The CCTV footage from a Dutch business park shows a man in a black cap pouring the contents of a white container at the base of a cellular radio tower. Flames burst out as the man jogs back to his Toyota to flee into the evening. It’s a scene that’s been repeated dozens of times in recent weeks in Europe, where conspiracy theories linking new 5G mobile networks and the coronavirus pandemic are fueling arson attacks on cell towers. Popular beliefs and conspiracy theories that wireless communications pose a threat have long been around, but the global spread of the virus at the same time that countries were rolling out fifth generation wireless technology has seen some of those false narratives amplified, reports the AP, which says the claims range from the coronavirus being a coverup for 5G deployment to 5G installations actually having created the virus.
Officials in Europe and the US are watching the situation closely and pushing back, concerned that attacks will undermine vital telecommunications links at a time they’re most needed to deal with the pandemic. Some 50 fires targeting cell towers and other equipment have been reported in Britain this month, leading to three arrests. Telecom engineers have been abused on the job 80 times, according to trade group Mobile UK, making the UK the nucleus of the attacks. Photos and videos documenting the attacks are often overlaid with false commentary about COVID-19. Some 16 have been torched in the Netherlands, with attacks also reported in Ireland, Cyprus, and Belgium. (Read the full story for much more.)