Every journalist has a hand-full of stories in limbo, written for publications that no longer exist. I’ll be sharing some of these every so often.
This next one is about people who either believe the earth is flat, or who encourage other people to believe that the earth is flat (which is a-whole-nother subject). The story resulted in a few obnoxious denunciations of yours truly from internet conspiracy theorists, including an entire chapter devoted to me in the book The Greatest Lie on Earth by Edward Hendrie. The author claims, among other things, that I am a pro-“globe earth” shill working for Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel. Reading this story back years later, it seems obvious that while I was talking about flat-earthers, I could’ve easily been describing COVID deniers.
“The Earth is Flat and 'They' Don’t Want You to Know” first appeared in The Kernel on September 21, 2015.
In the year 1543, the Pope teamed up with Copernicus, the Church of England, and possibly Aristotle (who, inconveniently, had died in 322 B.C.) to convince unsuspecting Europeans that, despite the Earth’s obvious flatness, it’s actually a sphere, and that the sun is the center of the universe. In the years since, the usual bad guys — Catholics, Jews, and bankers — have jealously guarded the secret of the flat Earth. And with the birth of the space age, NASA (basically a joint project between the Freemasons and the Nazis) got involved. That, at least, is the story according to the Flat Earth Truthers, a small but vocal group who believe that the world is flat, and that this knowledge is the key to understanding who really runs things.
Eric Dubay is arguably the most visible Flat Earth Truther. In his Blogger bio, Dubay describes himself as just another 30-something American cool dude, “living in Thailand where I teach Yoga and Wing Chun part-time while exposing the New World Order full-time.” That work involves publishing exposés like “Dinosaur Hoax — Dinosaurs Never Existed!” and “Adolf Hitler vs. The Jew World Order.” That’s right — the Jew World Order.
Dubay’s latest e-book is titled 200 Proofs Earth is Not a Spinning Ball. In it, he lays out the basics of modern flat Earth theory. The moon, he writes, is a self-luminescent, semitransparent object, not solid at all. The International Space Station, which you can actually see through a telescope, is really a drone or a hologram (like the planes that hit the World Trade Center). And the Earth itself is a disc, like the emblem on the flag of the United Nations, or an old Beatles record. The North Pole is in the center of the disc, where you secure it to the turntable, and traveling south takes you to the beginning of Track 1 (“Taxman”). Antarctica, instead of being a continent, is a wall of ice that rings ‘round the edge of the disc, holding the oceans in place.
According to Dubay, this is all common sense. And it was once common knowledge, before the world’s secret rulers brainwashed everyone. But the idea that our ancient ancestors believed in a flat Earth is actually a modern myth. For as long as people have been observing and measuring our home planet, it seems, it’s been understood that we live on a globe. Pythagoras, Aristotle, Euclid — none of them doubted this. Eratosthenes, a Greek geographer and mathematician who died 200 years before the birth of Christ, determined the circumference of the earth within 2 percent of its exact measurement.
This is pretty much where the flat Earth debate ended, regardless of what you may have heard about Christopher Columbus. That is, until the 1800s, when an Englishman named Samuel Rowbotham (known by the pen name Parallax) decided that since his Bible said that the Earth is flat, then indeed the earth has to be flat. To prove it, he would run around England with his surveying equipment, taking measurements that he then twisted to “prove” whatever he wished—the definition of pseudoscience.
Parallax was a major influence on the Flat Earth Society, founded in 1956 by another Englishman, Samuel Shenton. After Shenton’s death in 1971, the society (then little more than a somewhat amusing newsletter) was taken over by an American, Charles K. Johnson. Like those before him, Johnson’s flat Earth beliefs were firmly rooted in the Bible. “If earth were a ball spinning in space,” he told Newsweek in 1984, “there would be no up or down.” And if there is no up or down, Jesus couldn’t have ascended into heaven.
According to Rich Hopkins, a flat Earth truther known as “MrThriveAndSurvive” to the 10,000-plus subscribers of his YouTube channel, “the Aztecs, Mayans, Sumerians, the Bible, the Koran — all of ’em said that the Earth is flat and not moving. All of ’em!” Even today, he says, “many places in the east don’t believe we’re on a round spinning ball. It’s mostly a Western phenomenon. The Muslim nations, they know it’s a joke that we went to the moon.”
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Except, of course, that isn’t true — and it’s highly insulting to the larger, non-Western portion of the world.
Hopkins says that he became aware of the flat earth this spring. He made the discovery while conducting his version of scientific research on YouTube. At the time, he was just another prepper, pushing colloidal silver cures and preaching the imminent collapse of society to a small YouTube audience. But then he saw a weather report from a Michigan TV station about something called a superior mirage, an optical illusion resulting from a weather event known as an inversion. In this case, the mirage was a tiny, upside-down reflection of the Chicago skyline that appeared, Fatima-like, over Lake Michigan.
“I’ve always been a meteorologist and a weatherman,” says Hopkins, referring to his service as an aerographer’s mate in the Navy in the 1980s. “I’ve always been into science to some degree anyways. I was paid for it for four years in the Navy, so I call myself a meteorologist.”
Spotting the Chicago skyline from the shores of Lake Michigan called into question everything he thought he knew about how the universe works, so Hopkins began experimenting. First he took a pair of binoculars out into the desert near his home in Phoenix, Arizona. Driving around, crudely surveying the landscape, he could see for miles and miles. That was too far, he thought, but only if you assumed a curved Earth. If the Earth was flat, he reasoned, seeing so far wouldn’t be a problem.
Once convinced that the Earth was flat, Hopkins started thinking about the cosmos, and what he refers to as “the biblical thing.”
“The Bible says the moon is its own light,” he explains, referring to a description in Genesis of “the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.” That set him to pondering. “So I went online one day and tried to search, ‘What is the difference between moonlight and sunlight, the properties?’ You won’t find anything. You won’t find a thing. And you mean nobody’s ever studied this? I can’t believe that.”
So he conducted an experiment using an old table, a black leather wallet, and a laser thermometer. On a clear night, he used the table to shield half of the wallet from the moonlight. Measuring both sides of his wallet with the thermometer, he determined that the moonlit portion was cooler than the half that lay under the table. He concluded, as any reasonable person might, that the moon had to be a star. More evidence that we are being lied to about the true nature of space, and the true nature of our planet.
In the three months since Hopkins started promoting flat Earth theories, his subscriber count has increased fourfold. I’m going to suggest that this newfound popularity — and the popularity of what should be a long-dead idea — is only one small symptom of what Michael Moore famously called the “fictitious times” that we live in. It seems to me that these ideas are gaining traction because, while many are increasingly willing to radically question everything, there hasn’t been a corresponding willingness to marry that skepticism with any sort of intellectual rigor. It’s important to question authority, but questioning isn’t enough. One also needs to be able to think.
Since flat earth ideas involve all the traditional conspiracy tropes (and since conspiracy theory itself has anti-Semitism in its DNA) I had to ask Hopkins: Does he believe that the Holocaust happened?
“I don’t know,” he says. “I wasn’t there. Like, a lot of people say, ‘Do you believe in the Holocaust?’ I wasn’t there, I don’t know. All I know is that the people that win the wars write the history.” He refuses to believe something just because it’s taught in school. “I guess I’d have to go over to Germany and do some forensic examination to prove it.”
This isn’t science, and this isn’t skepticism. It’s stupidity. While this one guy’s crank idea probably isn’t too terribly dangerous, it reflects a larger problem of rejecting scientific understanding — not an inability to understand science, but a refusal of its methods and conclusions. How will we possibly hope to thrive and survive, mister, if we’re wasting precious time and energy trying to figure out if the Earth is round, if the moon is real, or if the Holocaust even happened? Everything’s up in the air, floating over an obviously, demonstrable, inarguably flat earth.