It’s a simple supply and demand issue. Until it isn’t.
A growing community of lumber-shortage truthers on social media platforms deny there is any scarcity at all, blaming the increased prices instead on a nefarious cabal intent on lumber price-gouging— or even preventing would-be homeowners from achieving the American dream of homeownership.
As proof, the lumber conspiracy theorists cite videos of some lumber.
“I’m just astounded at how much lumber is here, and I’m wondering why there’s such a problem at the lumber yard,” the owner of a YouTube account called “Ken’s Karpentry” said in April, in a much-cited video showing stacks of lumber waiting at a depot. “We’re still seeing the prices increase at the lumber yards, so I’m not sure why.”
The video, entitled “TRAIN LOADS OF LUMBER JUST STACKED UP !!!! Why,” has garnered nearly 500,000 videos on YouTube. Zero Hedge, a popular pro-Trump blog that oftens publishes conspiracy theories, used the video as proof that a sinister lumber gang could be inflating lumber prices.
“Could the lumber industry, controlled just by a few players, be pulling the playbook straight out of the diamond industry to limit supply to drive up prices?” pseudonymous ZeroHedge writer “Tyler Durden” asked on May 1.
The lumber shortage truther movement’s reliance on videos of stacks of lumber that don’t actually prove anything about the global lumber supply chains echoes a similar, coronavirus-focused conspiracy theory. In the summer of 2020, Trump supporters across the country joined the “Film Your Hospital” movement, in which COVID-19 deniers mobbed hospitals in an attempt to prove the pandemic was fake. By filming half-full hospital parking lots or lobbies, the “Film Your Hospital” crews argued in a series of viral videos that the pandemic was a hoax.
In reality, higher lumber prices have been fueled by a combination of more demand for new housing, home improvement projects and the lingering effects of lumber producers reducing production in the first months of the pandemic in anticipation of an economic crash. In March, the American Wood Council put out a statement blaming the increased price on supply shortages and increased consumer lumber use.
Still, fueled by the Ken’s Karpentry video and other footage of lumber, conspiracy theorists across the internet have become fixated on lumber as a symbol of powerful forces at play behind the scenes. On a popular QAnon forum, one user speculated Sunday that the shortage was faked to make it more difficult for Americans to buy houses.
“There are a LOT of these type vids showing the BS narrative of Lumber shortages,” the poster wrote. “Nothing short of market manipulation to drive up prices, most notably homes. Why Homes? Part of the American dream is to buy a house.”
Amateur lumber sleuths may have found their most secure home on TikTok, where quick videos of lumber meant to disprove the global lumber shortage have gone viral.
“TikTok, these folks lying to us about this wood shortage,” a TikTok user with the screenname “Red the Trucker” posted in late April, panning his camera over stacks of lumber. “What I do for a living, I’m not going to tell you. But everywhere I go, it’s just like this. It’s stacked up everywhere I go.”
That video garnered 64,000 views on TikTok. But another trucker’s video proved to be even more influential in the world of lumber conspiracy theorists, garnering 3.6 million views.
“I can tell you, these lumber yards and the actual sawmills, and the third party—the third-party lumber buyers, they have this lumber stacked up as high as the forklifts will go,” the TikTok user behind the viral video said. “They are holding onto it, and just barely trickling it out.”
The TikTok lumber videos are often repackaged into video compilations on Facebook, where they can spread their theories about the lumber shortage even further.
“So Joe Biden says there’s a shortage of lumber, and that’s why the price at Home Depot is so high on 2x4’s and such?” the narrator of one video posted to Facebook in early May intones, over footage of stacks of lumber.