For over fourteen years, a U.S. Navy patent, no. 3899144, has been used to suggest that the federal government is secretly dispersing a powdered chemical substance in the atmosphere, for reasons that are murky and contested. It's a leap in logic nearly as old as the chemtrail conspiracy theories themselves.

It is, additionally, a leap in logic that is eminently repeatable with other patents.

The earliest appearance of U.S. patent 3899144 as evidence in "the burgeoning chemtrail mystery" came from a guy named Chuck Gode in Portland who sent it along to one of America's more baffling and idiosyncratic conspiracy radio broadcasters, Jeff Rense, who was based in Oregon at that time (July 17th, 2000) and who runs a fan site devoted to opera singer Mario Lanza.

Here is how patent 3899144 describes its innovation:

The present invention is for a powder generator requiring no heat source to emit a "contrail" with sufficient visibility to aid in visual acquisition of an aircraft target vehicle and the like. The term "contrail" was adopted for convenience in identifying the visible powder trail of this invention.

It's a machine that makes fake contrails, in other words.

Contrails, a portmanteau of "condensation" and "trails", are the long cloud-like streams generated by planes at certain altitudes and weather conditions.

For nearly two decades, scientists have been telling people that the material they've seen in a plane's wake are contrails, and people have been shouting back, "Don't you tell me what I saw! I know what I saw, and it ain't no 'contrail.' It was chemicals!"

Patent 3899144, then, is basically physical evidence that it is, at least, sort of physically possible for someone to create a fake contrail that contains something else: weather-altering chemicals, biological weapons of some kind, whatever.

However, all patent 3899144 was ostensibly designed to do was to fake contrails for the purpose of training exercises. It compares its invention to a previous method of making fake contrails by burning oil. "Oil smoke requires a heat source to vaporize the liquid oil and not all aircraft target vehicles, notably towed targets, have such a heat source. Also, at altitudes above about 25,000 feet oil smoke visibility degrades rapidly."

Here's what's meant by tow targets:

They are fake missiles and other objects dragged around in physical simulations.

The patent goes into some detail about this:

Aircraft target vehicles are used to simulate aerial threats for missile tests and often fly at altitudes between 5,000 and 20,000 feet at speeds of 300 and 400 knots or more. The present invention is also suitable for use in other aircraft vehicles to generate contrails or reflective screens for any desired purpose.

"This is a highly-interesting U.S. Navy patent," Rense says.

"In the 25 years since this patent was granted, one can only wonder at the advances and refinements have evolved from this patented delivery system and technology of creating/spraying chemtrails in the skies above," he speculates.

Well, actually—leaving aside the chance of some highly classified proprietary technology—only one advanced refinement has been made citing this patent. It's a 1993 patent describing a smokey powder that would help hunters determine wind velocity.

Collecting patents like this as kind of complimentary, but not truly corroborating, pieces of data, has been something relatively easy that anti-chemtrail activists have all found the time to do. Dane Wigington, the (let's go with) passionate researcher behind GeoEngineering Watch, has compiled a list of over 150 U.S. patents that he believes document the U.S. government's intentions and capabilities with respect to weather modification and chemtrails. The list includes generations of cloud seeding patents, fog disperses, smoke machines, anything vaguely aerial, cloud-like, or potentially related to weather modification. Like patent 3899144, they are all curious gossamer bits of circumstantial evidence: diagrams proving that something like the smoking gun has been envisioned once for practical use.

The precipitation of the chemtrails idea is truly one of the more latitudinarian, bipartisan affairs in the annals of American conspiracy folklore. What began as a series of articles by an ecologically conscious reporter, William Thomas, writing for Environment News Service (ENS) in the late 1990s, quickly led to recurring appearances on the popular talk radio program and Schedule I hallucinogen Coast to Coast AM—truly the most ideologically neutral center point in the vast parallel universe of American paranoid media. Though ENS seems to have quietly disassociated itself from Thomas over time, his ideas spread pervasively from there to the farthest reaches of the Far Right's paranoid fringe.

Thomas, and supporters at websites with names like Golden Age of Gaia, were deeply concerned about chemtrails alleged impact on human health and the environment in just such a way that their ideas managed to appeal to the unique worldview of poverty stricken rural conservatives and belligerent oil men at Davos who both somehow believe that wealthy environmentalists secretly rule the world and are damaging the planet with their secret interventionist approach. Chemtrails have appeared as an object of concern at Alex Jones' Infowars, in the political ramblings of Republican congressional hopefuls like Georgia businessman Greg Pallen, and in actual legislation proposed by the members of the most progressive-wing of the Democratic party, like Dennis Kucinich.

Part of the reason for this is that it's genuinely hard to make a convincing case that some variation of the chemtrails conspiracy couldn't actually happen. Looking at the odious four decades under which the Tuskegee syphilis experiment unwittingly abused poor southern blacks with impunity—or the equally nightmarish secret radiation injection experiments conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission on random hospital patients—it seems hopelessly naive to say the government isn't capable of this sort of thing.

With their dense legal phrasing, technocratic specificity, and detailed schematics, these patents do look like they prove something, and they probably do; They just don't prove that chemtrails exist.

[top photo, composite via Wikimedia Commons and the U.S. Patent Office]

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Below: U.S. patent no. 3899144 in full.