On Friday, May 1, police in Laval, Quebec, received a call that a cellular tower was on fire.
One week later, provincial police arrested a couple in their 20s in connection with seven similar fires, all targeting cell towers. And they’re now investigating whether the accused might have been motivated by a conspiracy theory linking 5G technology to COVID-19.
“There are a lot of possible explanations that are being thrown around as to how the 5G piece could be meshed with the COVID-19 piece — like two puzzle pieces that don’t really fit together, but you’re trying to smush them together,” said Jonathan Jarry, a biological scientist at McGill University.
One of the first to suggest the link between 5G and COVID-19 was Belgian doctor Kris Van Kerckhoven, in a January interview with a local newspaper.
Within 24 hours of publishing, the paper removed the story from its website. But the spark of the conspiracy had been lit.
“24 hours is like a year when it comes to social media,” said Jason Kindrachuk, a microbiologist at the University of Manitoba.
“That post made it onto Facebook and then started to fuel the conspiracy theories.”
5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology — up to 100 times faster than 4G. The technology is only in its infancy in Canada, but 5G networks have been launched in more than 35 countries.
“For a long time there have been small groups of people who have expressed concerns about radio frequencies,” said Jarry. “Some of them really hitched their wagon onto this COVID-19 story.”
In the weeks that followed, claims linking COVID-19 to 5G were repeated over and over on social media. The voices included Amandha Vollmer, a self-described “mompreneur” who runs an alternative medicine store in Minden, Ont.
Vollmer recently sparked controversy and received a cease and desist order from the College of Naturopaths of Ontario, after claiming the COVID-19 pandemic was a “hoax” and encouraging customers to visit her store regardless of their health status.
In a YouTube video entitled ‘Kobe Bryant’s Ritual Murder to Fuel Wuhan Coronavirus Hoax Caused by 5G and Incinerator Pollution,’ Vollmer claimed that 5G weakens the immune system, making people more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“There’s no reason at all to believe that the immune system could be negatively influenced,” said Eric van Rogen, vice chairman of the International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the independent body responsible for setting guidelines on limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields, including 5G.
“We would have seen an increase in infections already, a long time ago, because 3G and 4G systems basically work with the same type of electromagnetic fields,” he said.
Another theory claims that COVID-19 isn’t actually a virus, but the result of poisoned cells from 5G.
“When you actually look at the physics behind it, that doesn’t make any sense,” said Kindrachuk.
While there is much we still don’t know about COVID-19, microbiologists have put the virus under the microscope.
“We’ve been able to look at the genetic sequence of the virus and compare that back to all of the other virus sequences that we have,” he said.
“They’ve been able to actually see the physical structure of the virus. They’ve been able to take the virus and grow it, and then put it into animals and show that those animals are able to develop a COVID-19-like illness. So all of those things basically point back to the fact that this is unequivocally a new virus, as opposed to something related to 5G.”
And, he notes, some of the hardest-hit countries in the pandemic, such as Iran, don’t have 5G infrastructure.
But those fringe theories were nonetheless propelled into the mainstream by celebrities, such as actor Woody Harrelson and singer Keri Hilson, who shared the claims in social media posts to millions of followers.
Those beliefs are suspected of fuelling hundreds of cellular tower fires across Europe, the United States and now Canada. None of the cell towers attacked in Quebec supported 5G.
“It’s the first pandemic where we’re really seeing a head-on collision between a society that’s using social media at all moments of the day and a global public health crisis,” said Kindrachuk.
“It’s essentially fuelling of a lot of conspiracy theories. And 5G, for whatever reason, has continued to permeate at the surface for months on end.”