For most people, the round surface of the Earth is not a controversial issue, but for people who believe the Earth is flat, it's a hot-button topic.
Flat Earthers have groups in Houston, Boston, Chicago, New York, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Fort Collins, Colorado, according to The Denver Post.
The Flat Earth movement is fueled by a skepticism of science, and the availability of scientific technology. Most communities are online, and most of the information is shared through YouTube videos.
John Vnuk, the founder of a Fort Collins group that promotes itself as the first community of Flat Earthers in the U.S., told The Denver Post how Flat Earthers feel persecuted: "They just do not want to talk about it for fear of reprisals or ridicule from co-workers."
"This is a new awakening," Vnuk said with hope. "Some will accept it, some won’t. But love it or hate it, you can't ignore Flat Earth."
Those who feel empowered by their belief in a flat Earth in Fort Collins are mostly white and male, and range in age from 20-somethings to those in their 70s.
The Fort Collins group meets once a week for their "Flat Earth or Other Forbidden Topics" discussion.
"There’s so much evidence once you set aside your preprogrammed learning and begin to look at things objectively with a critical eye," said Bob Knodel, a Denver resident who was recently a guest at one of the meetings. "You learn soon that what we’re taught is mainly propaganda."
Bob is a former engineer who now operates a YouTube channel, Globebusters, which has more than 135 videos and boasts more than 2 million views.
"I’ve researched conspiracies for a long time," Bob said. "I’ve looked very critically at NASA. Why is it that the astronauts have conflicting stories about the sky? Is it bright with stars, or a deep velvet black?"
"Our YouTube channel gets people to critically think," said Bob's wife, Cami, who shares her husband's skepticism. "The heliocentric model says that we’re spinning at 1,038 mph. They say you won’t notice it because it’s a continual motion. But you should be able to feel it. You shouldn’t be able to function allegedly spinning that fast."
Bob insisted that they're not in it for the money: "We get accused of being idiots, of doing it for money. Believe me, there’s only humiliation in this. We do it because we believe it."
Mark Sargent, who is recognized as the one who started organized flat Earth groups in the U.S., also runs a YouTube channel, which has nearly 40,000 subscribers, and 7.7 million views.
"It was interesting, but I didn’t think it was real," said Sargent of his introduction to the movement through a YouTube video he watched in 2014. "I started the same way as everyone else, saying, 'Oh, I’ll just prove the Earth is round.' Nine months later, I was staring at my computer thinking, 'I can’t prove the globe anymore.'"
The 49-year-old Flat Earther has created more than 600 of his own YouTube videos, which is his new full-time career.
"Before I did the first few videos back in 2015, if you typed 'flat Earth' into YouTube you’d get 50,000 results. Now, you’ll come in with 17.4 million. That’s more than a 30,000 percent increase. And we’re growing," he says. "They want you to think you’re insignificant, a speck on the Earth, a cosmic mistake. The flat Earth says you are special, we are special, there is a creator, this isn’t some accident."
Bob said heads of corporations, universities and governments, those at "the top," actually know "the truth" about the flat Earth, but keep pushing the round Earth idea for mind control purposes.
"It’s not about money. They want complete mind control," he says. "They want to create two classes: the ultra rich and servants. At that point they would’ve taken over the world, and enslaved the population, and controlled everything."
The Friendly Atheist voiced some serious concern about the Flat Earthers and the growing legions:
It's tempting to laugh them off, but what’s disturbing is that we have an entire government right now full of people who dismiss sound science. Writing off a curved Earth sounds silly, but writing off vaccines as optional, or climate change as anything but a dire threat, or evolution as a hoax is commonplace in this Republican administration.
[President Donald] Trump's team hasn’t said anything about a flat Earth, but what’s stopping them? We know evidence doesn’t play a role in their decision making. This isn’t an article about a fringe group of people. It's tragic foreshadowing. It shows the type of thinking that is actively permeating our country.