After downtown Nashville was rocked at around 6:30 a.m. on Christmas morning by a mysterious explosion of an RV, the FBI announced that it was investigating whether the explosion was connected in any way to paranoia about 5G technology.
The RV that exploded was parked near the AT&T Building (the Nashville landmark known as “The Batman Building”) and the blast caused a disruption in AT&T’s communications infrastructure in the area that lasted for days. Anthony Warner, named by authorities as the suspect, was the only person who died in the explosion.
According to local TV station WSMV, “among several different tips and angles, [FBI] agents are investigating whether or not Warner had paranoia that 5G technology was being used to spy on Americans.”
ABC News reported that “the sources told ABC News that Anthony Quinn Warner, 63, may have been motivated, at least in part, by that paranoia, which also possibly extended to ‘a range of things, including the existence of life in outer space.’”
However, the FBI and other law enforcement officials have fallen far short of definitively stating that 5G paranoia was Warner’s motive in the incident. There doesn’t appear to have been any reporting indicating that the suspect has ever said anything about the subject, although several people told Fox 17 that investigators looking into Warner have asked if he had ever mentioned it.
If fears about 5G are ultimately shown to have played a part in the Nashville explosion, it would represent one of the first major incidents in the United States of conspiracy theories related to 5G technology manifesting themselves in actual real-world destruction. However, there have been numerous such incidents in other countries, including a spate of dozens of incidents earlier this year in Great Britain.
Conspiracy theories about telecommunications technology have surfaced every time a new generation of the tech has arrived, including 3G and 4G in the past. 5G, however, happened to have much of its global rollout in the year of coronavirus, leading to claims that the technology was somehow spreading the virus itself.
The World Health Organization has declared the fears baseless in regard to coronavirus spread.
“Viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks. COVID-19 is spreading in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks,” WHO said in a guideline this year. “COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. People can also be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then their eyes, mouth or nose.”
The CEO of Verizon, in a televised interview in April, denounced the conspiracy theories as “fake news.”
“We have seen some of those articles coming out here and there, but we are very clear that there’s no correlation between the two, and we’re gonna combat that with our communication and the industry’s communication and the health organizations’ communications,” Hans Vestberg told CNBC.
In the U.K., Belgium and the Netherlands, this spring and summer, there were reports of vandals attacking actual 5G infrastructure, or at least towers and other equipment that the assailants believed were related to 5G. The phenomenon spread to North America in May, when a couple in Quebec was arrested for their alleged part in a “string” of tower fires.
And then, in early December, a man from Utica, N.Y., was arrested and accused of “causing extensive damage to several cell phone and radio towers around the county,” per The Rome Sentinel. Officials, however, did not say whether the alleged vandalism had anything to do with 5G theories. The man was charged with two counts each of second-degree mischief and criminal tampering, as well as one count of criminal trespass, the newspaper said.
Several American celebrities, including actor Woody Harrelson, have spread 5G conspiracy theories on social media. There’s also a political battle raging in Indiana, according to Fox 59, with one lawmaker introducing legislation that will give neighbors more say in the locations of where 5G towers are built.
In June, worldwide protests were held by a group called Stop 5G International, although it doesn’t appear any demonstrations of significance took place in the U.S. Around the same time, the Department of Homeland Security warned in a memo that “while the U.S. has not seen similar levels of attacks against 5G infrastructure linked to the pandemic, the tactics used in Western Europe [have] begun to migrate to the U.S.”
It does appear, however, that there’s been a great deal of anti-5G activity in the same state as the Nashville incident.
“In Tennessee, attackers have physically disabled electrical breakers at more than a dozen cell towers,” the DHS memo said, per Cyberscoop. A separate report, in November, by the Chattanooga Times Free Press stated that cell towers across the state were being vandalized, something which “may be linked to COVID-19 conspiracy theories,” per law enforcement.
Another conspiracy theory, widely shared about the Nashville bombing in the days afterword, can be more definitively disproven. It was alleged that Dominion Voting Systems, the voting machine company that plays a starring role in many baseless conspiracy theories associated with the 2020 election, was the focus of a “forensic audit,” being conducted by AT&T, that was to take place in the AT&T Building, and that the attack was implicitly meant to disrupt that audit.
Per Snopes, AT&T and Dominion have both denied that this is the case, there’s been no announcement of an audit, and there’s no reason for such an audit to take place either in Nashville, or at a building owned by a telecommunications corporation.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.