Birds Aren’t Real


Tariq Jassim ’22 at the local Birds Aren’t Real rally.

Matthew Broder '22, Editor

Friday, July 2, 2021, was one of those perfect summer days you wish never had to end. The late afternoon sun shimmered brilliantly through a cloudless blue sky, and a soft breeze playfully tossed the lofty canopies of the trees lining I-44 as I drove east. My destination? Gateway Arch Park. It was a perfect evening for a walk or a meal outside, but I had other plans. Armed with my phone, a notebook, and a fair amount of skepticism, I was headed for a political rally. But not just any political rally. For the next two hours, I would be protesting on behalf of the “Birds Aren’t Real” movement.

As I pulled into a parking lot on the edge of Laclede’s Landing with my trusty sidekick, Tariq Jassim, I was already regretting my decision to come. It’s gotta be a joke, I thought to myself as I approached the crowd surrounding a windowless white van decorated with anti-bird paraphernalia. I mean, no one really believes birds aren’t real, right? I voiced my opinion to Tariq.

“There are like a hundred people here,” he replied, “There have gotta be at least one or two who actually believe it.”

Fair enough. And I wasn’t going to say he was wrong.

I found myself a spot removed from the action. Next to the van (pictured right), official “Birds Aren’t Real” merchandise was being sold and to my left anti-bird propaganda posters were being handed out. To my right, a group was crowding around a guy with a bullhorn, practicing chants for the march. I mean, if the premise weren’t so ridiculous, you’d be hard-pressed to think you weren’t at a legitimate protest.

But what is the premise, beyond the organization’s provocative, yet not-entirely-unfitting name? Unsurprisingly, they believe that, well, birds aren’t real. What we know as birds are instead government-made surveillance drones. Over an indeterminate period of time in the late 20th century, starting in 1959, 12 billion birds were systematically massacred and replaced with android equivalents. According to their website, the purpose of the “Birds Aren’t Real” movement is to “spread awareness” of the United States’ avian annihilation. “Once a preventative cause,” they say on their FAQ page, “our initial goal was to stop the forced extinction of real birds. Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful, and the government has since replaced every living bird with robotic replicas. Now our movement’s perogative is to make everyone aware of this fact.”

Now, I’m sure you have questions. How did the government kill all these birds? Where did all the dead birds go? How do you explain bird meat? What is bird poop? Trust me, I did too. Luckily, their website provides all the answers we need. Firstly, it is “common knowledge among Bird-Truthers” that a deadly virus was released from B52 bombers, a virus that “only affected the Bird species” and which was designed to “disintegrate the birds, like a form of advanced leprosy.” All bird meat, then, is synthetic, and bird poop is simply “a form of liquidated tracking apparatus.”

All standard stuff, really.

         But a major question that still stands out for me is why. Why would Peter McIndoe, University of Arkansas drop-out and unofficial “founder” of the “Birds Aren’t Real” movement, dedicate so much of his time to something so stupid? I have two leading theories based solely on my contemplation on the car ride home.

Theory One: It’s a political statement. Something along the lines of “Hey, if I, a random nobody with a sign, can get thousands of idiots online to believe something as stupid as birds not being real, imagine what someone with legitimate authority and influence could make people believe.” I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds of partisanship, but it’s impossible to deny that modern politics in this country have been irrefutably corrupted by the rampant spread of conspiracy theories on both sides. Something as simple as getting a shot has become politicized. In today’s all-or-nothing world, maybe McIndoe is simply trying to make a statement in a roundabout sort of way.

Theory Two (and my personal favorite): It’s a cash grab. Virality is a fickle thing, and “Birds Aren’t Real” seems to have struck it rich. Their website is unashamedly a front for their merchandise, what they call “truther gear”. Their “About Us” page reads like it was cranked out in an hour on a late-night caffeine binge. Information from one page conflicts that of another; in three separate places I found three separate dates for the end of the government’s supposed bird butchery. Honestly, the entire website was probably made some Saturday. I mean, if you’re going to try to convince people even a little, you would put more effort into your website than they did. But then again, if you just want people to buy a $30 t-shirt, why bother?

Still, I think I’m reading too much into this. It’s a meme, and if that’s the sort of thing you need to get through the day, I’m not going to judge.