DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 15: Timothy John from Tampa, FL. is in Flat Earth International Conference at Crowne Plaza Denver Airport. November 15, 2018. Hundreds of people who believe the Earth is flat attended the conference. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty Images
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 15: Timothy John from Tampa, FL. is in Flat Earth International Conference at Crowne Plaza Denver Airport. November 15, 2018. Hundreds of people who believe the Earth is flat attended the conference. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:22
How do conspiracies continue decades later?
Austin, Texas Police
Now playing
04:27
Suspect still at large after deadly shooting in Austin, Texas
WCCO
Now playing
01:27
Shots fired at Minnesota National Guard and police team
CNN
Now playing
02:10
Fauci: We'll get Johnson and Johnson vaccine back 'in some manner'
WTMJ
Now playing
01:45
3 killed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, tavern shooting
Indianapolis shooting victims family 04172021
CNN
Indianapolis shooting victims family 04172021
Now playing
03:22
'Completely devastating': Family of Indianapolis shooting victims speak out
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: The Duke of Edinburgh's coffin, covered with His Royal Highness's Personal Standard is carried to the purpose built Land Rover during the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021 in Windsor, England. Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born 10 June 1921, in Greece. He served in the British Royal Navy and fought in WWII. He married the then Princess Elizabeth on 20 November 1947 and was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich by King VI. He served as Prince Consort to Queen Elizabeth II until his death on April 9 2021, months short of his 100th birthday. His funeral takes place today at Windsor Castle with only 30 guests invited due to Coronavirus pandemic restrictions. (Photo by Adrian Dennis/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Adrian Dennis/WPA Pool/Getty Images
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: The Duke of Edinburgh's coffin, covered with His Royal Highness's Personal Standard is carried to the purpose built Land Rover during the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021 in Windsor, England. Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born 10 June 1921, in Greece. He served in the British Royal Navy and fought in WWII. He married the then Princess Elizabeth on 20 November 1947 and was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich by King VI. He served as Prince Consort to Queen Elizabeth II until his death on April 9 2021, months short of his 100th birthday. His funeral takes place today at Windsor Castle with only 30 guests invited due to Coronavirus pandemic restrictions. (Photo by Adrian Dennis/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:29
See memorable moments from Prince Philip's funeral
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a demonstration in Moscow on September 29, 2019. - Thousands gathered in Moscow for a demonstration demanding the release of the opposition protesters prosecuted in recent months. Police estimated a turnout of 20,000 people at the Sakharov Avenue in central Moscow about half an hour after the start of the protest, which was authorised. The demonstrators chanted "let them go" and brandished placards demanding a halt to "repressions" of opposition protesters. (Photo by Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP) (Photo by YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images)
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a demonstration in Moscow on September 29, 2019. - Thousands gathered in Moscow for a demonstration demanding the release of the opposition protesters prosecuted in recent months. Police estimated a turnout of 20,000 people at the Sakharov Avenue in central Moscow about half an hour after the start of the protest, which was authorised. The demonstrators chanted "let them go" and brandished placards demanding a halt to "repressions" of opposition protesters. (Photo by Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP) (Photo by YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:09
Alexey Navalny 'close to death,' press secretary says
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House voted 230 to 199 on Friday evening to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from committee assignments over her remarks about QAnon and other conspiracy theories.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House voted 230 to 199 on Friday evening to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from committee assignments over her remarks about QAnon and other conspiracy theories.
Now playing
03:20
Marjorie Taylor Greene lashes out at media after backlash over controversial caucus
Getty Images
Now playing
03:00
The end of an era has arrived in Cuba
WISH
Now playing
02:26
Police identify FedEx facility gunman as former employee
Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House on April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Andrew Harnik/Pool/Getty Images
Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House on April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
02:44
'National embarrassment': Biden reacts to mass shootings
Two military aircraft fly over the White House on April 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. The US Air Force F-22 fighter aircraft flew over Washington as part of the World War I memorial dedication ceremony.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Two military aircraft fly over the White House on April 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. The US Air Force F-22 fighter aircraft flew over Washington as part of the World War I memorial dedication ceremony.
Now playing
00:52
Watch military flyover interrupt a White House briefing
Shadae McCallum
Now playing
02:30
Soldier arrested after video shows him pushing a Black man
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 15:  Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to talks to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in the Kremlin on April 15, 2013 in in Moscow, Russia. Karimov is on a state visit to Russia. (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 15: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to talks to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov in the Kremlin on April 15, 2013 in in Moscow, Russia. Karimov is on a state visit to Russia. (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:07
Russia to expel 10 US diplomats in 'tit-for-tat response' to Biden sanctions
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) speaks during a news conference on immigration to condemn the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, outside the US Capitol on June 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images)
Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) speaks during a news conference on immigration to condemn the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, outside the US Capitol on June 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:39
Governor settles with former campaign staffer who accused her of sexual mistreatment
Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin chooses not to testify at his trial on April 15. Sitting to his left is defense attorney Eric Nelson.
Pool
Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin chooses not to testify at his trial on April 15. Sitting to his left is defense attorney Eric Nelson.
Now playing
02:10
Derek Chauvin invokes 5th Amendment right at trial
(CNN) —  

“I don’t want to be a flat Earther,” David Weiss says, his voice weary as he reflects on his personal awakening. “Would you wake up in the morning and want everyone to think you’re an idiot?”

But Weiss is a flat Earther. Ever since he tried and failed to find proof of the Earth’s curve four years ago, he’s believed with an evident passion that our planet is both flat and stationary – and it’s turned his world upside down.

“I absolutely freaked out,” Weiss tells CNN in a phone interview. “It literally whips the rug out from underneath you.”

Now, Weiss finds it tedious to associate with the majority of people – though he “unfortunately” still has some friends who believe in a round Earth. “I have no problem with anybody that wants to believe we live on a ball. That’s their choice,” he says. “It’s just not something I resonate with.”

Weiss’ preferred community is those who share his life-altering belief.

And that community is vast.

This week, the businessman attended the third annual Flat Earth International Conference, held at an Embassy Suites hotel in suburban Dallas, Texas. Organizers told CNN that about 600 others went too.

Previous conferences have taken place in Raleigh and Denver – while Brazil, Britain and Italy have also held flat-Earth conventions in recent years.

The event’s schedule resembled any corporate conference, with some fairly noticeable twists. Speakers gave presentations including “Space is Fake” and “Testing The Moon: A Globe Lie Perspective.” Awards for the year’s best flat Earth-related videos were handed out. And believers reveled in an opportunity to meet several of the movement’s most influential minds.

A merchandise stall at last year's Flat Earth International Conference in Denver, Colorado.
Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty Images
A merchandise stall at last year's Flat Earth International Conference in Denver, Colorado.

“We’ve all been communicating online (but) this brings us together so we can shake hands and give each other hugs,” says Weiss. “We can collaborate, we can make new friends. Because guess what, our old friends… we lost a lot of friends.”

On a clear day, the curvature of the Earth can be seen from an airplane window. But remarkably, the hundreds of flat Earthers at the Dallas gathering were just a small portion of the movement.

People in every pocket of this spherical planet are rejecting science and spreading the word that the Earth is flat.

There’s no clear study indicating how many people have been convinced – and flat Earthers like Weiss will tell you without evidence there are millions more in the closet anyway, including Hollywood A-listers and commercial airline pilots – but online communities have hundreds of thousands of followers and YouTube is inundated with flat-Earth content creators, whose productions reach millions.

A YouGov survey of more than 8,000 American adults suggested last year that as many as one in six Americans are not entirely certain the world is round, while a 2019 Datafolha Institute survey of more than 2,000 Brazilian adults indicated that 7% of people in that country reject that concept, according to local media.

The flat-Earth community has its own celebrities, music, merchandise – and a weighty catalog of pseudo-scientific theories. It’s been the subject of a Netflix documentary and has been endorsed by figures including the rapper B.o.B.

Each year, more flat-Earth events fill the calendar, organizers say.

“I’ve never seen anything grow this fast,” says Robbie Davidson, the founder of the Dallas conference. “I would say that within 10 years, the numbers are going to be astounding… next year, there’s going to be a conference in every major country in the world.”

But experts are wondering if the movement is really harmless – and whether we’re even approaching the edge of its influence.

Falling off the edge

When Davidson first heard that people really do believe in a flat Earth, “I just laughed and said, ‘they’ve got to be the stupidest people ever.’ Who in their right mind could believe something so dumb?”

A couple of years later, Davidson was setting up the first international flat Earth conference. Like most of the speakers at the event CNN spoke to, he was convinced after he decided he couldn’t prove the Earth’s roundness.

For Davidson, a born-again Christian, the most logical explanation for the conspiracy of the millennium goes like this: “Let’s just say there is an adversary, there is a devil, there is a Satan. His whole job would be to try to convince the world that God doesn’t exist. He’s done an incredible job convincing people with the idea that we’re just on a random speck in an infinite universe.”

A digital illustration of a flat earth.
Roman Budnikov/Alamy Stock
A digital illustration of a flat earth.

The reality, says Davidson, is that the flat Earth, sun, moon and stars are contained in a “Truman Show”-like dome. From there, pitfalls can be easily dismissed – like photos of the Earth from space, which flat Earthers believe are photoshopped. “This all goes away if they put a 24/7 camera feed on the moon,” he adds.

And Davidson quickly found a large online community believing the same thing. “I thought doing a conference would just take it to the next stage where the media and the world will look at it and say, ‘wait a minute – something must be going on. This is not just some internet fad, or a bunch of crazy people online. They’re now meeting in buildings.’”

He has a few things he wants to make clear to a flat-Earth novice. Firstly, and most importantly – “none of us believe that we’re a flying pancake in space.” The community merely believes that space does not exist, the world sits still and the moon landing was faked. The jury is out on gravity – but as Davidson notes, no one has ever seen it.

Secondly – no, you won’t fall off the edge. While flat Earthers’ views of the world vary, most believe the planet is a circular disk with Antarctica acting as an ice wall barrier around the edge.

And thirdly, modern flat Earthers have little in common with the Flat Earth Society, a group that has existed for decades and has more than 200,000 followers on Facebook.

Samuel Shenton, founder of the International Flat Earth Research Society (IFERS), in 1967.
Kent Photo News/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Samuel Shenton, founder of the International Flat Earth Research Society (IFERS), in 1967.

That organization, some speakers told CNN, is a government-controlled body designed to pump out misinformation and make the flat-Earth cause sound far-fetched to curious minds. Davidson calls their theories “completely ridiculous.”

The Flat Earth Society told CNN: “We are not a government-controlled body. We’re an organization of Flat Earth theorists that long predates most of the FEIC newcomers to the scene.”

“It probably goes without saying that we find no joy in this sectarianism, or the elevated emotions that surround some of our disagreements,” the group added in response to criticism from speakers at the conference. “We wish the Flat Earth International Conference organizers all the best, but we remain steadfast in our own convictions.”

But flat Earthers don’t pretend to have all the answers. “People don’t really know 100% what (the Earth) is, we’re just questioning what we’re being told it is,” Davidson explains.

Several members of the community have carried out their own experiments, like bringing spirit levels onto airplanes, that have supposedly proved their thesis.

They haven’t. To be absolutely clear, the Earth is not flat – as NASA explains in a fact sheet aimed at fifth to eighth graders.

But most adherents say they’re just curious, as all good s