In 2015, Brian Dolan decided not to pay for a digital TV subscription, reasoning that he could find all his entertainment for free online. It was a life changing moment. He ended up spending a lot of time watching conspiracy videos, and kept seeing pop-ups for videos made by people who believe the Earth is flat. “I thought it was the stupidest thing ever,” says Dolan, who is 39 and lives in Niagara Falls. But that quickly changed.
This is a common occurrence: someone investigates conspiracy theories on YouTube; they dismiss flat Earth as ridiculous; they are converted, often after watching the Flat Earth Clues videos by the community’s poster boy Mark Sargent. The same thing happened to Dolan. Within a few weeks, he had – as the flat Earth community puts it – ‘woken up’.
Dolan describes himself as socially awkward, and didn’t have a girlfriend until his early 20s. Other than a short relationship a few years later, nothing has really stuck. He believes becoming a flat Earther has affected his romantic life. “Quite honestly, my dating pool has become a dating pond,” he says. “If you can’t agree on the fundamentals of where you’re living, I don’t think you have much chance of that much of a future.”
Flat Earthers compare their belief to a religion: though you shouldn’t “hit someone over the head” with it, it is so important that you should mention it early to a potential partner. Dolan says he doesn’t know many flat Earthers in his area, and anyway, he thinks 95 per cent of female flat Earthers are in a relationship. Once, a friend made (and operated) a profile for him on the dating site Plenty of Fish, which mentioned that Dolan is a flat Earther. A few people were interested but Dolan asked that he take it down. “I’m not good at the game,” he says. He faces an unusual – but not unique – challenge. How do you find love when you think the Earth is flat?
You might think that the gender demographics of flat Earthers – people I speak to put it at approximately 75 per cent men – would make love less elusive for women. But for Caroline Walter, a 52-year-old diagnostic ultrasonographer in Arizona, this doesn’t make it easy.
For a while in 2018 she dated Sargent; then she used a website called Flat Earth People Finder to spend time with a man who proved not to be a perfect match; now she is single. She has no interest in her colleagues because they are “indoctrinated”. As well as being a flat Earther, Walter is a Christian. “So I feel like I’m looking for some kind of a unicorn and I don’t know if I’ll ever find him but I feel like I don’t wanna settle.”
Does the belief system make her lonely? “Of course,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important to keep contact with the people that feel the same. It’s so isolating that we really have to stick together.”
While opening you up to a community of like-minded people, a belief in flat Earth can clearly sever ties and alienate the people you love. “I do have a really good group of online friends,” says Dolan, “but in real life… people that I’ve known for 20, 30 years, they definitely want nothing to do with it.”
Charlotte Love, a 48-year-old flat Earther in Birmingham, says she no longer watches TV or reads newspapers. “Conversations can be difficult with mainstream people,” she says. David Weiss, a flat Earther in his mid-50s from Connecticut, says: “They’re so deep inside the Matrix that they can’t see it.”
And, for some, a belief in a flat Earth can be the catalyst for ending a relationship. Love, who used Meetup.com to start gatherings of flat Earthers that have run since 2017, has seen marriages come under strain: the partner resents the new belief they cannot understand; the flat Earther realises they are happier among flat Earthers. “Quite often they say, ‘I’m not allowed to even discuss this at home’,” she says. “’We can’t have a conversation about anything real.’”
Sargent has heard “horror stories” about people being unable to reconcile their relationship with their flat Earth belief. The paradigm shift is too great. “And why wouldn’t it be?” he says. “We’re not talking about whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, or vegan or not vegan. This is way, way bigger than that.”
This became all too real for Dottie Sutherland, who is 34 and lives in Washington. The world didn’t make sense to her until she discovered flat Earth. Though her boyfriend was the person who introduced her to the conspiracy, he didn’t care about researching it further. “I wanted to go out and do observations,” she says. “I enjoy going to meet-ups, and he just didn’t have any interest in that.” In November 2019 she wanted to go to the Dallas Flat Earth International Conference but he refused to accompany her. When she got home, the pair broke up. Sutherland wanted to be with someone who thought like her.
Elsewhere, the newly single brother of a friend started talking to her. At one point he asked her why she was a flat Earther. She laid out her arguments. He literally never spoke to her again. “I was like, wow, OK, yeah, that’s why I don’t try to talk to people about this.”
Some flat Earthers are happy to countenance marrying a ‘glober’ – someone who thinks the Earth is round – but many of them think that the glober would simply become a flat Earther anyway. “I’ve debated Nasa employees, astrophysicists, PhDs, land surveyors, and I smoke ’em all like a Cuban cigar on Sunday,” claims Nathan Thompson, a 34-year-old flat Earther in Virginia.
“It’s a joke. So you’re telling me my girlfriend’s not gonna figure out that the Earth’s flat? No, she’s gonna know. She’s gonna know or I’m gonna find a smarter girlfriend.” Love, who thinks a flat Earther and a glober dating is like a straight and a gay person dating, says it would be all right for a prospective partner to believe that the Earth is round, “but if someone was seriously open and seriously looked into it, I don’t see how that could happen”.
Some flat Earthers married globers years before they ‘woke up’. Rob Mackenzie, a 50-year-old former aircraft engineer, met his wife in 2000 but became a flat Earther in 2016. His wife doesn’t get angry about the subject but the two of them don’t discuss flat Earth in the house. When he watches a flat Earth video, he does it alone and with headphones. “It would be nice if we could get over that milestone,” he says – “if she suddenly said to me one day, ‘Talk to me about Flat Earth and explain it to me’.” If he were single, Mackenzie says, he would probably start a Facebook account and look for flat Earthers in his area. “I would certainly look for someone that was at least open to the idea, at the very least. For example, I probably wouldn’t date an astrophysicist, no matter how hot she is.”
Given the barriers, perhaps it’s unsurprising that a single flat Earther in search of love would turn to the internet and its algorithms. And that’s where Flat Earth Singles comes in.
On May 28, 2019, Joe – a silver-haired flat Earther from Connecticut – posted a video on YouTube. “Yes, there’s a dating site out there – a flat Earth dating site,” he said. He had been told about the site by a friend, and decided to join.
When Flat Earth Singles launched – not with awe-inspiring professionalism, misspelling its own name as ‘Fiat Earth Singles’ – I decided to look into it. At first glance, the site seemed to offer everything a lovelorn flat Earther could want. But under the surface, something didn’t seem right.
Joe was skeptical too. In his video, he says that the site still has room for improvement and that he won’t be paying for a premium account until they sort out their search function.
I tried to speak to those who had joined. With occasional exceptions, their profile photos looked suspiciously similar. I noticed that most of the female photos had originally been saved with the file format ‘F_1’, ‘F_2’, etc, and most of the male photos with ‘M_1’, ‘M_2’, etc. What’s more, the age provided for each profile bore almost no relation to that of the person in the photo – as though the entire database had been filled out not by a person but by a computer.
I decided to do reverse Google Image searches on the photos. One supposed member, ‘bendover365’ was using the photo of Achilles Wiliams, a personal trainer who was run over by a train. The profile photo of a man called George On The Horizon had been saved with the filename ‘379_pexels_photo-736716’. When I visited Pexels, a stock image site, the second face in the search results for ‘man’ was familiar: it was George On The Horizon.
When I looked up the photo attached to the profile ‘katiebest’, I found Katie Higgins Cook, whose photo is regularly used to scam people. “My picture has been used on Muslim dating websites, multiple Facebook profiles, etc.,” she told me. “There is a scam going around where someone emails saying they are me, I am in Syria and I’ve found (insert large amount of money) and I need their bank account number to get the money out of the country.” Another image search took me to Alissa Smith, an Atlanta tarot reader. She confirmed that the profile was not her. Oddly, she had just discovered that her ex-boyfriend is a flat Earther.
I spent a while fruitlessly trying to speak to actual members on the site, as well as the people running it. I got no reply from the site’s owners, but did receive a notification telling me that ‘Cutiebun’ wanted to meet me. When I replied to the email address listed in that message, my email bounced back. There was no one on the other end. Cutiebun did not want to meet me.
Joseph was right not to have paid for a premium account. No one on the site was actually a flat Earther – not even ‘FlatEarthBigTits’. Flat Earth Singles was a scam.
The site – which has disappeared from the internet in the last few weeks – struck me as a cautionary tale. Just as a site tailor-made for single flat Earthers comes along, it proves to be a hoax. But it is eminently possible for flat Earthers to fall in love with one another, as my interviews proved. When they do so, their membership of a minority that is widely mocked can strengthen their relationship.
When Nathan Thompson dated a flat Earther he said it felt like “us against the world”. Charlotte Love fell in love with another flat Earther at her meet-ups, and David Weiss and Paige Windle met at a Halloween party in 2006 before either of them had ‘woken up’. Windle was dressed as Belle in a yellow dress that touched the floor, and Weiss had come as a Halloween protestor. They felt like soulmates, Windle says. Before long their talking moved upstairs from the basement. They stood outside the bathroom and their lips touched for the first time. As they kissed, the lights went out and for ten minutes the house was plunged into darkness.
The two of them watched flat Earth videos together and came to their conclusion together. “And I almost felt lighter,” says Windle, “because everything made sense – that we’ve been living this lie for so long.” The pair would do small experiments together, and film them. “We are doing great and flat Earth is making us stronger than anyone out there,” says Weiss. “We are not bored; life is exciting and new every single day.”
Weiss and Windle are clearly in a fortunate minority. The flat Earth community believe that a significant percentage of their number are ‘in the closet’, afraid to come out to their glober loved ones. Sargent describes these people’s secrets as “ticking time bombs” – revelations that may destroy their relationships.
When we begin a relationship with someone, we perhaps subconsciously assume that their stances on the important issues in life will never change. To contemplate anything else is too frightening for us – it may entail having to change ourselves. But conspiracies lure people in all the time, and people change every day. It could happen to anyone. What would you do if the person lying next to you in bed told you they believed the Earth is flat?
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