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I finally met one!

by Yau-Man Chan, Dec 21 2008

All right, I guess I should get out more often!  I finally met a real life conspiracy nut in person and I have to admit that the experience disturbed me more than I thought it should.  I met someone who is sure that the water vapor tails left in the atmosphere by jet engines (contrails) are really chemical sprays (Chemtrails) commissioned by the U.S. government for some nefarious purpose.  Yes, I have heard of them in passing, along with the 911 “Truther” and the JFK conspiracy nuts but I never thought I’d actually talk to a live one! 

Since my stints on CBS Survivor (Season 14 Fiji and Season 16 Micronesia), I had the opportunity to travel and meet more people outside of my ordinary mundane State civil service job life than I ever dreamt I would.  In the last year, I travelled more than I ever did in the last 10 years before that – so I have spent more time hanging out, waiting in airports than actually flying in planes! A month ago, I was in Long Island, New York for a Survivor fundraiser event. My flight home was scheduled to leave JFK at 9am but the shuttle from the Long Island hotel ran only every 2 hours!  Taking into account that weekend’s rainy weather and unpredictable traffic, I decided to wake up early to take the 5am shuttle instead of the 7 am.  That morning the rain had stopped and the roads were clear, putting me at JFK a little after 6 am – giving me 3 hours of hanging out at the waiting area.  

As soon as I got to the boarding area,  I was recognized by a clean-cut, well-dressed middle-age man who asked for my autograph and picture taken with him.  I obliged.  Then he sat down next to me and asked me if I mind talking to him about my Survivor experience.  Sure, we have 2 ½ more hours to kill. He introduced himself as a fan of the show and then after a few questions about making of reality-TV shows, asked if I mind moving to seats nearer to the glass wall over-looking our plane while we talked.  No problem as I thought that “Bob” could be some aviation buff and likes planes.  As we talked, in between his questions about how the show was made, etc., I noticed that he was distracted sometimes, with intense interest in all the activities around the ground crews preparing our plane.  (It was an originating direct JFK to SFO flight, and not a stopover; which could account for the more than usual activities around the plane.)  My curiosity got better of me and so I finally asked him about his interest in the fueling, and other maintenance activities around our plane.

That was it!  Bob start in about Chemtrails.  He asked if I knew anything about it and when I plead ignorance, he was more than glad to fill me in on all the details.  I will not go into the gory details of this conspiracy and leave it to you to Google “Chemtrails” to learn all about it.  Bob seemed like a very reasonable and personable normal guy when we first met just 30 minutes earlier.  But as soon as he started on the Chemtrail conspiracy, I felt like I was cornered by a Hare Krishna or a Moonie proselytizer!   He was sure that someone like me, schooled in the sciences would know how “it works” and how “they” do it! 

By then, we still have more than 90 minutes from boarding.  This was one of the only times since my TV appearance that I wish I would be recognized by more people at the waiting area so they would interrupt me and give me a good excuse to stop talking to Bob!  But alas, it was not a very full flight and there were no fellow passenger/Survivor-Fan to my rescue.  The more he got into the whole Chemtrail conspiracy the more fantastic it sounded.  If I were just reading what he was telling me, I would have dismissed it as a good spoof on conspiracy theories or at best the rambling of a deluded individual.  But there I was talking to a completely normal person till the subject of his pet peeve about our government came up! 

Since I knew very little about this Chemtrail thing, my curiosity was aroused!  And as luck would have it, that flight had a WiFi service! I had to Google “Chemtrail” as soon as I can turn on my laptop!  (For $9.95, a passenger with a computer or iPhone can have access to wireless Internet service for the duration of the flight.  That’s way too cheap, I thought. How many years and users would the airline need to have to recoup their investment in that infrastructure to provide that service at that rate? If it were not for this burning desire to learn more about Chemtrail conspiracy, I would have never had any reason to spend $9.95 for Internet access on a 5 hour flight!  Well, the question was quickly answered – they make their money selling ads – every time a new page loaded, it was preceded by an arrival city targeted ads for car rentals, airport shuttle services, hotels, spas and of course a special discount code for fancy high-end luggage in case they lost yours on your current flight!  Now, that’s a conspiracy worth looking into!) 

Since that encounter at JFK, I’ve been asking myself why that experience was so special if not profound for me.  Yes, Bob was the first real walking, talking conspiracy nut I’ve met in person, but I’m sure he would not be the last.  The more I learn about the Chemtrail nonsense, the more incredulous I am and find myself unable to shake the feeling that Bob was pulling my leg!  The whole Chemtrail conspiracy theory is almost a caricature of all conspiracy theories.  Is it possible that anyone of sound mind could really believe that the “government” is somehow controlling the citizenry by doping them up with chemicals sprayed military jets and jetliners, with the corporation of commercial aviation?  I grew up with a mother who is absolutely certain that she has had encounters with ghosts and spirits; I have aunts and uncles who are sure that Feng-Shui is a science, so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with people who believes weird stuff. I guess it’s cultural conditioning. Objectively, their beliefs make no more sense than believing that water vapor trailing hot jet engines are chemical sprays. So, while I have no problem believing that my relatives really believe what they believe, I still have the nagging feeling that Bob was pulling my leg all along and that now he can brag at the next office party about putting one on on a D-list celebrity. 

28 Responses to “I finally met one!”

  1. I think I first heard of chemtrails, what… late 1980s? Early 1990s? Chemtrails have apparently joined other odd beliefs in what I call cyclical myths – myths that arise, are debunked, die out for a while, and then revive with new believers. Others that come and go cyclically: The Moon Landing Was Faked! JFK conspiracy theories. Nostradamus. Others likely to join: 9/11 conspiracy theories, Bible codes…. any suggestions, folks?

  2. Max says:

    Is Bob related to Bill, the normal-looking Young Earth Creationist who was seated next to Brian?

  3. Wench says:

    They hardly need to spray chemicals around. Nobody bothers to take responsibility for their lives as it is. Besides, we all eat chemicals all the time… Water’s a chemical… :)

    Seriously. People who believe in this stuff are desperate for there to be someone in charge of why the world/their lives are screwed up. Someone evil to blame.

  4. Brian says:

    People really need very little encouragement to believe in such things. That’s partly why disproving a critical “fact” behind some nutty bit of woo doesn’t turn people away from it. You really need to dismantle it piece by piece before the people will let it go.

  5. Cambias says:

    Chemtrails are really stupid because despite all the blurry photos and UV light findings, I’ve never heard any of the believers ever show what the ‘trails actually DO. If they’re really some kind of germ warfare project, they are really incredibly ineffective. Nobody ever seems to get sick from it.

  6. Rahne says:

    Nothing beats the New World Order, the mother of all conspiracies

  7. Joe L. says:

    The first real-life conspiracy nut I ever met was also hung up on chemtrails. This was back in ~1999, before I was even aware of the Skeptical movement, and also when, if asked if I was a Christian, I probably would have still responded in the affirmative, if not only out of habit by that point.

    I went to meet my then-girlfriend at the University pool, and when I got there, she was at the end of the lane and and older guy, a professor at the University, was in the next lane talking to her. I could tell she really wanted to get back to swimming but he kept talking, so I walked up and took the bullet, and he started talking my ear off. He was hopping from one subject to the next, but the two things I remember him saying were:
    1) the government uses chemtrails to “keep the population sick”. This was the first time I heard of this, and it struck me immediately as batshit crazy.
    2) He said he had 4 kids, and he didn’t vaccinate any of them, because again, vaccines are just a government conspiracy to keep people in line. Again, this was the first time I had ever heard anyone say anything like this. When my girlfriend and I left the pool, I remember talking about it and how we felt it was really dangerous to not vaccinate your own kids….

  8. Wintermute says:

    I used to manage tech support at an ISP where we took walk-in payments. One of our customers would show up to pay his bill every month, and immediately start with the conspiracy theories as soon as he walked in the door. Aside from being completely insane, he was a nice enough guy if you could get him off the conspiracy kick.

  9. Leland Witter says:

    Couldn’t resist Googling this and loved this excerpt from

    “I experienced that wake-up call in February of 1998. I had taken my 35 mm camera with me to the monthly meeting of the Orange County Chapter of the American Society of Dowsers and after the meeting, I had stopped off at a supermarket.”

    Well, if you can’t believe a dowser, who can you believe?

  10. sonic says:

    Before judging Bob too harshly read this–

    His conspiracy has some precident at least.

  11. Flavius says:

    Here’s the way to see if you’re dealing with someone totally delusional….ask them “What evidence would convince you that a more mundane explanation is likely?” When they say “absolutely nothing” you know there is nothing to be gained by arguing with them.

  12. Max says:

    Sonic- I read the report and i do understand that many people can be very cruel, callus and many other things. I do understand that sometimes these people end up in-charge. But that does not alleviate the level of misunderstanding some can have. Nor does the one example lead to the other.
    The level of conspiracy that would have to have to execute such a complex plan is beyond possible. It would be easer and require less people to just put the chemical in our food and water.

  13. Munjaros says:

    When I was at lunch today with friends who come across as generally normal, rational fellows, a couple of them presented (with straight faces) their belief in Reptilians. Illuminati and 9/11 are already in their bag of tricks, but this shape changing lizard men nonsense shows just how far out there people can get when they approach ideas without thoughtful skepticism (or even half their brain engaged.) I’m sure that as soon as they come across anything about chemtrails, they’ll have one more conspiracy theory to be paranoid about.

  14. some guy says:

    All things are plausible in a magical universe

  15. “What you don’t understand can be made to mean anything.” – ‘Diary’ by Chuck Palahniuk

  16. LUFTRITTER says:

    When I heard about this in Mr. Dunning’s Skeptoid podcast, I could not belief that someone sane could think this is a scheme somehow plausible. It’s real mind boggling what a true believer can have as a pet idea. Very interesting Mr. Chang.

  17. Scott D. says:

    I knew a PhD student who believed in chem trails, other government conspiracies, and UFO’s. He understood that there was no evidence and the problems with grand conspiracies, but he still believed.

    He had grown up in a satellite state under Soviet rule, so I didn’t think it was surprising that a healthy sense of paranoia was instilled in him at a young age.

  18. open_yr_eyes says:

    what you are missing is that these vapor trails of water partly come from the ozone burned up with each plane that flies at high altitude.

    Does anybody know of actual scientific studies that try to quantify the loss of ozone form air travel?

    I would like to see some numbers as this has not been knocked around in the press that I am aware of.

  19. open_yr_eyes says:

    For many the term reptilians are the name given to the republican death march crowd.

    the ones with no hart or sole that have sold this great country down the toilet.

    It has been coined for them by republicans that actually have hearts and souls and believe in arcane concepts like fiscal conservatism and not following the stupid path predicted we would gown down by the very enemies that baited us with fear and hate.

    The rise in conspiracy beleivers can be corrilated to the amount of lies told to us daily only to be debunked with day, months, or weeks.

    as the time from lie to truth becomes shorter, coupled to the rise in the number of lies increases, people without the critical reasoning skills or mental capabilities to investigate. (or for most of us the needed extra time) to understand. This allows shortcuts in reasoning to used and answeres that explain onse fears become plausable in their minds. Now if you consider that everything you read or hear must be filtered and scaled to the level of truth and believe-ability, along with a time delayed filter check of some scalable time fram to recalibrate one realtime input filter. In their minds their scenario has as much wheight as the 6:00 news

  20. open_yr_eyes says:

    well if you think about that last blue flush on you next flight the theory of people becoming sick below from “Chemtrails” starts to take on some ..err…weight.

    This was posted at the Flushing’s Institute.
    It had a study about Chemtrails on the internet before the government-airline consortium closed them down and pulled the website off.

  21. open_yr_eyes says:

    A quote from the link.

    Soil samples were tested at various distances away from the center of the anthrax bomb explosions. “When we got three samples that weren’t contaminated, we stopped,” says Mr. Manchee, the cleanup leader.

    A possible remark from one of the workers comes to mind…

    “Hey Manchee, after 4,893 samples we finally got three consecutive negatives!

    And people wonder where these ideas come from?

  22. Thomas Ashton says:

    I’m surprised you lump JFK and 9/11 disbelievers in with the Chemtrail people.
    In my view, they (we) are just a more daring kind of skeptic than you – one prepared to challenge a dominant but unfounded dogma despite the stigma which attaches to those who do so.

  23. Actually Chicken Little was right! The sky is, has and continues to fall. Google June 30, 1908. If THAT chunk of sky had arrive six hours or so later, we would now be talking about the “Oslo Event.”


    Gus Frederick
    Silverton, OR

  24. William Mook says:

    Outlandish conspiracy theories marginalize reasonable though difficult questions about the operation of secret government agencies and hence is a way for those agencies to avoid them.

    Meta conspiracy?

    We know about the magic bullet theory and argue over Lee Harvey Oswald’s role in JFKs assassination as if that would carry the day, yet no one ignores those details and notes the death of RFK in June 8, 1968 and the marginalization of Teddy Kennedy July 18, 1969 two days before the moon landing, after a meeting with Mary jo Kopeckne – RFKs California campaign manager and witness to RFKs death – who also died that day.

    We know of truthers crazy ideas about CIA involvement in WTC collapse, but this marginalizes any serious discussion of the role of the CIA and the Reagan Doctrine in creating, funding, training, and supplying a world-wide radical muslim movement dedictated to the violent overthrow of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Soviet Union – and the subsequent loss of control of that movement and it turning on the USA.

    After the Civil War we worried about reigning in public discourse to avoid a future Civil War and created the Secret Service to achieve that end. Henry Ford opposed World War 1, and promoted the Ford Way, and was marginalized. Huey Long sought to make Every Man a King and challenged FDR, and was assasinated on the State House steps – like a latter day Ceasar.

    In the nuclear age we worried about a nuclear Pearl Harbor and arranged our affairs to avoid that possibility by building a permanent war industry during peace time, limiting discourse that questioned the need for that industry, and limiting the demand for public expenditures that competed with funding for this permanent armaments industry.

    JFK wanted to turn swords into plowshares – nuclear bombs into nuclear rockets, ICBMs to spaceships, competition on Earth to cooperation in space. The cost was going to be more than our military budgets, but would bear greater fruit than our military budgets. He was killed like a latter day Ceasar.

    MLK envisioned a world where we were not judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. He was killed like a latter day Ceasar.

    RFK won in California and wanted to go on to win in Ohio and pull our country out of Vietnam, rededicate our nation to the goals and principles of his brother, and get to the bottom of his brother’s death. He was killed like a latter day Ceasar.

    The Church Committee uncovers CIA documents extending back to the 1940s that show the agency experimented on US citizens in a wide range of mind-control (MK-ULTRA) techniques, one of which closely mimics the events of July 18, 1969 at Chappaquidick – the confused testimony which indicted the last remaining Kennedy at a time he was organizing a run to challenge Nixon in 1972 using the bump of the moon landing.

    Whacko theories focus our attention on marginal and unconvincing evidence while ignoring larger patterns that suggest more reasonable lines of inquiry into the operation of secret government agencies.

    Conspiracy theories shape and limit the range of questions the public asks of covert agencies and operations – but our leading position in the world, and the uneasy peace we have enjoyed since the ending of World War 2 – in a nuclear age – have come at a price – and that price is the operation of secret government agencies that operate outside public knowledge funded by trading in heroin and cocaine in the USA in ways that undermine LBJs Great Society gains.

    By all means reveal the whackos for the trolls they are – but do not for a second close your mind to the POSSIBILITY that there are other games afoot – and look for solid evidence of them.

  25. tamerlane says:

    I’m warned about “chemtrails” all the time. I calmly relate the real phenomenon of “con (densation) trails” to fogged-up car windows and cloud formation, then pull out a photo of prop-engined B-17s trailing contrails circa 1943.

  26. Mark T says:

    I grew up on Air Force bases so I’ve been watching contrails for a long time. (Actually I remember “smoketrails” from before they retro-fitted the big jets with new engines.) Watch the sky: the area around Berkeley/Oakland is good (and teeming with know-it-alls like on this site) out by Sacramento-Stockton-Fresno is good too. It won’t be too long before you’ll see that most of the planes put out a contrail that dissapates shortly behind the plane; others put out a trail that never goes away and slowly turns into a stratus-type cloud. I remember days above the East Bay when these things WERE the weather that day. I’ve seen jets above the Altamont Pass area at the same altitude, some putting out a normal contrail and some putting out one of these things that never go away and turn into a cloud. Do some web-searching and it’s not hard to find examples of this.

  27. ed says:

    Hey thanks for my new nickname; The Dowser – seeking out BS! lol