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Parodying conspiracy theories with the Birds Aren't Real movement

Birds Aren't Real: The conspiracy parody
Birds Aren't Real: The conspiracy theory that satirizes conspiracy theories 13:22

There have always been conspiracy theories: the moon landings were fake, Elvis is alive, Paul is dead. But as disinformation has sprouted across the internet, more malicious conspiracy theories have entered our homes, workplaces and even the halls of Congress. So you might not be surprised to learn that more than a million people have become followers of a conspiracy theory that birds aren't real. That's right. The birds you think you see flying in the sky are actually government surveillance drones. Sound insane? It's meant to. The Birds Aren't Real movement is, thankfully, pure satire, intended to mirror some of the absurdity that's taken flight across the country.

McIndoe at rally: Are you ready to march, are you ready to march?

That is Peter McIndoe, the founder of Birds Aren't Real.  Falling over himself to lead a flock of his followers into a frenzy on the streets of Hollywood. 

Rally marchers: Birds aren't real! 

Peter McIndoe "leads" Birds Aren't Real "followers" at a "rally"

Fortunately, this "rally," like most things in Hollywood, is fake. Two hundred self-described bird truthers, all in on the act, playfully protested the very serious-sounding "bird drone surveillance crisis."

McIndoe at rally: If it flies? It spies! If it flies? It spies!

If it flies, it spies, they chanted.

McIndoe at rally: Birds aren't real!

Then called out the mainstream media's supposed avian agenda.

McIndoe at rally: CNN? Pro-bird!

Accusing CNN of being pro-bird. A few days later, we went along as Peter McIndoe, still in character, somberly explained to us why birds aren't real.

Sharyn Alfonsi: So what do bird truthers believe?

Peter McIndoe: Every single bird in the sky is a robot. The United States government basically massacred 12 billion birds, beautiful living birds using crop-dusting airplanes flying over, over the States over the course of 40 years. And as the real birds died, the robotic drones rose. Now we live in a world where there's 12 billion robotic birds watching us every single day.

McIndoe at rally: Bird watching goes?

Rally marchers: Both ways!

McIndoe at rally: Bird watching goes? 

Rally marchers: Both ways!

McIndoe kept up the act…

Peter McIndoe: I never hear anyone asking, 'Hey, why don't our presidents talk?' They, they, tweet on the bird app with their left-wing, or right-wing politics, you know? I think a lot starts to unfold, and the matrix starts to shatter the more questions that you ask.

Sharyn Alfonsi: What bird is most suspicious to you?

Peter McIndoe: Really every bird.

Sharyn Alfonsi: How do you feel about seagulls?

Peter McIndoe: Uh, I don't trust 'em, I'll tell you that. Have you ever been to the beach and you got some food left over, and a seagull comes over and tries to get it? That's not cause it's hungry. You know, the mainstream media wants to sell us this lie that, 'Oh, birds are hungry.' You know, when in fact the seagulls are taking your food to bring it back to the Pentagon for DNA harvesting and testing.

Sharyn Alfonsi: How do you feel about 60 Minutes? I'm surprised you've decided to sit here with us.

Peter McIndoe: I'm not gonna go on news shows, but shows about, you know, clocks and time I'm okay with sharing my information with. And I, I understand this isn't anything like the media. So thanks for, thanks for havin' me on your, on, on your clock show.

Peter McIndoe

With that, he finally broke character, and we met the real Peter McIndoe.

Sharyn Alfonsi: You're the person that I've been hearing about but haven't seen.

Peter McIndoe: Okay, great. Well, wonderful to meet you.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Yeah, nice to meet you too.

Mcindoe, the 24 -year-old college dropout behind Birds Aren't Real, is fortunately, nothing like the megaphone carrying character under the cowboy hat.  

He told us it's all a parody, and it's spread to billboards, bumper stickers and popped up at halftime during the NCAA men's basketball national championship game last month.

Sharyn Alfonsi: What's the purpose of all of this?

Peter McIndoe: So it's taking this concept of misinformation and almost building a little safe space to come together within it and laugh at it, rather than be scared by it. And accept the lunacy of it all and be a bird truther for a moment in time when everything's so crazy.

Peter McIndoe: The vision was creating something that reflected the absurdity through the eyes of the most confused archetype…

McIndoe at rally: People, when they make fun of me, don't realize people also made fun of the founding fathers, you know, before they stormed the British gates and took over…

Connor Gaydos, Claire Chronis and Cameron Kasky

The humor is meant to be apolitical. McIndoe's co-conspirators: Claire Chronis, Cameron Kasky and Connor Gaydos, say it's become an outlet for a generation that's been surrounded by conspiracy theories.

Connor Gaydos: It's an opportunity for I think our generation to laugh, to make fun, to kind of be like, look, here's like a laundry list of things that haven't come true.

Cameron Kasky: You've been lying to us so we're gonna lie to you back, and we're gonna do it in a way that really is funny.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Is there any danger of adding to the noise?

Cameron Kasky: Always. We wanna make sure we're not using language that's actually harmful and hateful conspiracy theories use to target people.

Cameron Kasky would know…

Cameron Kasky: Well, I've been targeted, doxed and harassed by QAnon before.

Kasky in first 60 Minutes interview: We are the mass shooting generation…

We first met Kasky in 2018 after he survived the horrific shooting at his Parkland, Florida, high school where 14 classmates and three teachers were murdered. 

Kasky helped create March For Our Lives - an organization that calls for stronger gun laws.

Cameron Kasky: My friends and I were called crisis actors and you know, I kinda had this strange perspective on conspiracy theories because the internet was telling me that my father and grandfather were child traffickers because they're adoption lawyers.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Isn't there part of this that's just saying simply look at all these conspiracy theories. They're ridiculous. And we're gonna be ridiculous so you understand that this is ridiculous. 

Connor Gaydos: That's the idea.

Claire Chronis: Fighting lunacy with lunacy.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Fighting lunacy with lunacy…

Claire Chronis: Yeah.

McIndoe's been rebelling since his days growing up in a small town in Arkansas.

Peter McIndoe: I grew up in a really fundamentalist community that was, like hyper conservative.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Were conspiracy theories a part of the community?

Peter McIndoe: Oh, I mean, embedded in the community. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: Really?

Peter McIndoe: Oh, yeah

Sharyn Alfonsi: Were you in trouble a lot?

Peter McIndoe: Yeah. I mean it was just cause I'd spent most of my time in those communities arguing with people. There was homecoming and I got voted most likely to go to jail. 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 intent to hatch Birds Aren't Real. The idea was an accident. A day after President Trump's inauguration in 2017 McIndoe was hanging out with friends in Memphis on the roof of a building when they heard demonstrators in the streets below.

Peter McIndoe: I remember thinking it would be very interesting if someone was in this situation with a sign that had nothing to do with anything that's going on here

Sharyn Alfonsi: And so how did you get to Birds Aren't Real as the thing that's on the sign?

Peter McIndoe: I don't even know. It was just the most absurd thing I could think of.

McIndoe in video: I'm angry, and I'm here to protest.

Sign in hand, he took to the streets of Memphis, ad-libbing a stream of absurdities.

McIndoe in video: Wake up America! Birds are not real, they're a myth, they're an illusion. Thank you for your time.

  Lauren Kerstell, Ally Perkins and Jenny Bailey

His friends Lauren Kerstell, Ally Perkins and Jenny Bailey couldn't believe what was coming out of Peter's mouth. 

McIndoe in video: They're not real, they're fake. 

Jenny Bailey: Peter just goes all out and he just starts, like, screaming, like random stuff, like off the top of his head. Like, just whatever he thought of in the moment.

Sharyn Alfonsi: And it's not scripted, he's just 100%…

Jenny Bailey: No.

Sharyn Alfonsi: ...improvising this moment?

Jenny Bailey: Yeah. He's like, "Birds aren't real. They're a lie." And just like whatever would come up to his head, he'd like, say it.

Lauren Kerstell: It was just incredible how he created this whole character and personality off the bat. Like, his improv was…

Ally Perkins: So quickly.

Lauren Kerstell: …flawless…

Ally Perkins: Yeah, it was impressive. We were like, 'Okay. Where did this come from?'

McIndoe in video: There is a birdemic happening

Peter's friend Ally innocently posted a video of that day online and then everything changed… 

McIndoe in video: Birds are not real.

Peter McIndoe: So I'm getting pictures sent to me of Birds Aren't Real graffiti and Birds Aren't Real chalkboards and seeing you know chants…

Peter McIndoe: In cafeterias and you know stadiums like "Birds Aren't Real" at high schools

Sharyn Alfonsi: Did you think at that point, like, "This is awesome" or "What have I done?"

Peter McIndoe: I remember being fascinated by it. I remember thinking, "Okay, why do people identify with this so much?" And just thinking, like, there was this energy in Memphis for this idea, and that I would always regret it if I didn't lean into that

Sharyn Alfonsi: What did your parents think when you said, "I'm dropping out of college, I'm moving to Memphis…"

Peter McIndoe: Yeah…

Sharyn Alfonsi:… to start a fake conspiracy theory?

Peter McIndoe: Yeah, I mean, it was really interesting, I was trying to describe to them it could be a very interesting art project, sort of like a mirror to, you now, just the seemingly exponentially growing absurdity of the world and America. And, like, if we can match that with a character in a living world, blah, blah, blah. And they're just lookin' at me, like, "Please stick with the psychology degree" you know.

McIndoe enlisted his friend Connor Gaydos, a history buff, to write a backstory for the birds movement.

Connor Gaydos: The CIA was so sick and tired of the birds pooping on their windshields. So they're like, we're sick of this, we're fed up with this. Let's hire, you know, engineers to, to get rid of these stupid birds. And while we're at it, let's replace em with robots and spy on people. So, it's, it's, it's a joke.

"Eugene Price"

But then, they took the story a step further. Every conspiracy needs a "deep state" whistleblower.

Eugene Price: Well, I saw some things that I really wish I hadn't seen.

McIndoe interviewing Price: Are you referring to bird-drone surveillance?

Eugene Price: Yeah

McIndoe invented, and interviewed, a character called Eugene Price. Price is supposed to be a former CIA officer who buried evidence of the bird genocide and the rise of the drones…

Sharyn Alfonsi: When you were hiring an actor to play Eugene Price what were you looking for in that actor?

Peter McIndoe: The oldest man I could find I was looking for someone who looked like they had just had some guilt weighing down on them for years. Like, I really wanted bags under the eyes, sleepless nights. We released a video titled The Confession Of Eugene Price, where he, for the first time ever on record, an ex-CIA agent came out and said everything that the government had done.

McIndoe interviewing Price: Did you keep anything?

Eugene Price: No!

That video got over ten million views on TikTok.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Are there people who believe that birds aren't real?

Connor Gaydos: I've ironically met people who go, oh, I know, and they'll act like they've already known.

Sharyn Alfonsi: That birds aren't real?

Connor Gaydos: Yeah. They'll be like, oh, I know, I know what's goin on. The CIA, you know, they've been doing that

But the gag is apparent for all to see in McIndoe's beat up van that he bought for $2,000.

Peter McIndoe: This is our chariot.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Wow! 

Peter McIndoe: This is our loyal duchess. Takes us wherever we need to go.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Super understated, right?

Peter McIndoe: Yeah, it's a little low key, you know?

Black, and white and crazy all over. It is a mobile manifesto calling pigeon liars and claiming birds charge on power lines. 

Peter McIndoe: The government has sold the public on this lie of power lines or, oh, you're talking to people through these wires, telephone wires, you know. When really, you know they put up poles and wires for drones to sit on, and charge 

We followed Peter McIndoe in his van, as he tried to spread the feathered gospel on the streets of Orange County, California.   

Peter McIndoe from van: I'm part of a movement that believes every bird is a government surveillance drone

One person thought he should seek help.

Man on street: Maybe you should see somebody…

Another wanted to pray for him…

Woman on street: Lord, thank you so much for Pete. I thank you for his heart.

Peter McIndoe: Just know you're being watched. Know that it's--

Man on street: For what reason though?

Peter McIndoe: For what reason?

Man on street Yeah. Why are they watching me?

Peter McIndoe: They want mass control.


Peter McIndoe: So you're woke…

Remarkably, most of the under-40 crowd was in on the joke…   

Young man on street: Bro, I'm tired of those birds sitting on the power lines, draining all of our power, am I right?  

Sharyn Alfonsi: How do you make a living doing this? 

Peter McIndoe: Barely. I-- we, we have shirts on our website.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Do you think you'll have to rely on t-shirt sales forever?

Peter McIndoe: No. Everyone's reached out to us about books and movies, which has been interesting. Because the idea has never been packaged into something like that.

McIndoe says more than a million people now call themselves bird truthers. They've flocked to rallies around the country.

In front of Twitter's headquarters, they demanded the company drop its bird logo.

And in St. Louis, McIndoe brazenly burned a Cardinals flag in the shadow of the Arch.

In an age of outrage, Peter McIndoe is hoping to drown out the chorus of crazy in this country. With a little crazy of his own.

Rally marchers: Birds Aren't Real! Birds Aren't Real!

Produced by Draggan Mihailovich. Associate producer, Emily Cameron. Broadcast associate, Elizabeth Germino. Edited by Peter M. Berman.

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