The chemtrails conspiracy theory has been circulating for a while among the same sorts of people who believe that 9/11 was an inside job and celebrities are being controlled by the CIA. In brief, chemtrail enthusiasts think that those white trails of vapor you see pouring out of planes are actually nasty chemical or biological agents that governments are using to geo-engineer the weather, create a vast electromagnetic super-weapon, control the population, or—well, you get the idea. There's no science or proof whatsoever behind this, but plenty of people are still willing to entertain this vaguely supervillain-esque notion.
On October 1, Chris Bovey—a 41-year-old from Devon, England—thought he'd troll the chemtrails camp. During a flight from Buenos Aires to the UK, his plane had to make an emergency landing in São Paulo and dumped excess fuel to lighten the load. Since he had a window seat, Chris decided to film all the liquid being sprayed out of the wing next to him.
He then claimed (falsely) that he'd been detained at Heathrow upon arrival, been interrogated by the authorities, and had his phone confiscated. That riled everyone up even more, with "conspiraloon" (Chris's term) website NeonNettle.com picking up the story and reporting it as evidence of chemtrails.
Mick West—editor of anti-conspiracy theory website Metabunk, which published an article explaining why Chris's video was a hoax—explained the history of the chemtrails theory to me. "It started back in the late 1990s," he said. "People just noticed contrails—the condensation trails behind planes—for the first time, and got this idea that a normal contrail shouldn't persist for very long. So if anything lasted for more than a few minutes, it must be something being sprayed."
While chemtrails advocates might accuse sheeple of believing everything their governments tell them, they themselves tend to believe a lot of the stuff their internet tells them. West thinks its the proliferation of unverified "evidence" online that's led to this particular conspiracy theory remaining so popular.
"People share things that look interesting without really looking into them, and they take the word of whoever's posting it that it's a real thing," he said. "I knew from the start that it was some kind of hoax, but people want to have their worldview confirmed, so when they see something that seems to fit their worldview they jump on it."
In Chris's case, that involved being invited onto a radio show hosted by Richie Allen, a friend of David Icke—the man who claims we're being ruled by a group of lizard overlords disguised as world leaders. On air, Chris admitted that the whole thing was a hoax and got into an argument with the host about the validity of the chemtrails theory.
Since then, Chris has been subject to a stream of "vulgar abuse" from pissed-off conspiracy theorists—which, admittedly, is completely his own fault. I gave him a call to find out how he was doing.
VICE: So I hear you've been receiving some pretty bad abuse since you duped these conspiracy theorists?
Chris Bovey: Yeah, I got some really foul messages. I got accused of being a government paid shill—so where's my paycheck? The worst bit of abuse is on my Facebook page. I left it up there because it's so insulting that it made the guy look like an idiot. It was about goat fucking and how I was going to get butt-fucked in prison.
Someone else said I was going to hell for breaking the First Commandment. I'm not religious; I don't know what the First Commandment is. Maybe it's, "Thou shalt not post fake chemtrail hoaxes." [Note: it is actually, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."] Other people were saying I'd been leaned on to change my story, saying that it was really a chemtrail-molecule dump.
Why do you think people were so quick to believe your video was evidence of chemtrails?
I think people want to believe it, and I think people are so distrusting of the government. It says a lot about our government that people are actually prepared to believe that they would do this. It's a lack of basic scientific understanding. It doesn't take much research—if you go onto contrailscience.com, you can quite easily see it explains why they're formed.
Have people stopped claiming that the video is evidence of chemtrails now that you've come out and explained it?
Not at all. There are still people sharing it as we speak, saying "chemtrails" in all sorts of languages—some I don't even recognize.
I've got a good 500 people who sent me friend requests, and I accepted them, but today I deleted them all because they kept on inviting me to "like" various strange pages. I knew these kinds of people existed—that's why I posted it. But I absolutely didn't realize how strongly these people believed this. With a few of them, I've tried to reason with them by sending evidence to explain why they are wrong, and they generally just called me a shill and blocked me.
How long have you been interested in chemtrails?
I remember seeing them as a little child when I was at primary school on the River Dart, where I grew up in South Devon. On the playground I used to look up in the air and notice that some planes had longer trails and wonder why. Of course, at that point I didn't realize it was an Illuminati plot.
Why did you admit the video was a hoax and not keep it going?
At the time, I was getting a little bit uncomfortable with it, partly because I didn't want my sane friends thinking I was an idiot. So it was an ideal opportunity to come clean and also a great opportunity to prank them.
Do you think there's any evidence to support the chemtrail theory at all?
No, it's just completely debunked. There's zero evidence—zilch.
Follow Michael Allen on Twitter.