“Is there a Zombie Apocalypse activated by 5G towers on the way?!?!” wrote the QAnon influencer behind a Telegram channel called The Patriot Voice, which is followed by more than 50,000 people, in a post shared at the end of September. The message cites a supposed military expert’s claim that Covid-19 vaccines contain “sealed pathogens” including E. coli bacteria and the viruses Marburg and Ebola, all of which can be released by an “18 Gigahertz 5G frequency.”
“FEMA plans on doing a ‘test’ of the EBS on Oct 4 or 11 at 2:22PM. I would turn OFF ALL 5G devices,” the writer concluded. Similar claims about a test alert that will “activate” deadly diseases within vaccinated people — and warnings to turn off phones — have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
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Turn off your cell phones on October 4th. The EBS is going to "test" the system using 5G. This will activate the Marburg virus in people who have been vaccinated. And sadly turn some of them into zombies.
— gina shirah (@GinaShirah81815) October 1, 2023
Virtually nothing in these comments is accurate, save for the fact that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Federal Communications Commission are conducting tests of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) on Oct. 4. (The Emergency Broadcast System, or EBS, was replaced by the EAS in 1997.) The wireless portion, to occur at approximately 2:20pm ET, “will be directed to all consumer cell phones,” and consist of a simple message: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” At most, it will be a mild surprise or annoyance. And it certainly won’t turn you into a zombie (which the often fatal Marbug virus doesn’t do in any case).
But for online conspiracists, the bland, bureaucratic announcement of such a test can only portend some kind of disaster — preferably the kind they can brace for while the rest of the clueless public remains unprepared. The exact nature of the Oct. 4 event depends on who is offering the prediction, but theories tend to focus on the alleged dangers of vaccines and 5G signals. 5G cellular networks, which telecoms began implementing in 2019, have been erroneously associated with Covid and vaccines by conspiracists throughout the pandemic; in the U.K. this past June, two anti-vaxxers were convicted of a criminal plot to destroy 5G towers they referred to as “enemy infrastructure.”
“My family believes the end is near,” a redditor wrote recently on r/QAnonCasualties, a subreddit where people can commiserate about their friends and loved ones falling down the rabbit hole of the conspiracist QAnon movement. “According to my father, on October 4th, at 2pm EST, the government is going to use the Emergency Broadcast System to play a frequency that will activate the RFID chips in vaccinated people and trigger the beginning of the great replacement,” the post explained. The idea that the vaccines contain radio frequency identification tags — so that elites like Bill Gates or George Soros can track individuals, according to some anti-vaxxers — is a falsehood typically conflated with paranoia about 5G networks. “The Great Replacement,” meanwhile, is a white nationalist conspiracy theory which holds that white citizens in Western nations are being systematically replaced with nonwhite immigrants. Racist mass shooters have regularly invoked the concept in their manifestoes.
Because most of this fearmongering concerns allegedly harmful cell phone signals, the conspiracist community is also sharing pseudoscientific advice about how to protect oneself during the FEMA test. My Patriot Supply, a retailer that sells survival food kits and other equipment to preppers expecting societal collapse, warned that the U.S. government “will break into your phone” on Oct. 4, and they recommended purchasing one of their Faraday bags, a pouch that blocks electromagnetic fields, to keep their devices in. Others have suggested putting your phone in an (unplugged) microwave, believing it will act as a Faraday cage, likewise blocking electromagnetic radiation.
“My [mom] just told me in a panic, that on Oct. 4th, Joe Biden will use cell phones to attack the whole population of the United States, something about a frequency that can harm and kill,” wrote another redditor on r/QAnonCasualties. “She told me that I need to wrap my cell phone in aluminum foil and place it in the microwave for the day, I shit you not.” Even if FEMA were sending some kind of nefarious 5G signals to your phone, a microwave’s Faraday shields (the technology which ensures the radiation that heats your food remains within the oven) wouldn’t stop them from going through. Microwaves aren’t perfect Faraday cages and actually “leak” — if you put your phone in there and call it, it will probably ring.
Still others are foreseeing more drastic scenarios and taking more extreme precautions. A TikTok user sowing alarm over the Oct. 4 test alert shared a clip from the 2016 sci-fi horror film Cell, in which a mysterious signal received by phones turns their owners into rabid killers who foam at the mouth. The video has been viewed more than a million times. Another conspiracist anticipates total internet blackout and the need to withdraw any money from bank accounts before systems go down. And one redditor posted screenshots of a text exchange with a worried landlord who said he would be shutting off power to multiple apartments for several hours and told tenants to avoid looking at screens during that time, because “light can also be turned against us.”
That none of these dire prophesies will come to pass on Wednesday is unlikely to dissuade true believers from making the same kind of claims in the future. In the QAnon and anti-vaxxer worlds, many would-be pivotal dates have come and gone without the great upheavals that were meant to occur at appointed moments — Donald Trump wasn’t sworn in as president instead of Biden, John F. Kennedy Jr. didn’t come back to life, and the vaccines haven’t cause a mass die-off. It doesn’t phase these communities, which simply move on to the next narrative.
For the record, though, your phone is transmitting 5G signals every day, including when you text everyone in your life to tell them how dangerous 5G is. Just something to keep in mind.
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