Why we should have listened to Flat Earth believers (even though they were completely wrong)


Michael Marshallhttp://goodthinkingsociety.org/
Michael Marshall is the project director of the Good Thinking Society and president of the Merseyside Skeptics Society. He is the co-host of the Skeptics with a K podcast, interviews proponents of pseudoscience on the Be Reasonable podcast, has given skeptical talks all around the world, and has lectured at several universities on the role of PR in the media. He became editor of The Skeptic in August 2020.

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This article was first published in May 2018, for Gizmodo UK. Since then, the Flat Earth movement has largely dissipated, but many of its proponents have shifted to become COVID-deniers and QAnon conspiracy theorists. I believe this is no coincidence, and that the technological drivers and social isolation that fuelled the rise of the Flat Earth movement are the same pressures growing the QAnon and anti-mask conspiracy movements. As Gizmodo UK has shut down, The Skeptic has chosen to republish this piece.

It’s easy to attribute the recent resurgence in belief that the world is flat to stupidity or gullibility – indeed, physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson writes Flat Earthers off as proof that the educational system has failed. But while it might be rightly labelled ridiculous, belief in the Flat Earth does not exist in a vacuum. People who believe that the is Earth flat almost universally accept other conspiracy theories too, and while Flat Earth belief can be harmless, its bedfellows may not be quite so benign. 

To understand what brings people to reject what has, for centuries, been one of the most uncontroversial facts about the world we live in, I attended the Flat Earth UK Convention, the first meeting in the UK to bring together disbelievers in the globe Earth model. 

Iru Landucci, one of the conference’s headline speakers, has researched the Flat Earth since 2014 and found no problems marrying his rejection of the spherical Earth with his other areas of interest: researching the New World Order, 9/11 truth, exposing the supposed perils of GMOs and vaccines, and promoting the wonders of Germanic New Medicine

“99% of all disease is psychological”, he explains to the audience. “Even cancer is caused by emotional factors”. 

As it turns out, Landucci flew in from his native Argentina for the conference, arriving a day earlier than anyone expected – arguably exposing just one of the pitfalls of a world view which struggles to explain the International Date Line. 

Time was clearly a struggle for Landucci: he had prepared a two-hour presentation for his 90-minute speaking slot. After some negotiation with the organiser (who spent the weekend fighting an uphill battle – albeit on a strictly-flat plane – to keep things on schedule), he agreed to give his presentation in two halves. The first half lasted for 90 minutes, with another 45 minutes after lunch. The third half, the following day, lasted just over an hour. 

Satanism, NASA and the One World Order

Landucci’s talk was a perfect illustration of the role Flat Earth belief has in attracting and unifying dozens of disparate conspiracy theories: we are told climate change and evolution are fake; the moon landing was a hoax because Satanism is at the heart of NASA’s agenda (as proven by how many astronauts do the “devil horns” finger gesture in photos); dinosaurs were invented by an artist who simply drew a rhino crossed with a giraffe and then painted it green; atheists actually worship the Greek mountain giant “Athos”; and the Freemasons and the Jesuits control everything, as explained in the (well-known anti-Semitic hoax) book “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”

All of this is supported by with Landucci’s “evidence”, largely consisting of clips of scientists making seemingly damning admissions (sharply cut to avoid anything that might give their words context) and bafflingly intricate attempts to ‘decode’ signs of the grand plan hidden in plain sight. For instance, Landucci points out that if we take the Spanish initials for the United Nations, ‘ONU’, and read it backwards, we get ‘Uno’ – which is Spanish for ‘One’. This, he explains, is proof that the UN is a tool of the One World Order. I found myself wishing Landucci spoke French, so at the very least his paranoia might get to the point in a marginally less convoluted way. 

Noah’s Medieval Flood

Satanic symbolism was a concern for other speakers, too. Welsh YouTuber Martin Liedtke believes the globe model is the work of Satan, “put in place to lead people into oblivion and away from The Creator”. He explains that Noah’s flood took place just 1,000 years ago, as is proven by the presence of Middle Age architecture in some Middle Age drawings of Biblical events. He also believes the ageing process is optional: you can choose not to age. Liedtke is in his fifties, at least.

Despite his on-stage confidence, Liedtke’s journey to Flat Earth belief in 2015 was not an easy one. 

“I’ve experienced the people who run the Matrix, they’re not nice”, he tells the audience. “What you are living in is not what you think. I could give you proof but I won’t, because it’s traumatic as hell… I’ve been put to the test like you would not believe. The Creator has put me to the test to put me here in front of you, for a reason.” 

Having seen Liedtke’s YouTube channel, to which he’s posted more than 230 videos in the last six months, I don’t doubt him when he alludes having faced serious personal struggles. 

Another of the speakers, Dave “Allegedly Dave” Murphy, also rejected the spherical Earth model following traumatic events. Murphy served as a volunteer firefighter in New Jersey and witnessed 9/11 at close range, leading him in 2005 to become a believer in Truther conspiracy theories. According to Murphy’s website, that same year he had a mid-life crisis which convinced him to start living off-grid. Alongside his Flat Earth beliefs, Dave advises on how and why to drink and wash with your own urine, highlighting that urine “reverses aging” and “is helpful” with AIDS, cancer, smallpox and more. 

The Cosmic Egg

When it comes to constructing a grand narrative around Flat Earth belief, nobody at the conference came close to Martin Kenny, who presented his “Cosmic Egg” model on Saturday evening. Summarising his theory hardly does justice to its spiralling complexity, but his starting point is the (mistaken) assertion that in the foundational myths of almost every culture in history, the universe was hatched out of a giant egg. With that in mind, reasons Kenny, the universe itself must be egg-shaped, with the Earth at the centre. This is the smallest leap in logic Kenny will make all evening. 

Once we know where the Earth is, we can start to look at its shape. The Earth, Kenny explains, is a circle, with the North Pole at the centre. So far, so standard Flat Earth. However, beyond the ring of ice that most of us know as Antarctica, there is actually another realm, and another beyond that, forming concentric rings, separated by ice. Each realm was once adjacent to the North Pole, but were pushed out when a new realm was formed. Every realm is densely populated, and the people who live there are what we have mistaken throughout history to be angels or aliens. 

What exactly are those realms, you may wonder? Kenny explains that the outer realm is Hyperborea, of Greek legend. The next realm, surrounding our own, is Lemuria. That leaves our own realm, which Kenny has decided must be Atlantis, for reasons he does not go into. Living at the North Pole is the race of Polarians, who live on Mount Maru (which is apparently situated under a dense cloud, which is why nobody has ever seen it). 

Kenny's model of the Cosmic Egg as described in the text

It was at this point in the evening that Kenny unveiled an actual model of his Cosmic Egg – a four-foot tall mass of papier-mâché and plastic that puts Anthea Turner’s Tracy Island to shame. Each of his four realms were carefully drawn, with white walls representing the ice that keeps them apart. Transparent strips of plastic represented the concentric domes Kenny believes cover each realm, with the planets held in place (or at least they would have been, but the heat of the lights had caused Mercury to fall off land in North America). 

A close up of the model of Mercury sitting atop the water just North of South America in Kenny's model.

Each of the four realms, Kenny explains, has their own race of people living there, and they would seem familiar to us if we were to meet them: 

“I’m willing to bet if we went to one of the realms and saw the Hyperboreans”, Kenny said, “we’d say ‘Oh, I see where the Chinese get their looks from, they look awfully Chinese-ish’. And if we met the Lemurians, we’d see them and say, ‘I see, I think that’s where black people get their looks from or their traits from’”.

If that weren’t problematic enough, the Polarians – who oversee the four realms – have created the next race of people to populate the new realm they’re making: 

“There is a fifth race that was seeded about 6,000 years ago, when the last deluge happened. They are the Aryan race,” Kenny explained, to an audience that seemed to take this worryingly in their stride. “I’m sure you all know about the Aryan topic. The Aryans are the white race, and I’m willing to bet if we went to the centre right now and we saw the Aryans, we’d go: ‘Oh, I see where white people get their traits from’”.

The Cosmic Calendar

If the unexpected introduction of Aryan ideology somehow wasn’t surprising enough, Kenny still had a little more left in the tank. 

“I’m going to ask you to put your seatbelts on for this one”, he warned, two hours into this extraordinary three-hour talk, “because the things I’m about to say are pretty outlandish to say the least.”

Kenny's Cosmic Calendar as described in the text.

Kenny then unveiled his final prop – the Cosmic Calendar, a series of concentric circles on a large blackboard, each separated into multiple parts and labelled with the names of seasons, constellations, months and gold stars. It began to feel like Kenny was explaining the rules of an immensely complicated board game: “Now, you play the Atlantians, and your aim is to overtake the Lemurians before the Polonians send the Aryans down from Mount Maru…”

The Calendar, he explained, was his attempt to use astrology and numerology (plus more than a heavy dash of wild speculation) to figure out when each realm was created, when each 24,000-year epoch ended, and when the next realm would be pushed into the world, pushing our realm away from the North Pole. When this happens, Kenny speculated, the domes above would open and we would be free to move into another realm. 

According to Kenny, because the Doomsday clock was set to two minutes to midnight at the start of 2018, we must logically be two years away from this alignment. At that point, NASA will finally be able fly to Mars (which the dome prevented them from doing, as Mars is actually the Sun of the Hyperborean realm), and Flat Earth believers will be able to travel to the North Pole and into the heavens. 

“Some who are ahead of their time will time travel into the future, to the central realm, 3000 years into the future” Kenny told the audience. “Those who have done their time and are ready to move on, will physically be able to walk into the centre. They won’t have to die, there’s no death” 

Kenny explained that when the alignment comes, people should set aside their fear and anxiety, and embrace the experience. Kenny doesn’t fear death, he explained: “Death doesn’t exist, because we are all energy, and that can never die”. 

Kenny left the audience with his hope for the future:

“I really, really, really want to go to the centre,” he explained. “I had a journey planned with a few friends a few months ago, we were setting about doing it, but the universe said it’s not the right time to go North yet. There’s a time, a season and a place for everything. Wait for the right time. So that’s what I’m doing.”

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but in retrospect his final sentiments – his comfort with death and his thwarted plans to move on – feel ominous. Perhaps a weekend with conspiracy theorists led me to see significance where there is none, but it’s hard not to view it in the context of his personal situation when he first came to Flat Earth belief:

“A time came when things were a bit rough in my life,” he explained, “I got to a stage where I was asking questions, and I was sure that something was definitely not right. Then one day I came across a video of Dave Murphy talking about the Flat Earth, alarm bells rang inside me, and something told me to pay attention, so I did”. 

Looking back at my weekend with Flat Earthers, it is striking how many people who doubt the global model of the Earth also subscribe to all manner of other beliefs, from Biblical literalism to occultist paranoia, from anti-vaccination to quack cancer cues, from antisemitism to Aryanism. But it was also just as striking how many people whose journey into believing the Earth is flat included traumatic events or personal crises. 

This, perhaps, is why it is so important for us to listen to and talk to Flat Earthers, and to approach them as much with understanding as ridicule: if they can see no light in mainstream society, their rabbit hole may only get deeper and darker. 

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