Washington politicians – who think the joke has gone too far and that can become a boomerang. They say that it could end up feeding those who favor the antipolitical and the “that they go all”. “If we ever enter the realm of hatred or harm to a human companion or a living being, of course we are going to end all of this. At the moment we believe that it is still effective and, above all, our movement is antiviolent ”, he says in the interview with New Stateman. “There’s even a big misconception about us: that we have a bird problem or something like that. No, we love birds. That’s why we started doing it. “
And right away, McIndoe returns to irony. He says that “I could never relate to that perspective that the birds are not real is a joke.” And he continues: “I think the real benefit here is that the more people realize that the 12 billion birds in the skies are all robots and drones surveillance run by the government, the more screwed we are going to be ”.
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