It was spread on billboards, bumper stickers, and appeared at halftime during the NCAA men’s basketball national championship game. More than a million people have become followers of Birds Aren’t Real, a movement that claims the birds you think you see flying in the sky are actually government surveillance drones.
Fortunately, it’s all pure satire.
The “conspiracy theory” is meant to reflect some of the absurdity that has spread across the country.
Peter McIndoe, the 24-year-old college dropout behind Birds Aren’t Real, thankfully looks nothing like the megaphone-wearing, cowboy-hat-wearing character he plays.
He told 60 Minutes this week about the skit.
“So it’s taking this concept of misinformation and almost building a little safe space to gather inside of it and laugh at it, rather than freak out,” McIndoe said. “And embrace the craziness of it all and be a real bird for a moment in time when everything is so crazy.”
“The vision was creating something that reflected the absurd through the eyes of the most confused archetype,” McIndoe said.
McIndoe has been rebelling since she grew up in a small town in Arkansas. He said it was a hyperconservative, fundamentalist community where conspiracy theories were “embedded in the community.”
“I spent most of my time in those communities arguing with people,” McIndoe said. “There was homecoming and I was voted most likely to go to jail. I’m not even kidding. ‘Most likely to go to jail: Peter McIndoe.'”
McIndoe stayed out of jail and enrolled at the University of Arkansas with no intention of hatching Birds Aren’t Real. The idea was an accident. A day after President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, McIndoe was hanging out with friends on the roof of a building in Memphis when they heard protesters in the streets below.
“I remember thinking it would be really interesting if somebody was in this situation with a signal that had nothing to do with anything that’s going on here,” McIndoe told Alfosni.
“So how did you get Birds Aren’t Real like what’s on the sign?” Alfonso asked.
“I don’t even know,” McIndoe said. “It was the most absurd thing I could think of.”
Signed in hand, he took to the streets of Memphis, improvising a series of absurdities.
“I’m angry and I’m here to protest,” McIndoe yelled at the time. “Wake up America! The birds are not real, they are a myth, they are an illusion. Thanks for your time.”
Peter’s friend Ally Perkins innocently posted a video of that day online and then everything changed.
“So they send me pictures of Birds Aren’t Real graffiti and Birds Aren’t Real boards and I see chants,” McIndoe said. “In coffee shops and, you know, stadiums like ‘Birds Aren’t Real’ in high schools.”
“Did you think at the time, like, ‘This is amazing’ or ‘What have I done?'” Alfonsi asked.
“I remember being fascinated by it,” McIndoe said. “I remember thinking, ‘Okay, why do people identify with this so much?’ And just to think, like, there was this energy in Memphis for this idea, and I’d always regret it if I didn’t go for it.”
“What did your parents think,” Alfonsi asked, “when you said, ‘I’m dropping out of college, moving to Memphis to start a bogus conspiracy theory.'”
“Yeah, I mean, it was really interesting, I was trying to describe to you that it could be a very interesting art project, kind of a mirror for you guys now, just the seemingly growing absurdity of the world and America.” McIndoe said. “And, if we can match that to a character in a live world, blah blah blah. And they just look at me, like, ‘Please keep the psychology degree,’ you know.”
McIndoe enlisted his friend Connor Gaydos, a history buff, to write a backstory for the bird movement.
“The CIA was so sick and tired of birds pooping on their windshields. So they said, we’re sick of this, we’re sick of this. Let’s hire, you know, engineers to, to get rid of these stupid birds.” Gaydos said. “And while we’re at it, let’s replace them with robots and spy on people. So, it’s, it’s, it’s a joke.”
But then, they took the story one step further. Every conspiracy needs a “deep state” whistleblower.
McIndoe invented and interviewed a character named Eugene Price. Price is supposed to be a former CIA officer who buried the evidence of the bird genocide and the rise of drones.
“When you were hiring an actor to play Eugene Price,” Alfonsi asked McIndoe, “what did you look for in that actor?”
“The oldest man I could find,” McIndoe said. “I was looking for someone who seemed to have had some guilt weighing them down for years. I really wanted bags under the eyes, sleepless nights. We released a video called The Confession Of Eugene Price, where he, for the first time on record, a ex-CIA agent came out and said everything the government had done.”
That video garnered over ten million views on TikTok.
“Are there people who believe that birds are not real?” Alfonso asked.
“Ironically, I’ve met people who say, oh, I know, and act like they already know,” Gaydos said.
“That birds aren’t real?” Alfonso asked.
“Yes,” Gaydos said. “They’re going to say, oh, I know, I know what’s going on. The CIA, you know, they’ve been doing that.”