The Conspiracy Tree Tower
A special investigative report
Out there, along Interstate 485 between Rea and Providence roads, a cell tower is disguised as a tree.
It’s not fooling anyone. At 175 feet tall, it’s much taller than the real trees surrounding it. Its spindly branches jut out of a gray, metal trunk. It sticks out like a freshman at a college kegger.
In mid-September, a post on a website called Daily Paul (which overtly mentions that it has nothing to do with Ron Paul) showed a picture of Tower Tree with the headline “I have uncovered something mysterious about a tree comm tower in Charlotte.” The tower, it seems, was nefarious. “For the past few months, I believed this was a cell phone tower,” the blogger said. “I now have growing suspicions on this tower—as you will come to see why.”
The owner of the tower mysteriously stopped responding to e-mails, the blogger wrote, and the tower doesn’t seem to show up on tower mapping websites. It just so happens, the post continued, that there are reports of rogue towers popping up. And those same reports say those rogue towers are designed for the government or police or someone to snag data from your phone as you unsuspectingly drive by. The kicker? “It’s obvious this is not a real tree,” the blog reported.
Not long after that post went up, a guy who’s a contributor to Infowars.com, a tinfoil hat of a website with high production values, made a YouTube video about the blog and the tower. The video drew more than 60,000 views.
I had to get to the bottom of this. I had to know what they don’t want you to know. So, I reached deep into my journalistic toolbox and made … one phone call. That’s all it took to uncover the truth.
The cell phone tower that looks like a tree? It’s actually a cell phone tower that looks like a tree.
Bonnie Newell, who runs the Berkley Group, says her company built the tower in 2013. It’s now owned by Crown Castle International. AT&T is the only company that leases equipment on it. And it kinda resembles a longleaf pine because, weirdly, Charlotte zoning rules say that if you build a cell tower within 400 feet of a neighborhood, it has to be a “stealth tower” that blends in with the natural environment. One way to make it stealthy? Stick fake branches on it.
“If you look at public records,” I told her, “The word ‘stealth’ is on it.”
“Yes, it absolutely is,” she replied, and then it dawned on her that perhaps some people are misinterpreting the word stealth.
“Ohhhhhhhhh,” she said.
Bonnie said she’s responded to everyone who’s contacted her. When I first called her, she didn’t know why she was getting strange e-mails and phone calls. I told her about the Infowars video. She gasped. She had no idea. “Can we block that?” she asked.
It’s like one day, the Internet wakes up and points at you and says, Hey, you’re up. Bonnie hasn’t been overwhelmed, but each nervous demand to prove that she’s not in cahoots with the WRONG PEOPLE is worrisome. “It’s given me a lot of stress,” she told me. “I don’t like getting random e-mails of one or two sentences saying, ‘What are you doing?’”
Bonnie’s fallen victim to the new culture of post first and ask questions later. There’s just enough information out there to get part of the story via Google, but we expect answers to everything now, and when we don’t get them NOW, it feels like someone doesn’t WANT us to have answers NOW. So then the public finishes the story for us. This seems strange. What is it? I’m not saying it’s part of a massive secret government plot. But I’m not saying it’s not. The small vacuum of information quickly fills with speculation. That’s how conspiracy theories get started, and that’s why Bonnie gets weird e-mails in the middle of the night.
I had to see the evidence. I met Bonnie under the fake tree, among the real longleaf pines. She started pointing at things.
There’s an AT&T lock next to an AT&T sign labeling this an AT&T tower, she said. There it is, all in the open, all available to you if you leave the Internet for a while and go out and see things for yourself.