Birds Aren’t Real Movement Isn’t a Conspiracy Theory, Started at Counter-Protest

Peter McIndoe launched Birds Aren’t Real in 2017, and the Gen Z movement has flown into public consciousness since then. How did the Birds Aren't Real Movement start?

Dan Clarendon - Author

Apr. 29 2022, Published 1:48 p.m. ET

CBS’ preview clip for this week’s 60 Minutes episode, which airs on Sunday, May 1, shows dozens of Birds Aren’t Real protestors holding signs like “Feathered Friend… or Foe?” and “Geese R Recreational Surveillance.” In the clip, these young activists chant the movement’s name, “Birds aren’t real! Birds aren’t real!”

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Luckily, as viewers will see on Sunday, the movement — which claims birds are government surveillance drones — is “pure satire, intended to mirror some of the absurdity that has taken flight across the country,” as 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi reports.

Ahead of that segment, here’s more information on Birds Aren’t Real and its origins.

Birds Aren’t Real creator Peter McIndoe thought up the movement in 2017.

Peter McIndoe, 22, founded Birds Aren’t Real in 2017 after seeing “older, bigger white men” counter-protesting and being “clear aggravators” at a Women’s March in Memphis, Tenn., as he told The Guardian earlier this month.

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So he wrote “Birds Aren’t Real” on a placard and joined the counter-protest. “I just thought: ‘I should write a sign that has nothing to do with what is going on.’ An absurdist statement to bring to the equation.”

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Soon his one-man movement went viral, inspiring other Gen Z activists to join the cause to parody actual conspiracy theories. “Birds Aren’t Real is not a shallow satire of conspiracies from the outside. It is from the deep inside,” McIndoe told The New York Times in December. “A lot of people in our generation feel the lunacy in all this, and Birds Aren’t Real has been a way for people to process that.”

Members of the movement are “role-playing” a conspiracy theory, down to the bad Photoshop.

McIndoe also told The Guardian about the work involved in getting Birds Aren’t Real aloft, so to speak. He said the “boots-on-the-ground activism network” Bird Brigade was “the first step to building a structured movement, getting it from Memphis to the rest of the US, getting people to put up flyers that I designed very poorly on Photoshop, which works for the conspiracy theory aesthetic.”

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The Birds Aren’t Real website furthers the illusion with better Photoshop work, however, with a doctored photo of former President John F. Kennedy petting a “robot bird prototype” at the White House and a faux propaganda poster of Uncle Sam fighting “the feathered menace.”

The website also boasts a fictitious origin story, claiming the movement “has been active since 1976” and “exists to spread awareness that the U.S. Government genocided over 12 billion birds from 1959 [to] 2001.”

McIndoe told The Guardian that Birds Aren’t Real is a “collective role-playing experiment” whose politically-diverse members understand the satire. “They’re role-playing together,” he said. “They’re role-playing the collective understanding of the conspiracy theory. … We talk about it like an igloo. Making a shelter out of the same thing that’s posing the threat. Take the materials of what is around us, build something with them, be safe in there together, and laugh.”


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