Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Hmmm

chemtrails

(Photo: mendhak/Flickr)

The Origins of the Chemtrail Conspiracy

• August 05, 2014 • 10:00 AM

(Photo: mendhak/Flickr)

Why would the American government be interested in poisoning its population by spraying vapor out of an airplane? That remains unclear.

A couple of months ago, a video titled “Busted: Pilot Forgets to Turn Off CHEMTRAILS Before Landing” was uploaded to YouTube. (The version seen here is not the original upload, which was later removed with copyright claims.) Because the original was taken down, the exact view count isn’t known, but it accumulated enough interest to be given the (admittedly nebulous) label “viral video” by Discovery News. Certainly, for a short and low-quality YouTube video about chemtrails, it was unusually popular.

The video is 40 seconds long, the first five of which are unintelligible. It quickly becomes clear (well, hazily clear) that we’re seeing footage of an airplane coming in low for a landing at night. Trailing behind it are several stripes of aircraft exhaust. The plane passes a few lampposts, and by the 25-second mark, it’s safely on the ground. At that point, the camera’s operator zooms out and shifts left and up, panning over a stream of condensation left in the sky.

To most, this condensation would seem to be a pretty standard byproduct of flying in what look to be fairly foggy conditions. Hot airplane exhaust mixes with the lower-temperature atmosphere around it, and in the process, creates water vapor.

(I should add that I did not know exactly how to describe that process off the top of my head. I read about it on the Internet, and it made sense to me, so I’m repeating it here.)

But to the person who posted it, these 40 seconds show something much more sinister. It’s not that he or she does not believe that the meeting of hot and cold air produces moisture, or that (though I wouldn’t want to take words out of his or her mouth) every airplane that emits exhaust is up to no good. No, it’s that real condensation shouldn’t hang around so long, and that some airplanes are releasing a lot more than hot air.

THE BIRTH OF THE chemtrail conspiracy (the word “chemtrail” being a combination of chemical and contrail, and the word “contrail” a combination of condensation and trail) is generally pinpointed to a few-year window surrounding 1996. It was that year when the U.S. Air Force was first accused of using military aircraft to “spray” American citizens with mysterious substances, evidenced by the unusual contrail patterns left in the sky.

The third-best way to fan the flames of a conspiracy is to say you were only speaking hypothetically. The second-best way is to say, unequivocally, that any given practice isn’t government policy. And the first-best way is to then say you’ve investigated people’s concerns, and found them to be untrue

Probably not coincidentally, 1996 was also the year that a report called “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025” was presented (and made public) by students of the Air University. As an assignment, the Air Force chief of staff asked the study’s authors to “examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future.”

Though the paper’s introduction clearly specifies that it does not reflect official government policy, and that the weather modification and control scenarios described within it are “fictional representations of future situations/scenarios,” some took it as evidence that the government was actively working to control and manipulate the Earth’s climate.

Unfortunately for the Air Force, the third-best way to fan the flames of a conspiracy is to say you were only speaking hypothetically. The second-best way is to say, unequivocally, that any given practice isn’t government policy. And the first-best way is to then say you’ve investigated people’s concerns, and found them to be untrue—which the Air Force did in 2002. And in 2005.

In the years since, the chemtrail conspiracy has spawned dozens of semi-activist websites and forums, like Aircrap.org and Chemtrails911.com. Most recently, many have latched on to this summer’s Snowpiercer, a movie in which the government sprays chemicals into the sky in order to stop global warming, but instead “accidentally” creates a new ice age, killing everyone except a select few who are on board a perpetually moving train. The allegations from chemtrail activists are both broad and vague—it’s not particularly clear why the United States government would be poisoning its own people, for example, and, if they were, why they wouldn’t use a method more effective than spraying something in our general direction from 35,000 feet and hoping for the best—but one common, predominant thread is that chemtrails are making us sick.

One of the symptoms often said to be caused by chemtrails is very gross, and odd, and I’m sorry to write it here because upon reading you’ll almost certainly feel like it’s happening to you too: Many people who believe they’ve been infected by chemtrails also begin to believe that small, thread-like fibers are crawling out of their skin.

MORGELLONS DISEASE IS PROBABLY not a real disease. At least not in the way its sufferers think of it. It’s a strange name, in that it’s used both by people who believe they have it, and by people who say that believing they have it is all that it is. Many (if not most; though likely most) doctors and scientists consider it a form of delusional parasitosis, a kind of psychosis in which patients believe they’re infested by parasites or other organisms that are not actually present.

Pressured by an Internet-based community of supporters (started by a mother who diagnosed her two-year-old son with the condition), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention undertook an investigation into the supposed disease, publishing its results in 2012. Researchers found no “causative medical condition” or infectious agent, and they instead attributed patients’ symptoms to delusional parasitosis. (Some of the patients likely had other potential contributing factors—50 percent tested positive for drugs.)

Still, several swaths of the Internet continue to reference the disease—and the health threat presented by so-called chemtrails in general—in earnest. This page even presents preventive dietary recommendations and a recipe for something called “Spring Hepatic Detox” tea, which the author writes is “Good to do, if you have been tested for heavy metals.”

Many of these sites’ authors and forum contributors post pictures of themselves taken from microscope slides: pieces of skin and specks and fibers, all thread-y looking and strange-colored, the way all hyper-zoomed in images of things are. I could look at them forever (not that I’m volunteering—this is a hypothetical), but it wouldn’t make a difference. That’s all a conspiracy theory really needs, isn’t it? I admit, I like them for their reliability: Two opposing teams looking at the exact same thing, each convinced the other is missing it for what it really is.

Katie Heaney
Katie Heaney is a writer and an editor at BuzzFeed and author of Never Have I Ever. Follow her on Twitter @KTHeaney.

More From Katie Heaney

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.