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Look to the sky on a sunny day. There’s a good chance you’ll see something that looks out of place in nature. If nature abhors the straight line, the contrail that sometimes appears behind a jet aircraft is anything but a natural cloud.

A contrail is, according to the Free Online Dictionary, “A visible trail of streaks of condensed water vapor or ice crystals sometimes forming in the wake of an aircraft.” It is, in other words, harmless; it’s what happens when the laws of physics hold sway over the actions and constructs of humanity. Sadly, a disturbingly large group of people who otherwise seem to be reasoning, functioning adults believe that contrails in the sky are really chemtrails – an insidious government plot to control or otherwise experiment on an unknowing populace.

Except that this isn’t true.

The idea that chemtrails menace us from the skies isn’t just absurd. There’s simply no real evidence for it. The “proof” that is presented for the existence of chemtrails can easily be debunked or dismissed. There are few if any exceptions.

Take this posting, for example, from a survivalist blog whose author I follow on Twitter. The post is presented as video “proof” of the spraying of chemicals in the atmosphere. The author writes,

A pilot shoots a chemical plane from his cockpit: the video shows an aircraft that spread chemtrails over Canada from the nozzles. The footage is the irrefutable proof of a chemical and clandestine operation that a bold pilot offers to the public in order to demonstrate that chemtrails are real. The “smoke” we can see is neither a fuel dumping nor a contrail. The chemtrails, in fact, is iridescent too. Don’t listen to hoaxers who repeat that this document is false or similar lies.

The problem, of course, is that the video is a hoax – or rather, it isn’t the proof it has been touted to be, nor was it ever such evidence. It took only a few seconds of searching to find an explanation for the original piece:

[The video] very clearly shows aerodynamic contrails coming from the wings of a KC-10. The pilots on the cockpit are heard joking about it being “chemtrails.” [The conspiracy theorist who reposted the video as proof of chemtrails], not being a native English speaker, misses this and thinks they are being serious. He then goes on to “analyze” the video, and points to the flap mechanisms as being nozzels [sic].

The site Contrail Science, in fact, contains a wealth of calmly, methodically presented material thoroughly debunking chemtrail mythology. I have to admit that I was disappointed, when I set out to write a column on the topic, to discover that the work had already been done.

While isolated cases of government abuse of power – including chemical experimentation on unwitting citizens – most certainly do exist, they are the exceptions. They are such exceptions, in fact, that they are cited repeatedly as examples of government malfeasance. The Tuskegee Experiment, the infamous human radiation experiments in Rochester, N.Y., these are burned into Americans’ collective memory. It is incidents like these that fill an ever-growing list of government misdeeds. But does Ashland, Ore., really belong on that list? Are chemtrails truly the threat their believers wish you to accept?

Obviously, they are not, but a conspiracy’s true believers always conform to certain patterns of behavior. They incorrectly attribute to a conspiracy perfectly natural or benign phenomena that have mundane explanations. They cherry pick data that “proves” their theories while selectively ignoring information that refutes those ideas. They claim that any information not available to support their assertions has been “suppressed,” while any information proving them wrong is misinformation promulgated by the malevolent entities they blame for furthering the conspiracy itself. In so doing, they build a framework from which they can shout their ridiculous ideas to the benighted masses.

When those ideas are not well-received, the true believers demand that nonbelievers “wake up,” presumably because failure to embrace the conspiracy is an act of apathy or laziness. If sufficiently prodded, they will begin angrily accusing skeptics and critics alike of being paid off or otherwise taking part in the vast conspiracy in question.

This childish behavior has one purpose. It insulates the conspiracy theorist from what is true. It prevents him from acknowledging reality. This delusional architecture, in fact, sets up a belief system that is almost completely impervious to logic, reason and common sense.

Believers in the conspiracy, in this case the chemtrail menace, so ardently, firmly and stubbornly believe in their misguided ideas that they refuse to change their minds even in the face of overwhelming information to the contrary. They go on seeing airplanes spraying “chemicals” despite the truth, and they blame those chemicals for everything from mass government mind control to arguably imaginary “diseases” like Morgellons. In so doing, they commit and further a disservice to all of their fellow citizens. What they are doing is vilifying technology for no reason. They condemn an undefined technology in the name of an ill-defined fear, producing an unwarranted unease.

It must be truly exhausting to be a conspiracy theorist. Believers in these nonsensical myths must spend every day in a flop-sweating state of stark terror, convinced that everything around them is dangerous and everything beyond their control is a coordinated campaign to harm them. The consumer products in their homes are all contaminated. The water coming from their pipes is laced with Nazi-era mind-control industrial waste toxins. The skies above them are filled with black helicopters – and above those helicopters, jet aircraft spray biochemical warfare agents among the clouds, to some vaguely evil end that can spell nothing but certain doom.

There is no chemtrail threat. Isolated abuses of power are not an organized, secret campaign to spray you with poison or germs. If you believe otherwise, you have some serious growing up to do.

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