The rogue “Flat Earth” graffiti artist of San Bernardino County, California was also behind a series of neo-Nazi spray paintings, police allege.
Skyler Butts, 34, is accused of more than 30 vandalism incidents on federal land near California’s Parker Dam. Many of the sprawling murals urged readers to “research Flat Earth,” the conspiracy theory that falsely claims the planet is a level plane, maybe covered by a dome. Butts shared pictures of multiple Flat Earth graffiti tags on his Instagram account. But police also accuse him of graffiti that supported the Rise Above Movement, a Southern California white supremacist gang whose primary members have been charged with violent incidents in California and Charlottesville, Virginia.
Butts, a former tattoo artist, was open about his Flat Earth graffiti. On Instagram, he shared pictures of floor-to-ceiling murals spray painted in tunnels, presumably near Parker Dam. “Flat Earth - check it out,” one read. “Research Flat Earth,” another instructed.
Flat Earthers sometimes engage in eye-catching stunts to draw attention to their movement. In the past year, alone, Flat Earthers have launched themselves in rockets with the words “Research Flat Earth” on the side, bought large Flat Earth billboards, and walked around a mall in a Santa suit distributing Flat Earth literature until mall security asked them to please stop doing that.
If Butts genuinely supported the Rise Above Movement, however, he hid it well. While his Facebook and Instagram were covered in Flat Earth videos, he gave little sign of white supremacist leanings. The group appears largely or entirely defunct after eight of its members were charged with a slate of violent offenses, many stemming from their actions at 2017’s deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Four of those members have pleaded guilty.
The Rise Above Movement had its own graffiti tags, although they had a more simplistic appearance than the heavily stylized Flat Earth murals Butts shared on Instagram. A documentary by ProPublica and PBS Frontline showed a picture of a crudely drawn white supremacist symbol alongside the words “kill your local drug dealer,” a popular slogan in the straight-edge white scene, which included members of Rise Above Movement. The group was reportedly most active in San Diego, some 300 miles from Parker Dam.
Butts bailed out of jail Monday, and formal charges have yet to be filed by the district attorney in his case.
If Butts made graffiti in support of the Rise Above Movement (as opposed to having his graffiti confused with theirs), he wouldn’t be the first Flat Earther to dabble in neo-Nazism. The significant majority of the movement do not support neo-Nazis, with some of them even linking NASA to Nazis in a bid to compare the U.S. space agency to a fascist dictatorship.
But the Flat Earth scene skews loosely right-wing, and has picked up members of the extreme right in its recent rise in popularity. Jacob Laskey, an Oregon Nazi who previously attacked a synagogue and is currently serving time for a stabbing, occasionally posted Flat Earth-related content on his social media. When Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer mocked Flat Earth, a number of his followers struck back at him in defense of the conspiracy theory.
A 2017 Bellingcat investigation found Flat Earthers and the alt-right borrowing memes from each other, including Flat Earthers modeling a cartoon penguin mascot called “Fepe” (“Flat Earth Penguin”) after the alt-right’s favorite cartoon frog Pepe. At the 2018 Flat Earth International Conference in Denver, Colorado, vendors sold a Flat Earth book that used an old, forged conspiracy text to accuse Jews of concealing the planet’s true shape.
Flat Earthers from this far-right set often join the movement after reading about other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that falsely accuse Jews of secret world control. “If Jews and masons tell me I’m on a spinning ball moving through the universe at near lightspeed, I believe them because they are experts and my eyes are lying to me,” someone with a username that referenced Adolf Hitler wrote sarcastically when Anglin mocked Flat Earth.