International Burn Down a 5G Tower Day
By TorchStone VP, Scott Stewart
What is Happening: A group of internet activists have declared May 3, 2020 to be “International Burn Down a 5G Tower Day.” They have been using the hashtags such as #burn5G, #burn5Gtowers, #destroy5G, #destroy5Gtowers, #Disable5GTowers, #kill5G, #kill5Gtowers and #teardown5G. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have been working diligently to remove content, forcing it to migrate to other platforms such as Instagram, Telegram, 4Chan and Gab.
Background: Anti-5G campaigns have been active on social media since 2015. Proponents of these campaigns have also called days of action to protest 5G proliferation. For example, over the past year, anti-5G activists held days of action on May 15, 2019, Oct. 26, 2019 and Jan 25, 2020. However, these past events have been small, and non-violent in nature, consisting of a few people holding signs and banners. These past calls for action have not called for violence or even acts of civil disobedience, but the tenor of the anti-5G movement is clearly changing in the COVID-19 era.
Conspiracy theories that tie 5G to COVID have spread wildly since January, and particularly since March, according to research conducted by Moonshot CVE, a Google funded initiative to counter violent extremism. Identifying 5G as either the cause of COVID, or as an agent facilitating the spread or severity of COVID has played on people’s fears and has led to these conspiracy theories becoming much more widely spread than before the pandemic began.
There appears to be a direct correlation between this spike in 5G conspiracy posts on social media and arson attacks directed against cell phone towers. Since April 1, there have been scores of attacks in the UK, over a dozen in the Netherlands, and other attacks in Belgium, Italy, Poland, Cyprus, New Zealand and the U.S. When combined with the 5G propaganda, these attacks appear to be encouraging copy-cat actions. Cell phone towers are often quite visible, lightly protected and as such represent very vulnerable soft targets. When combined with the amount of instruction on how to conduct arson attacks that is available on the Internet, the barrier to entry by those wishing to engage in such activity is quite low.
There are indications that the 5G/COVID conspiracy theories are being amplified in the U.S. and Europe by state actors such as Russia, Iran and China. The 5G/COVID conspiracy messaging has also been adopted by anti-vaxxers, anti-globalists, ant-Semites, ultra-nationalists, Q-Anon adherents, Infowars supporters, and anarchists, among others. Anti 5G hash tags are frequently accompanied by hashtags promoting these other conspiracies and ideologies, raising the danger that the COVID/5G issue could lead people to explore more radical ideological content.
Implications: Considering the developments over the past month, we believe the call to action on May 3, will provide a good opportunity to gauge the most violent fringe of the anti-5G movement. It will demonstrate the influence and reach of the people pushing these conspiracy theories, and ultimately their ability to mobilize attacks. It will also be important to watch for similarities in the language used in claims for these attacks or similarities in attack tactics and tradecraft that could indicate there is coordination going on between attackers, rather than just the mobilization of individual actors.