In November, more than 500 people will gather in a Cary hotel to promote their common belief: The Earth is flat as a Frisbee, motionless in space, bounded on all sides by a wall of ice.
Speakers at the Flat Earth International Conference bring a variety of rationales for debunking centuries of established science: their interpretation of the Bible, a vast plot that faked the moon landing and the international treaties that keep people from discovering the true nature of Antarctica.
On their YouTube channels, speakers at the sold-out Embassy Suites conference also dabble in a wide array of conspiracies: the 9/11 attacks never happened, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary were a fiction, the government is attempting mind control by secretly introducing a sentient black goo.
And while news of the conference drew ridicule when announced, the ideas its espouses are finding new currency online, aided by social media. Regular $149 tickets and $249 VIP passes to the Cary conference sold out weeks ago, though $17 online streaming passes remain available.
Scholars dating to the ancient Greeks have written about the ball-shaped Earth, though skepticism persisted beyond Magellan’s voyage around the globe and Copernicus’ near-universally accepted model placing it in constant orbit around the sun.
The modern flat Earth movement dates to the 19th-century English inventor Samuel Rowbotham, who became convinced after floating a small boat slowly down a 6-mile drainage ditch and watching a flag attached to its mast. When it failed to disappear around the planet’s curve, he published “Earth Not a Globe.”
The Flat Earth Society grew out of his writings and lasted until the end of the 1990s, when interest waned and the group fizzled.
Then in 2009, the London-based society announced it would take new members for the first time in a decade. All 555 of them are listed on its Web site, starting with Thomas Dolby. The singer – who wrote the 1980s hit “She Blinded Me With Science” and released a 1984 album titled “The Flat Earth” – reportedly accepted membership without sharing the society’s beliefs.
(Jimmy McPeek of Fuquay-Varina holds the planetary model he received with his membership in the Flat Earth Society. A flat Earth conference is coming to Cary in November, though it is not associated with the society. McPeek said he joined the society “mostly on a whim” and does not necessarily follow its views.)
The society’s ranks also include one member from Raleigh, two from Charlotte and three from Fuquay-Varina. Those who could be reached said their membership does not stem from serious globe skepticism.
Jimmy McPeek, 51, an information technology worker in Fuquay-Varina, keeps his membership certificate framed below his college diploma and a small flat globe model on a bookshelf.
“I’m not going to say I believe the world is flat,” he said. “I’ve been on enough planes. I’ve seen the curvature of the Earth. It was a fun thing to do.”
Ben Evans, who is brewmaster at Boylan Bridge Brewpub, said his membership came as a gift.
“I’ve still got my Flat Earth Society medal at the house,” he said. “However, I am pretty sure we’re floating around in space on a sphere. But who actually knows, right?”
The flat earthers gathering in Cary next month have no connection to the society in London. The November conference is hosted by Kryptoz Media and Creation Cosmology Institute, and its organizer, Robbie Davidson, does not appear on the Flat Earth Society’s membership registry.
On its Web site, the FEIC describes itself as a “grassroots educational endeavor,” and the speakers lined up for the Embassy Suites pull no punches when it comes to their beliefs. Davidson did not immediately respond to an email with questions sent this week, but in his documentary film “Scientism Exposed,” his doubts trace back to the ancient world.
“We start off with Pythagoras,” said Davidson in the film, speaking of the Greek philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. “He wasn’t a biblical man. He wasn’t getting things from scripture. He was getting things through the mystery schools, through the occult. Pythagoras was by no means getting these revelations through his mind.”
Nearly all the speakers express deep doubts about space travel, dismissing photographs of the whole Earth as fakes. One of the sessions on Nov. 9: “NASA and other space lies.”
“Nearly all of the astronauts were Freemasons, too,” wrote Rob Skiba, a filmmaker and writer who will appear in Cary. In his writings, he invited readers to view the NASA logo. “I mean, look at the pic to the left. Their logo has their name between what looks like the forked tongue of a serpent, for crying out loud! The footage they send us, whether as still or video imagery is questionable at best and horribly fabricated at worst. Yet, that’s what most of us are trusting in as the #1 ‘proof’ we are on a globe?”
Skepticism among conference speakers extends to the reporting on many of the calamities of this centuries, which they mock on YouTube. On his “Globebusters” segment, electrical engineer Bob Knodel describes images of the planes hitting the World Trade Center as a CGI composite.
“Every single time you go to an event where it’s a vigil for people whose lives were lost in 9/11, or the Boston bombing or Sandy Hook, or talk among your friends at work about how tragic it was … you’re feeding it. You’re feeding a fire. You’re doing the work of the elites,” said Patricia Steere, a conference speaker who hosts the channel “Flat Earth and Other Hot Potatoes.”
This is the first conference of its kind, put on by these organizations in this form. Whatever the response, it promises not to be dull.