As students of Eastern Kentucky University walk to and from their dorms, going to class or lunch or whatever they might have scheduled for the day, they pass by Powell Plaza. There, with a tripod presentation at the ready, stands a relaxed, friendly, and approachable man. Students who stop to talk to him and look at his work are treated to a quite in-depth look at his research, his thoughts, and the truth he seeks to educate them on. Starting, of course, with how exactly the United States government managed to fake the 1969 moon landing.
For the past several years Peter Jarvio, a 64-year-old retiree, has gone from campus to campus setting up his presentation and talking to any who are willing to lend him an ear about his various theories as to the truth behind the moon landing, the shape of the earth, the nature of the Mandela effect, and a slew of other topics on which he has done extensive research over the years, all of which differ greatly from the generally agreed upon truths of the world. The moon landing was faked; the Earth is flat; the events of Sept. 11, 2001 were conspiratorial; Stan & Jan Berenstain were former U.S. Military intelligence agents.
Despite most rational people looking at this pool being able to sum it up with the words, “conspiracy theories,” Jarvio stands by each and every one vehemently and with what he believes to be 100% indisputable evidence to back several of them up. Curious as to the nature and origin of these beliefs that were so wildly bizarre when compared to the seemingly more rational and commonly accepted explanations for how the world functioned, I asked Peter if he would be willing to do an interview on the topic, and to my surprise he actually agreed to meet up not one week later.
Upon asking him why he goes to the trouble of setting up his presentations on campus in the first place, Jarvio provides me with a bit of personal background. “I was 12-years-old the first time they landed on the moon—or said they did,” he tells me. At the time, I swallowed it hook, line, and sinker like most people did. But even back then, a lot of the old-timers said it looked fake.” According to Jarvio, it took a full 40 years after his initial exposure to the moon landing before he got curious about it and started performing his own research looking into the legitimacy of it. He closely examined photos posted on NASA’s official website from the Apollo missions, and came away with a sense of being lied to.
As he describes each photo to me, he has a series of explanations of what was wrong with each one. The moon rover lacked any surface tire tracks, the picture of the earth from the moon’s surface had signs of being tampered with, the type of camera used didn’t have an automatic trigger, etc. The explanations vary, but each is thought out and readied every time I try to make a rebuttal or ask a follow-up. As for the question of why, he had an explanation for that as well. “It was like a magician,” said Jarvio. “You look at one hand, don’t look at the other hand.” He believes that simultaneously to NASA faking the moon landing, they acquired the first pictures of the Earth from space, and the result was a flat disk.
While many people are at least somewhat receptive of conspiracy theories regarding the moon landing, Flat Earth theorists have become somewhat of a running gag in online circles due to the sheer bizarre nature of the claim. Despite this, Jarvio believes the Earth to be provably flat by a simple experiment performable at any lake over a certain distance with two people and flashlight, saying that if the light is observable at surface level from the opposite shore, it disproves the water following the Earth’s curve. It should be noted that a variation on this experiment was also performed in the 2018 documentary “Beyond the Curve,” in which a Flat Earther actually disproves his own thesis. Peter Jarvio, however, is extremely certain of his calculations being accurate, able to recite the formula for the Earth’s curvature over a certain distance at any given moment. These are far from his only focuses, though.
As the interview progresses, we delve further and further into the inherently interconnected nature of Jarvio’s theories, which he has since requested that I call “conspiracy facts” due to some being—in his eyes—completely and totally proven true. Upon reaching the topic of flat Earth, he starts talking about how the government has changed the required curriculum for public schools to no longer include flat earth in any capacity.
From there, he shifts gears to discuss the involvement of director Stanley Kubrick in NASA’s faked moon landing propaganda and how he confessed to his involvement via clues in his movies. Afterwards, he talks about how Stanley Kubrick was likely assassinated in his sleep 666 days before the first day of 2001, the year for which his most famous film was named. Jarvio steps from topic to topic with fluid segue, a cavalcade of truly unnerving and conflicting information. I reach a point of bewilderment, though, when he begins talking about 9/11, which he believes to have been a controlled demolition planned well in advance. He cites the destruction of Building 7—which the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has since reported as being due to fire damage in a series of investigations from 2002 to 2008—and the security of the Twin Towers’ security being Neil Bush for the six months leading up to 9/11, which I have been thoroughly unable to find record of as that role went to Marvin Bush.
At this point, it should be fairly clear that the nature of the conspiracy theorist is not one of being merely uneducated. Every claim Jarvio makes, he has a series of explanations to qualify. Supporting evidence, personal accounts, mathematical formulas and well-crafted anecdotes—Jarvio has all of these ready, but they all seem to lead exactly where he wants them to lead, the results of a self-serving confirmation bias. Dissatisfied with my understanding of the mentality behind theorists like Jarvio, I sought the opinion of Charles Mason Smith, a professor at EKU with a scholarly interest and personal fascination in conspiracy theories and the people behind them, having studied these topics for the past 25 years.
“Like anything involving thousands of people,” Smith started. “It’s a very complicated issue.” When starting the conversation on conspiracy theories as a whole, he immediately pointed out the scale of the issue and the roots behind it. “I mean, obviously, there are conspiracies and the American people have been lied to.” Highlighting the scandal of Watergate, the ongoing Jan. 6 investigations, wartime disinformation campaigns, and a series of conflicting U.S. official Roswell reports, Smith makes an extremely valid point on why people might be distrustful towards a society that has in the past directly lied to its citizens. However, he also takes the time to point out that this distrust can be extremely harmful. “A fantastic and terrible example is the [COVID-19] vaccines,” he said. “People think the vaccine is dangerous, it’s not safe, it’s untested, they’re chipping you. But of course, there’s no reason for all these.” He holds up his phone. “If Uncle Sam wanted to know where I am, he’s got a GPS chip on me anyway.”
As Smith points out, there are negative repercussions for buying into disinformation, especially in our current climate where that information has become so prevalent and actively seeks to make itself more visible to people likely to be receptive. However, it’s important to realize that the people who believe these things aren’t dumb—they’re most often just as smart as the next person, drawing connections and conclusions which while frequently incorrect, take a lot of critical thinking to reach. But it’s that same critical thinking that the rest of us need to apply to them to see beyond their points and into the truth, both outwardly and in terms of our own perceptions. But even with the world at large stacked against them, people like Peter Jarvio will continue to make their voices heard.
“I don’t much appreciate being lied to,” Jarvio said after being asked why he’s so passionate about these topics. “And the government’s been lying to me for a long time.” After everything is said and done, a relaxed, friendly, and approachable man stands next to an incredibly detailed presentation in the plaza at the center of Eastern Kentucky University. Grinning as he hands out 3D printed coasters shaped like the Earth, a joke which goes over nobody’s head, he continues to tell whoever is there about his research, his findings, the reasoning and the results. And even if perhaps nobody should agree with him, there will always be merit in listening.