Those of us with considerable experience in creating Purim shtick—guilty plea here—could only kvell over, and be a bit envious of, the “Birds Aren’t Real” movement. It has apparently existed for several years (or, according to its fabulist reformulation of American history, many decades), but has garnered substantial media attention only of late.
The BAR movement, if you don’t know, contends that all birds in the United States were exterminated by the government from 1959 to 1971 and replaced by surveillance drones looking just like birds that spy on American citizens. The reason the fake avians tend to sit on power lines is to recharge their batteries. And, as “confidential documents leaked in 2018” revealed, explains BAR, the drones’ droppings are a devious method of tracking citizens’ cars.
“We are the voice brave enough to cry out,” says the whistleblower group, “the storm thundering across the horizon… the candle in the dark room… the only hope this country has left.”
How many of the movement’s hundreds of thousands of social media followers are sufficiently dull to not recognize the satire isn’t known. But surely the vast majority get the joke. I hope.
The butt of the joke, of course, is the wild world of conspiracy theories, which tend to particularly thrive in tense times, like when there is a pandemic or political polarization or economic uncertainty. (We win the trifecta.)
Like the decades-old “chemtrails” panic, born of the allegation that water condensation trails from aircraft are really chemical or biological toxins; or the belief that a “New World Order” composed of international elites controls governments, industry, and media; or the contention that the earth is really flat; or the conviction that 9/11 was an “inside job”; or the notion that Bill Gates has placed microchips in COVID vaccines; or the suspicion that the CIA killed JFK (BAR has revealed that he was assassinated because he opposed the bird-replacement plan); or the claim that extraterrestrials have been capturing and experimenting on earthlings; or the suggestion that the Sandy Hook school shootings were a hoax; or the claim that there was massive fraud in the 2020 election.
Or, to fly full circle back to feathered friends, the assertion by Saudia Arabian officials in 2011 that a griffon vulture with a Tel Aviv University tag and tracker attached to it that the Saudis “detained” had been spying for Israel as part of a nefarious “Zionist plot.” (The species is endangered and individual birds were being monitored by scientists.)
Don’t even get me started on Pizzagate or QAnon.
To be sure, there have indeed been government and other institutional sinister doings that later came to light, like Watergate or the Tuskegee Study (where black Alabamians were infected with disease-causing bacteria without their knowledge).
But the current crop of claims is mostly, if not entirely, claptrap.
What’s more, any of us whose imagination may be tickled by some new allegation implicating one or another institution or group in a worldwide heinous plot would do well to remember that the original conspiracy theories were aimed squarely at Jews.
Like the claim that, as per the pre-Common Era commentator Apion, we worshiped the head of a golden donkey and practiced human sacrifice; or, as per Middle Ages common lore, we desecrated Christian ritual bread and murdered Christian children to use their blood in matzah (echh); or, as per the description in the early 20th-century fiction The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (still a steady seller in some Arab countries), we control the world’s governments. And what was Nazism if not a conspiracy theory about Jews?
And indeed, some of the most popular current conspiracy theories also implicate, overtly or subtly, us Hebrews. Like the contemporary stand-in for the Protocols, the canard that the US is controlled by a “Zion Occupational Government.” Or QAnon’s fixation on George Soros (who was never a Nazi and never swore “to destroy the US”) and the Rothschilds (who don’t control the world’s central banks). Or the Holocaust denial crowd’s claim that we falsify history in order to advance Jewish interests.
So if ever there were a people that needs to be wary of us-vs.-them accusations, it is we.