It’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m in Melbourne with a guy named Louie Veleski who is approaching strangers on the street and asking them to complete a “memory quiz.” Most give him a strange look and say they’ll pass, but a surprising number agree, even though Louie offers only the barest explanation of what a memory quiz is, or why he’s offering them.
Louie seems like just a regular guy dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, but in certain circles Louie is a big deal. As a self-proclaimed "Mandela Effect" investigator, Louie’s YouTube channel, Better Mankind has some 173K subscribers, with most of his videos scoring around 300K hits each. This is pretty good for a guy whose YouTube channel features a lot of Louie sitting on a couch, or talking to people on a street.
I’ve come out to watch Louie vox pop people in a bid to understand what the Mandela Effect is, and how Louie became one its most popular ambassadors. He approaches a middle-aged man in a business shirt who shrugs and begins filling out the questionnaire. Louie and his partner, a younger woman who asked to remain anonymous, stands nearby and films the whole thing, while Louie stands next to the guy and explains little, which as I learn constitutes his whole approach to public education.
"The Mandela Effect” is a kind of internet-powered theory about the nature of reality. Believers, such as Louie, claim our reality somehow got derailed in the late 80s, around the time Nelson Mandela was languishing in prison. Many claim they vividly recall news of Mandela’s death, years before he actually died. But rather than just passing this off as a simple case of mistaken recollection, the legions of Mandela Effect faithful regard this as evidence of a fork in the space-time continuum. We must have splintered off into another dimension, they say, and there’s evidence for this scattered throughout the world.
As the guy in the business shirt gets through the memory quiz, he seems to get suspicious. “There’s got to be a reason for this,” he says, scowling at two images of the Ford logo. The questionnaire invites him to choose the one he thinks is authentic, the other, supposedly is an imposter. The man chooses an option, completing the test and receives a score of 5/20.
“Have you heard of the Mandela Effect?” Louie asks the guy.
“Well, you’ve just been Mandela’d,” Louie says grinning. “Seriously, Google it.”
And then Louie turns away from the flummoxed looking man and starts looking for his next participant, which turns out to be Louie’s trademark parting. It doesn’t make any sense, but then nothing about the Mandala Affect makes much sense.
The term "Mandela Effect" was first coined by Florida-based paranormal researcher Fiona Broome who in 2009 launched a website fittingly called mandelaeffect.com. In the site's "about" section Fiona explains she'd had multiple conversations with people at the cosplay event Dragon Con, many of whom remembered Mandela dying in prison in the 80s. Many of these people were also convinced the children’s book series The Berenstain Bears, was once titled The Berenstein Bears—shifting the "stain" in their surnames to "stein."
According to a timeline on Fiona's website, it was the Berenstein/Berenstain discrepancy that made the Mandela Effect go viral. Although Fiona Broome’s website is now archived, so believers now discuss their beliefs on Reddit and Facebook, with most Mandala Effect Facebook pages boasting around 40k members.
Article continued below, but while you're here check out a video from our series on conspiracy theories:
For Louie, it was the aforementioned discrepancy in Ford’s logo that sent him on his own journey. The story he tells me is of an uncle who worked at the Broadmeadows Ford plant in Melbourne’s north. Louie would often get Ford badges from his uncle, which is how he came to feel pretty well informed about the emblem’s design. But years later he saw the logo again as an adult and says the experience “blew [his] mind.”
“I started researching it, thinking, but they haven’t changed the logo,” he said, referring to the letter’s cursive tail. “This curly little pigtail on the ‘F’ has always apparently been there.”
Around a year after the Ford logo discovery, Louie says he stumbled upon a second inconsistency in reality. It was around 2016 and he was trying out a new camera in a section of a park near his house that featured small shrubs. Louie says he then returned to the park a year later to discover 3-4-metre trees where there’d once been shrubs, just a year earlier. Louie explains being flabbergasted by their growth—to the point where he was sure the shrubs must have existed in a prior dimension.
Sadly, Louie admits he no longer has the original camera footage.
After the tree incident, Louie created the first Mandela Effect video on YouTube to see if anyone else was making the same connections. Shortly after, he took to the street with the first Mandela Effect quiz, to film his interactions with the help of his partner.
These days Louie is a marketing manager by day, while singing in a cover band called Sexual Chocolate by night. As we walk around the CBD he shares his conspiratorial anecdotes, often getting off track when I ask questions. Finally I ask him what causes the Mandela Effect, and he gives me a fairly straight answer, telling me its proof of a multi-verse or more specifically, a simulation.
“We’re nothing more than a computer program, running on a very high-powered computer,” he says. “There are other computer programs running at the same time and therefore, they’re actually somehow crossing over.”
According to many in the community, Louie added, this tear in the space-time continuum can be attributed to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, known as CERN. He tells me that ever since the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland came online, everything on Earth has been different. “They are literally smashing particles,” he says. “They’re trying to recreate the big bang theory in there, so they must have done something.”
The rest of our afternoon together follows a pattern. We approach people with the questionnaire, some people fill it out, many don’t, and his partner films the whole process. She always hangs back at a distance, keen not to be caught in the spotlight. I wonder if she is happy to be walking around the streets, given her reluctance to interact with participants or be on camera.
Louie’s motivation, he says, is getting people to “see another angle [or] challenge their belief system,” although he’s aware that many find this challenging. He refers to other’s lives as being in black and white. “They go to work, have kids, get a mortgage,” he says, implicitly suggesting they don’t ask questions.
When I dig a little deeper, Louie admits his interest in conspiracies has been a source of friction in his own family, mentioning his brother specifically and describing their personalities as “chalk and cheese.”
On the topic of interpersonal conflict, he tells me he no longer reads the comments on his videos, although he maintains that it’s not being called "a crackpot” or "an absolute idiot” that gets him down. Instead it’s the lack of dialogue that upsets him. While he recognises that people are entitled to their own ideas, he resents those who don’t “have a legitimate argument to back up their opinions.”
Louie lives by the Dr Wayne Dyer quote: “The greatest ignorance is the rejection of something you know nothing about and yet you refuse to investigate it.”
Yet, despite my own investigation, I'm left with many questions. I still don't know why Louie gets so excited about memories, although I have to admit I'm taken by his conviction. Finally, just before we part, he tells me he considers good arguments far more important than beliefs. “I'll bend towards anything that someone tells me," he says. "Just as long as they can provide a good enough argument for me to see things that way.”
And I guess, in Louie's own way, he's offering good arguments. He's not trying to persuade anyone on the street that he's right—I mean, he's barely even talking to people. Instead, he's offering an opportunity for people to examine their own memories, and then inviting them to look for their own answers. And so I guess in this age of internet fury, we could all learn a thing or two from Louie.