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Conspiracy Theory

Mast destruction: How community opposition paved the way for the 5G coronavirus hoax

The 21st-century conspiracy has its roots in decades-old fears about mobile infrastructure.

DESPERATE TIMES CALL for desperate measures.

On Sunday night, as Ireland readied itself for a fourth full week of coronavirus restrictions, two telecommunications masts were set alight under the cover of darkness in north Donegal.

When investigators arrived at the scene, pieces of coal were discovered near both masts, which provide 3G and 4G internet coverage to nearby Letterkenny Hospital.

Gardaí now suspect that the two 50ft towers were set on fire deliberately. It’s believed locally that the masts were targeted as part of a conspiracy theory linking the rollout of 5G technology with the growth of Covid-19 across the globe.

One strand of theorists suggest that 5G suppresses the immune system and makes people more susceptible to catching Covid-19. Another strand argues that Covid-19 can be transmitted via 5G technology.

Crucially, both adopted decades-old unfounded fears about how telecommunications masts have a negative impact on public health in the area around them.

It’s a dangerous conspiracy with no basis in the truth, but it’s spreading almost as quickly as the virus itself and appears just as durable.

Similar scenes to those in Donegal have already been seen elsewhere, with dozens of reports of phone masts being attacked and engineers being confronted in the UK.

Over the weekend, a mast providing mobile connectivity to the Nightingale hospital in Birmingham was among 20 suspected arson attacks against telecommunications towers, and there have also been similar incidents in the Netherlands.

But despite linking 21st-century technology with a 21st-century pandemic, for some, the theory will have a familiar feel.   

New technology

The first claim on Irish Facebook linking the mobile technology to the coronavirus appeared in January, days after emerging online elsewhere.

It was posted on an anti-5G group in Carlow and claimed that 5G technology was responsible for weakening the immune systems of residents in Wuhan:

Wuhan activated 1500+ 5G bases in mid-October… we know that these frequencies open the blood brain barrier of the brain allowing all sorts of pathogens into the brain weakening our immune system.” 5G WEAKENS YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM SAY NO TO 5G GENOCIDE!!!!!

Similar posts were soon shared on other existing community pages opposing the rollout of 5G across the country.

Screenshot 2020-04-14 at 6.36.39 PM Facebook Facebook

Many of these pages were set up in recent years, as local opposition to 5G technology began to organise on social media.

5G stands for fifth generation, the latest generation of cellular mobile communication, which offers vastly higher speeds than 4G.

The first 5G-compatible phones became available in the middle of last year, although coverage has been limited to certain areas at the moment.

5G differs from 4G by being up to 100 times faster, by having a higher bandwidth (allowing more devices to use it at once) and by also having lower ‘latency’ – that is, the time it takes devices and servers to communicate with each other.

The technology allows for near-instant transfers of data, enabling technology such as that used in driverless cars or remotely controlled robots in operating theatres or factories.

It could also revolutionise multiplayer mobile gaming, factory robots, telemedicine and other tasks which demand a quick response in areas where today’s 4G networks struggle or fail.

Community opposition

Many remain opposed to these telephone masts over fears they could pose health hazards, and Ireland is not the only country where anti-5G movements exist.

Although the scientific consensus is that 5G technology is safe, its opponents believe that living next to masts for prolonged periods can cause everything from headaches to cancer and infertility to autism.

These theories are not new, and have been around long before the spread of coronavirus – and even long before 5G. Those opposed to the technology are simply using the pandemic as a tactic to further an opposition to telecommunications infrastructure first seen in the mid-1990s.

Back then, opposition to masts developed around the same time as scares about a potential meltdown at the Sellafield nuclear plant became widespread and mobile phones came into popular usage.

Those opposed to the masts then pointed to scientific studies which claimed that microwave radiation, similar to that emitted by the new mobile phone technology, could damage DNA in rats and mice and increase the growth of tumours.

Mast destruction

Despite these studies being widely debunked by scientists, opponents began to organise demonstrations at the masts, with newspapers from the time littered with stories of protests across the country.

A sit-down protest was broken up by gardaí in Mullaghmore, demonstrators chained themselves to equipment in Achill, agricultural vehicles blockaded a hilltop location near Dungannon, and residents near Thomond Park in Limerick even locked the gates of the stadium to stop a rugby match in protest against a mast there.

Much like opposition towards them, the vandalism of phone masts didn’t start with the spread of Covid-19.

In March 2004, a nine-metre mast outside Pettigo in south Donegal was cut down in the middle of the night, after perpetrators trekked through 200 metres of bogland and used high-powered equipment to saw through it.

It was remarked at the time that those responsible were fortunate not to be electrocuted by the equipment within the mast.

The protests that decade even found its way to mainstream politics.

In January 2005, then-Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris – a former chairman of the Anti-Mast Action committee (AMAC) – was one of a number of the group’s members interviewed by gardaí after a mast near Fenit in Co Kerry was sabotaged.

Ferris condemned the attack on the mast and was never found to have committed any wrongdoing. 

He told local reporters at the time that the committee had legitimately campaigned against the mast and that he took exception that they were questioned.  

Belgian article

Although opposition to masts has been ongoing for decades, its specific link to a virus is new, heightened by the emergence of the worst global health emergency in a century. 

Many believe the current link between 5G and the coronavirus conspiracy emerged in a Belgian newspaper in January, when Covid-19 was in its relative infancy.

On 22 January, Het Laatste Niews posited a connection between the number of cases of the coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan – where the virus first emerged late last year – and the number of 5G masts around the city.

In a since deleted article, the newspaper asked GP Kris Van Kerckhoven if there was a link between the two. “I have not done a fact check”, Van Kerckhoven is reported to have said. “But it may be a link with current events.”

Within days, the theory was adopted by conspiracy theorists and anti-5G campaigners online and honed further – including by those who picked up the theory on Irish pages.

As the virus spread across the world, the developing conspiracy was stood up with claims about the locations where Covid-19 was emerging.

There were claims that 5G technology was installed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, one of the first epicentres for the virus, and that African countries were not affected significantly by the pandemic because Africa was not a 5G region.

Conspiracy goes mainstream

But as the coronavirus has spread, the 5G conspiracy has developed further and managed to emerge as a mainstream narrative.

Last month, celebrities including Woody Harrelson and John Cusack recirculated a false claim that viruses are waste from cells that are poisoned by electromagnetic fields and that historical pandemics have coincided with major developments in radio technology.

And over the weekend, ITV host Eamonn Holmes sparked hundreds of complaints on Saturday when he told television audiences that it was “very easy” to dismiss the theory because doing so “suits the state narrative”.

Scientists criticised the presenter for his comments, with Professor Brendan Wren of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggesting his words could cause “untold damage”.

For their part, experts have dismissed all links between 5G and the spread of coronavirus, describing the theories as a “physical and biological impossibility” and branding “conspiracy theorists… a public health danger”.

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said that the idea that Covid-19 is caused by 5G mobile signals is “complete rubbish”.

But just has there have been no shortage of sources linking the new technology to coronavirus, many others have thankfully debunked such claims.  

Just be prepared to hear similar false narratives whenever 6G arrives in years to come. 

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