• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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A Note on 5G Coronavirus Conspiricism

A couple of Tweets from the Guardian‘s technology editor Alex Hern (2 April):

The Sovereign Citizens and the 5G Truthers are merging. Someone has emailed to say “a Notice will be hand delivered by the military police” and “reported to the World Court and Interpol and your Liberty will be removed without further notice” if I don’t reveal the truth about 5G [here]

Oh there’s a little bit of Coronavirus conspiracy in there too: “5G is lethal to humanity and all living things, it produces irreversible damage to DNA and kills any living being, as demonstrated in Wuhan Radiation [experiment]”. The square brackets are in the original. [here]

5G scaremongering has actually been a staple of “Sovereign Citizen” activism in the UK for a while (see e.g. the website of a group called the “New Chartists”). The crossover with Covid-19 conspiracism ought be to be a particularly absurd outlier, yet in the context of a national crisis it appears to have been responsible for a recent shift from people sounding off online to committing acts of arson against 5G masts.

The crossover has been addressed in a article by Ryan Broderick for Buzzfeed:

The UK’s early push into 5G cellular coverage has led to an especially active British anti-5G movement. In 2018, the Democrats and Veterans Party, an offshoot of the British far-right political party UKIP, hosted at their party conference British YouTuber and conspiracy theorist Mark Steele, whose speech on the dangers of 5G is featured regularly in conspiracy theory videos. The dangers of 5G were also a major talking point in the 2019 election for UKIP and its supporters.

Steele (who confusingly also goes by the name of Anthony Steele) also has a presence on Twitter, where he describes engineers working on the masts as “criminals working to kill children” and suggests that “anyone not covering the 5G crime is an enemy of the people”. If this is not incitement to violence, then what is?

Steele also promotes the specific 5G coronavirus  theory – indeed, he may even be its originator, as back in February he was already claiming that “WUHAN had the 5G in the Streetlights”. Some of his Tweets incorporate short to-camera videos, in which there is more of a hint of a smirk as he expounds his various claims and allegations; and when he opines that Boris Johnson “MUST HAVE BEEN STANDING TO [sic] CLOSE TO A 5G TRANSMITTER” you have to wonder whether his wild conspiracy-mongering is nihilistic and performative rather than simply delusional.

I wrote about the Democrats and Veterans Party conference here, although I didn’t note Steele’s presence specifically. Steele’s appearance was as an influencer within the UK conspiracy milieu – other speakers included UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom and Bill Etheridge, Sir WIlliam Jaffray (misspelt as “William Jaffrey”) Jon Wedger and Belinda McKenzie.

Steele’s anti-5G activism has also been amplified on conspiracy podcasts (hosted by e.g. Lou Collins and Richie Allen), as well as, erm… by Mail Online, which in 2018 ran an article reporting that 5G “radiation given off by state-of-the-art street lamps is wreaking havoc on the residents of Gateshead, according to local Mark Steele.” This was several months before Steele was fined for threatening councillors.

In September 2019, Steele appeared on a panel at an event titled “5G Apocalypse London“. The panel was headed by Sacha Stone, founder of a pseudo-court cosplay outfit called the International Tribunal for Natural Justice.