Believing that the Earth is round is a scientific axiom, one we're taught at a young age. After all, globes are in classrooms around the world to help even the smallest of children picture the spherical shape of the Earth.
Maligned by much of the scientific community, flat-Earthers, as they're known, want people to know that they're not crazy and don't actually reject science. They just reject what they consider to be the greatest hoax of all time.
Event organizer Robbie Davidson wasn't always a flat-Earther. Hailing from Canada, Davidson used to be as skeptical of the flat-Earth theory as most people. But in April 2015, Davidson came across a YouTube video making fun of flat-Earthers. After watching the video, Davidson started looking for ways to disprove this fringe idea.
Soon enough, he started connecting the dots, he says, and then opened the Bible and found verses confirming the idea that the Earth is flat. By August 2015, Davidson created his "Celebrate Truth" YouTube page. He had become a full-blown flat-Earther.
Similar to how Galileo faced persecution and arrest for his promotion of heliocentrism, flat-Earthers face their own form of persecution and rejection by society. Davidson's beliefs led to his getting kicked out of two church congregations. Other flat-Earthers have lost their jobs because of their beliefs. In the most extreme cases, some have even received death threats.
But flat-Earthers view this hate as a natural reaction from people who have spent their lives being fed a lie. When asked what he wants to say to haters, Davidson responds, "Get educated on what we truly believe. No, we don't believe that the Earth is a flying pancake."
Correcting misinformation about flat-Earth ideology is part of why Davidson now organizes the Flat Earth International Conference, hosting it in various cities like Raleigh, Edmonton (in Canada) and now Denver. At the Crowne Plaza Denver Airport Convention Center, flat-Earth speakers from across the country are sharing their latest research with like-minded individuals. Sometimes that research also delves into other issues, like how vaccines are actually hurting humans. The numeric symbol "666" is also a frequent topic of conversation.
Plenty of people dismiss flat-Earthers right away. But for non-flat-Earthers curious to know what these people are all about, the conference is a gateway to understanding their beliefs.
"The Earth is not a sphere. It's round like a pizza or a penny, but it's not a sphere," Davidson says. "The Earth also doesn't move."
But seafaring folks also don't have to worry about falling off the edge of the Earth. According to Davidson, it's impossible to travel beyond the edges of the planet. Also, gravity is not real.
"We don't believe that we're on a spinning ball flying through space," Davidson says.
Conference attendees also generally mock NASA, believing that the moon landing was faked and that videos from the so-called International Space Station are actually filmed in a Hollywood studio.
"NASA is run by occultists, Freemasons and Nazis," Rob Skiba, one of the conference's presenters, told the crowd on the first day.
Apparently flat-Earthers fall into two categories: biblical-Earthers and secular flat-Earthers.
Biblical-Earthers receive their knowledge about Earth's flatness from the Bible, which they interpret literally. They believe the Earth is like a terrarium or half a snow globe, with God watching from the sidelines.
In contrast, secular flat-Earthers use science to establish their beliefs. Sometimes the two categories overlap, with biblical-Earthers also using science to corroborate what they believe the Bible says about the flatness of the Earth.
These two categories are also useful for determining why flat-Earthers believe that humanity has been deluded into believing the Earth is spherical and that the universe is ever-expanding. John Carrigan, a Marine veteran and conference attendee, says that secular flat-Earthers believe this hoax is designed so elites can make money. Flat-Earthers point to NASA's daily budget, which is over $50 million.
Carrigan considers himself a biblical-Earther.
"God created humans so that they could have a relationship with Him. But Satan is trying to block that relationship," he says. In other words, Satan and his demons are working to promote heliocentrism and the spherical-Earth theory so that people won't establish meaningful relationships with God.
But not all those in attendance are religious, nor are they necessarily flat-Earthers themselves.
Sahil Shetye, who works in the renewable-tech sector, came all the way from Chicago for the conference. "I'm fascinated by people who think the Earth is flat," he says.
As an electrical engineer, Shetye totally rejects the flat-Earth theory. But his colleagues at work noticed his fascination in flat-Earthers and decided to raise money for his conference ticket. They managed to collect the $250 for the ticket, and Shetye paid for the plane tickets and hotel himself. He was surprised at what he found.
"I was expecting them to be crazy, but they definitely aren't. It's more like a religion," Shetye says. He was also impressed by how many people came out. "I am amazed at the amount of people thinking the Earth is flat. I was expecting only a few people, but the conference is packed."
Shetye is also buying up various flat-Earth maps being sold by merchants at the conference. His engineer colleagues back in Chicago are eager to get their hands on these maps, which they consider to be antithetical to science.
Shetye is also concerned by the movement. "The only thing I'm afraid of is that this movement will grow. They are going to get sympathizers by screaming about fake news or media bias. This will resonate with conspiracy theorists," he says.
Shetye's fear may already be coming true. Davidson claims that the growing movement of publicly identifying flat-Earthers represents only the tip of the iceberg of the full community. "80 percent are still in the shadows," he says. Even teenage heartthrob and social-media celebrity Logan Paul attended the conference. It's unclear what his beliefs are on the alleged flatness of the Earth.
Despite being relatively new to the flat-Earth community, Knodel wants people to know that he and his colleagues are not nut jobs.
"People in the flat-Earth community are not crazy people. The media will try to portray us that way. They often do. But the reality is that the average intellect is really high on a lot of these flat-Earthers because they have broken the bonds of this mental jail that we've been put into," he says.
Similar to Shetye, Knodel is also an engineer by trade. That, combined with his experience as a pilot, gives him added credibility in the flat-Earther community.
Like many of his peers, Knodel wasn't always a flat-Earther. It wasn't until three and a half years ago that he became one. Before that, Knodel spent two decades researching conspiracies, which he refers to as conspiracy facts. Knodel is a 9/11 truther, believes that Americans are being made docile by fluoride put into their drinking water, and also talks about false flag attacks when referring to mass shootings.
"If people don't wake up soon, then we are very much going to be in a 1984 Orwellian society," he says.
Unlike many of his compatriots, Knodel doesn't believe the spherical-Earth theory was designed and promulgated for monetary reasons. "It's about power," he says. "Total mind, body and soul control over each person on this plane."
Knodel cites the Rothschilds, Rockefellers and Morgans as some of those involved at the very top of this grand scheme. He also claims that all U.S. presidents are cousins, something that goes back to the throne in England. "Obama, too," he adds.
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