’The claim, being taken up by an increasing number of people in QAnon circles, is that the fires are caused by “directed energy weapons”—that is, government-directed lasers bent on destroying homes, property, and lives. And if recent history is any judge, there’s a chance the country’s biggest conspiracy-peddlers, up to and including the one who lives in the White House, will take up the cause.
Directed energy weapons, or DEWs, have an interesting place in conspiratorial circles. DEWs are, to begin with, a real technology, but one still in its infancy: a report produced for Congress describes that term as an umbrella to refer to technologies “that produce concentrated electromagnetic energy and atomic or subatomic particles.” The consensus is that there are a number of logistical issues to work out before that the U.S. government will be able to build a laser system that would actually be workable on a battlefield, but that the Department of Defense and private contractors are eager to leverage laser power towards killing people and/or destroying enemy missiles, aircrafts, or satellites.
If you ask people in the deep end of the conspiracy theory pool, though, DEWs are here already. There’s a small body of people who believe themselves to be “targeted individuals”—stalked, harassed, and attacked by the government or other shadowy groups—and at least some of them believe those attacks are being carried out by DEWs. Now, through a strange confluence of forces, the paranoia over DEWs is making its way into the discussion about natural disasters. What we’re seeing is a convergence of longstanding American fears about government mind control and manipulation of the weather merging with climate change skepticism, as climate science becomes ever-more-politicized.…’