By K. Grady
Conspiracy theories infect American culture. Millions of Americans believe that the government faked the moon landing of 1969 or that the government keeps aliens in Area 51. These theories are mostly baseless, but because so many Americans are familiar with them, they shape their understanding of related topics. Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist, knows this and draws on memorable conspiracy theories to create his own and take the Internet by storm.
His best example of this is the Great Gay Frog Conspiracy, a complex and comical combination of ideas from past conspiracies. In 2010, he suggested that a U.S. government-sponsored chemical warfare operation explained why “there’s so many gay people now.” He claimed to have documents proving that the government was going to reduce birth rates by spreading chemicals that would cause homosexuality in Americans’ drinking water.
This claim surfaced around the same time as a 2010 study from the Williams Institute at the Law School of UCLA that estimated approximately 9 million Americans identified as LGBT (2.5% of the population) while 25.6 million Americans (11% of the population) acknowledged at least some same-gender attraction. This report was one of the first of its kind, and caused public panic towards what seemed to be a higher-than-expected number of LGBT people. Around this time, the idea of a “gay agenda” gained mainstream traction. This notion held that gay people planned to corrupt mainstream media with their lifestyles and encourage homosexuality among children. Jones’ claim is of course absurd, but it was easier for some demographics to believe in an anti-government conspiracy instead of the reality of the growing acceptance of LGBT identifying people that allowed more people to feel comfortable identifying as such in a survey.
According to Jones, the chemicals in drinking water affected more than just those who drink it. Five years after this allegation first appeared, Jones claimed that the chemicals in tap water have, “turn[ed] the friggin’ frogs gay.” Frogs are native to most parts of the world, and are especially abundant in the United States, and prefer to inhabit land near bodies of freshwater. Jones claimed that the majority of American frogs were gay because of their exposure to the tainted water intended for humans.
While Jones’ account of chemicals turning humans and frogs gay lacks any evidence, his gay chemical weapon is built around a tiny kernel of truth. In 1994, a US Air Force lab requested funds to pursue the development of a weapon that would increase same-sex arousal in enemy combatants. The so-called “Gay Bomb” project was never funded or fulfilled. Moreover, it had nothing to do with the drinking water in the United States. Regardless, the idea stuck and has been satirized in the media because it brings to mind memories of the Manhattan Project and the development of nuclear weapons, which came about in a similar manner. This is perhaps the origin of the conspiracy that the government is trying to make people gay.
Additionally, Jones relies on a real study about the effects of a herbicide on frogs’ sexual health to support his claim. However, he distorts the study’s conclusions. As late as October 2018, his website, InfoWars, published articles with “proof” of water turning frogs gay. It manipulates information from the study by claiming that frogs’ gender is altered by an herbicide, atrazine. In fact, it affects their sexual development and fertility. While traces of the herbicide were found in water supplies of San Francisco, which has a high proportion of gay residents compared to other regions in America, it was determined that it is not a public health issue in the same study that InfoWars cites. The study actually doubts that atrazine has such severe effects on humans, because the herbicide does not accumulate in muscle tissue and humans do not spend their lives in water like frogs.
The final conspiracy that Jones roots his claim in began in the 1950s and 1960s once the U.S. government began adding fluoride to public water. Though fluoride has helped reduce the number of cavities in the general population, controversies about its purpose and effects remain persistent even today. Despite the claims being mostly unfounded, there are websites and articles that seek to validate these claims and incite panic and fear in the general public. This conspiracy was particularly potent because nearly every citizen drinks public water.
This bizarre frog story is a combination of controversies that have been floating around in the American consciousness for a while. It feels plausible because it is based on familiar claims and ideas. Its goal is to make people distrustful of the actions of the government and promote homophobic ideas. It would be easy to dismiss the idea as a crazy assertion made by an unstable man, but he has a large platform. At the time of his claims he had millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook and quite a few sponsors. Making this kind of claim and supporting it with distorted “proof” engages and encourages his conspiracy-minded supporters. It may even convince them that the government is trying to turn them gay. Ultimately, while the content seems like implausible clickbait, it creates a problem that feeds into the fears of some of the American public. This claim perpetuates the toxic idea that being gay is a defect. It classifies gay people alongside animals to make them seem subhuman. This conspiracy also trivializes the romantic and sexual lives of millions of LGBT people by suggesting that chemicals are responsible for their identities.
While it’s funny to think about secret government officials dumping barrels of liquids marked “Gay Chemicals” into the drinking water, it’s just not realistic. Some of Jones’ supporters likely realize this. But his conspiracies are built around creating uncertainty. Maybe the government isn’t pumping us with gay chemicals. But just in case they are, Alex Jones’ website is selling water filtration devices for all your gay chemical removing needs.