When Malachi Henderson went skydiving a few weeks ago, he noticed that the Earth looked flat, even from the plane. He mentioned it to the pilot. "The higher you get, the flatter it looks," the pilot replied. Henderson wasn't surprised: The pilot's response was evidence of something he'd been researching for years.
Henderson is one of a growing movement of Americans who believe that the Earth is flat. They refer to themselves as flat Earthers.
Flat Earthers have a wide range of convictions. Some come to the movement from a religious place, others from a scientific one. But most believe in one simple principle: that NASA and everyone involved in space exploration are liars and that there is a massive conspiracy to hide the fact that the Earth is flat.
Mic spoke with four flat Earthers from across the country, representing a range of ages and religious backgrounds: Henderson, a 34-year-old bartender; Patrice, 57, a business owner from Florida; Walt Johnson, a 49-year-old disabled former disk jockey from Louisiana; and Ben Long, in his 20s.
These are their stories.
The moment they discovered the Earth was flat
One thing most flat Earthers have in common: They found the movement through the internet, though some had already come to the conclusion on their own.
Patrice, who declined to provide her last name, is a Christian. "I love the Lord," she said in a phone call. "He really guides and directs my steps." Browsing YouTube one day, Patrice saw "something just about that little phrase 'flat Earth.' It just kind of dropped into my brain. I felt like the Lord was saying, 'Look into that.'"
Ben Long is a member of the flat Earth community who goes by @collusionexpert on Twitter. He first "looked into it" on New Year's Day 2016, he said. "I broke up with my girlfriend on New Year's Eve, and I kind of had, like, an early-midlife-crisis-type deal."
Long said he's not really interested in the other topics: "Eric's views on other things aren't really related." Patrice seemed more intrigued. "I don't know if you can handle what I really think about Hitler," she said. "That subject is at the very bottom of the rabbit hole."
Some early NASA scientists originally worked for the Nazis, a history that colors some people's view of the American space program.
Patrice told me to look into Operation Paperclip to learn about "NASA's dubious beginnings." Operation Paperclip was the transaction that brought German scientists to the U.S. after World War II.
Henderson has been researching flat Earth for around two years, he said. He's been interested in various conspiracy theories for about 12 years, and the trail led to flat Earth theories.
Walt Johnson has been interested in flat Earth for around a year and a half. A "backyard astronomer," Johnson first became skeptical while observing the moon. "One night, it looked a whole lot like there were clouds passing behind the moon," he said. "I grab my binoculars and sure enough, that's definitely what I'm seeing. So that's not working out if the moon is [about] 238,000 miles away."
The popular explanation for why clouds sometimes appear to be behind the moon or the sun is that the light being emitted from the sun or bouncing off the moon is so bright that it obscures the objects passing in front of it, making the objects look like they're behind the sun or the moon, when they're really in front of it.
Johnson went down a YouTube rabbit hole of moon/cloud theories, which led him right to flat Earth videos. "That made me start wondering about NASA in general," he said. "Instead of watching hours of YouTube videos, I went back to a video of the first moonwalk. I watched it just like I saw it when I was 2 years old. I was shocked by what I was seeing. It didn't add up."
What flat Earthers believe the planet really looks like
"Most of us believe that Antarctica is not a continent, but rather, the Earth is a disk, the North Pole is at the center and Antarctica is an ice wall around the perimeter," Patrice explained. "There is no solar system. I mean, there's a sun, obviously, and a moon and stars, because we can see them. You can also observe the flat Earth with your eyes."
Galileo was wrong: "The sun and the moon rotate the Earth," she added. "They follow each other. The Earth is the center."
"I think the sun and the moon are the same distance from the Earth," Long posited. "I don't think the sun is accidentally farther away from the Earth than the moon. I think they're the same size, same distance from the Earth."
The Earth has an edge: "My position is that the end of Earth is likely just beyond Antarctica," said Long. "Some flat Earthers think there is more land past Antarctica, or that we are on an infinite plane, but I definitely ascribe to the thought that it ends beyond Antarctica. You should definitely check out the Antarctic Treaty System, which doesn't allow free exploration of Antarctica without expressed permission from governing bodies. Scientific research is closely monitored. So that's an area of interest within the FE community for sure."
Or maybe the Earth is an infinite plane: "I don't think there's an 'edge,'" Johnson said. "I think we're on an infinite plane. If there is a 'ring' or an area that we can't easily pass through or by, it's either by design or by the nature of the area we live in."
Gravity is a myth
Gravity is "a magical invisible force that doesn't exist," Henderson said. "It's just a theory."
"There's two things in physics called density and buoyancy," Henderson continued. "When people understand density and buoyancy properly, the whole gravity thing just goes out the window."
Gravity is commonly defined not by density and buoyancy, but as a force attracting objects to physical bodies with mass, as Isaac Newton discovered in 1687.
"Gravity, I don't buy it," Long said. "This was a hard one for me to give up, I'll tell you what. I think that things rise and fall based on density. I think it works every time. Warm air rises, cold air falls because warm air is less dense than cold air."
"Same thing with a helium balloon," Long said. "A helium balloon escapes this allegedly powerful grasp of gravity but still gravity keeps the moon in orbit and it keeps the Earth in orbit around the sun, but it can't hold onto a balloon? It defies Occam's razor: The simplest explanation is usually correct."
"Gravity was never proven," Patrice said. "It's just a faulty concept to try and brainwash you into believing that tons of water can stick to a spinning ball. When you think of what they taught us in school, that the Earth is spinning so, so, so fast and you can't feel it? And then all this water's sticking to it? I mean it's ludicrous when you break it down to what we know about anything else that would be spinning: Nothing sticks to something spinning that fast. Everything would go flying, right? Including us."
"Gravity was never proven," Patrice said. "It's just a faulty concept to try and brainwash you into believing that tons of water can stick to a spinning ball."
"Gravity was not proven, and Isaac Newton and Einstein, all those scientists, are also Freemasons and Satan worshipers," Patrice said.
"Buoyancy is what gravity is, actually," Johnson said. "If something's heavier than air, it's gonna fall. If it's lighter, it's gonna rise. Same thing in liquid."
"It's been called gravity because gravity supports this whole fake system," Johnson added. "Gravity is what they need to hold water to a ball."
Some flat Earthers identify as born-again Christians; others do not. They all seem to believe that there was some bigger force that created the Earth, moon, sun and stars.
"Jesus says he is the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the father but through him," Patrice said, quoting John 14:6. "So by him revealing this truth to me, it's like revealing a part of himself, because he is the truth and everything that is a lie is anti-Christ."
Biblical evidence the Earth is flat: "The Bible does talk about the four corners of the Earth, so it's very possible that there are actual four corners to the Earth," Patrice added. "I think we're contained in the dome and that we're on a disk. The Bible also talks about the Earth being a disk."
The world is flat "because God said so," Henderson said. "It is written in scripture, all throughout scripture. There's over 75 different Bible verses that describe the Earth, and every time they do, it's flat."
One such quote is Isaiah 40:22, which reads: "He sits enthroned above the circle of the Earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in."
One of the first people to assert that the Earth is round was Eratosthenes in 240 BCE, an Egyptian librarian who made measurements of shadows in two spots — hundreds of miles apart — at the same exact time. He found that the pillars in one city cast no shadow at noon and the pillars in the other city cast a significant shadow.
"I'm not religious, but I do believe in creation," Long said. "If you're coming from a point where you know the Earth is flat, you also know that Earth was created. The two are connected. You can't be a flat Earther and be an atheist. I've never met one; I don't think there are any out there."
"I guess you could say I was agnostic," Johnson said. "There's maybe something going on out there. I don't believe it was an accident. The accidental big bang theory I never bought."
NASA and the moon landing
All four flat Earthers believe that the 1969 moon landing was faked.
"I want everyone to know that NASA are liars, we never went to the moon and the Earth is flat," Patrice stated.
"The NASA astronauts, these people are Freemasons, they're Satanists," Patrice said, echoing her claim about Newton and Einstein. "You can see the Freemason rings on pictures of the astronauts if you zoom into their hands. They're all Freemasons and it's Satanic. They worship Satan."
"It's obvious the moon landing was faked," Henderson said. "They're not going to be able to hold that one together much longer, as well as the globe-Earth lie."
"I don't think we landed on the moon," Long agreed.
"I look at the footage and there's obviously trickery involved," Johnson said. "There's front lighting when there should be none, and there's angles of light that don't work. If [Neil Armstrong] was the first one coming down the ladder, who's outside filming him?"
9/11 was an inside job
Many of the flat Earthers believe 9/11 was perpetrated by the government.
"If you follow the money, it's pretty easy to figure out what's going on," said Johnson, a longtime 9/11 conspiracy theorist. "When a guy who owns the World Trade Center just so happens to increase his insurance coverage and not be there the day all this happens, that was enough for me."
Johnson is referring to Larry Silverstein, a developer who controlled the Twin Towers when they were hit on 9/11.
"I think it was perpetrated by the government," Patrice said. "There was a lot of computer-generated imaging. It was a controlled interior demolition. It was a large-scale deception. I'm not sure how many people died."
What they want you to know
I asked the flat Earthers what they want readers to know, above all else.
"I want them to know that NASA and all the astronauts and all of NASA are liars," Patrice said. "There's a picture of all the Challenger crew still alive today, 30 years later. Three of them are teaching in universities." (The astronauts' bodies were found a few months after the explosion.)
"I just want people to look into it," Long said. "I don't try to proselytize anymore, I don't try to change minds and convince masses. I just try to present information I have found that shakes my old belief system."
"Most of what we've been told, in a vastly major scale, is a lie," Johnson said. "If they can lie to you about the most basic aspect of your life, where you live, then they can lie to you about everything else. It's the biggest lie that keeps all the other lies going."