What was claimed
The wildfires in Maui were caused by a human-controlled "directed energy weapon".
False. Two images used to claim that the fires in Hawaii were started by a directed energy weapon are actually of a 2018 rocket launch in California and a controlled burn in Ohio the same year.
By Frank Algra-Maschio
In the aftermath of the deadliest wildfires in the United States in more than a century, conspiracy theorists are making bizarre claims about how the fires started.
The claim that the wildfires on the island of Maui, Hawaii, were deliberately caused by a “directed energy weapon” (DEW) attack has rapidly gained traction online. Online monitoring tools such as Google Trends have recorded a sudden increase in searches for the phrase “directed energy weapons” since August 11, two days after the fires erupted.
Discussion about DEWs has become a topic of interest among social media users, with some posting images – purportedly showing a beam of light striking land – to support a claim that the fires were started by a DEW.
Directed energy weapons use energy, such as light (lasers) or radio waves, in contrast to traditional physical projectiles. A directed energy weapon can disrupt electronic systems or melt physical materials, depending on the strength of the weapon.
According to the US Government Accountability Office, a military land vehicle can hold a high-energy laser powerful enough to target drones, and more than 30 nations are developing this type of DEW.
But, the images being shared in posts as evidence of a DEW attack on Maui are five years old and were not even taken in Hawaii.
One of the images (below) shared by users to support the claim that the fires were started by a DEW shows what appears to be a beam of light striking land near a coastline, triggering a fire with smoke.
One user sharing the image stated: “Those who believe Hawaii fires resulted from climate change and natural fires …. you must be vaccinated 😅😂 Directed Energy Weapons used by the Deep State Cabal! more crimes against humanity!!”
However, the image can be easily traced through a reverse image search on Google as showing a 2018 rocket launch by SpaceX (see image below) in California.
The images show the launch of the IRIDIUM-6/GRACE-FO mission from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The SpaceX aircraft was used to launch several satellites, including two used by a joint NASA mission.
The second image (below) shared by users to claim that a DEW attack caused the fires shows a light beam in the night sky above what appears to be a fire or explosion.
One user sharing this image stated: “This is what burned down Lahaina and started the Maui fires. This is what a directed energy laser fire is started by and this was taken by a resident there as the fire started.”
However, this image can also be traced back to 2018, and to a location outside of Hawaii.
According to AP News, this image was posted to Facebook by a resident of Canton, Ohio, who confirmed that the image was taken in this location in 2018.
The image is reportedly of a controlled burn at the Marathon Petroleum oil refinery in Canton, Ohio.
The Facebook user uploaded the image (below) as a comment to a post by a local newspaper asking people to share photos or videos of the controlled burn.
It is not the first time that this image has been used to falsely claim a directed energy weapon attack: in 2018 it was shared as showing the cause of the California wildfires and fact checkers at Snopes also debunked a claim in 2018 that this same photograph showed a DEW attack in Michigan.
The cause of the wildfires on Maui has not yet been determined, and an official investigation is yet to be announced.
The US National Weather Service had however, issued a “red flag warning”, which signals increased fire risk due to a combination of weather conditions, for the islands of Hawaii the day before the fires started.
Social media users have connected the claim that fires were caused by a human-controlled direct energy weapon to a range of loosely related conspiracy theories.
These theories, such as the “Great Reset” or “Agenda 2030”, all share the idea that there is a global elite secretly orchestrating world events to suit their sinister goals, such as creating a marxist world government or even depopulating the earth.
For example, one Facebook user claims “it is the G7 lot who are doing it [starting the fire with a direct energy attack] ... they are responsible as they have the technology to do it and blame it on the fake climate change BS”.
Another user taps into the QAnon conspiracy theory, in which proponents argue a group of satanic and paedophiliac elites secretly run the world and work alongside the “deep state” to carry out their agenda, including removing President Trump from office in 2020.
As one user sharing a false image of the fire states: “I believe the deep state has been using this to start intense fires for a long time. Especially in California. Now in Maui ... All to keep up their climate change garbage and to continue their depopulation agenda. Pray for Maui. Ready for this sick satanic cabal to fall!”
Other users on social media are also employing outlandish theories to suggest that the fires were started deliberately, but do not claim they were started by a direct energy weapon.
For example, one bizarre claim by a prominent X (formerly Twitter) user intimates that Oprah Winfrey and other celebrity “elites” are behind the fire, while another popular claim connects the fires to the soft drink brand Mountain Dew, saying it “planned” the fires by releasing a “Maui Burst” flavor in 2019.
False. The images used to claim that the wildfires in Hawaii were caused by a directed energy weapon attack are actually images taken in California and Ohio in 2018. Neither of these images show a DEW attack.
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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.