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Conspiracy theorists and white supremacists want to ‘incite fear’ by targeting cell towers

Conspiracy theorists and white supremacists want to ‘incite fear’ by targeting cell towers


Extremist groups are targeting critical infrastructure, says NYPD report

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A cell is upgraded to handle 5G signals in Orem, Utah.
Photo by GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images

Cellphone towers are being increasingly targeted by conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists who wish to “incite fear, disrupt essential services, and cause economic damage,” according to an internal New York Police Department report seen by The Intercept.

The report, issued on January 20th by the NYPD Intelligence Bureau, cites a number of recent attacks on US telecoms infrastructure, including individuals severing fiber-optic cables and removing back-up batteries from wireless sites. The sections of the report shared by The Intercept do not explicitly ascribe political motivations to these attacks.

The most high-profile attack cited in the report is the case of Anthony Quinn Warner, who set off a bomb outside an AT&T building in Nashville, Tennessee on Christmas day, 2020. However, a separate report released by the FBI this week said that while Warner was driven by conspiracy theories and paranoia, his attack was not necessarily inspired by any “broader ideological motive.”

Extremist groups want to undermine the ability of the state by targeting critical infrastructure

The NYPD intelligence report suggests that disparate groups see attacks on US infrastructure as an effective way to achieve their goal of “fomenting a general distrust of government.” It cites discussion in one neo-Nazi chat group where members “strongly supported exploiting civil unrest in the United States by attacking the country’s infrastructure,” including suggesting attacks on “bridges, railways and electrical grids.”

“In recent months, white supremacist extremists, neo-Nazis, far-right Telegram groups, and online conspiracy theorists have all emphasized attacking valuable critical infrastructure targets,” says the report from the NYPD Intelligence Bureau.

In addition to the NYPD’s intelligence briefing, The Intercept notes that on January 5th and 6th 2021, the Department of Homeland Security issued three reports about vandalism against cell towers in New York, West Virginia, and Tennessee. An anonymous federal law enforcement official told The Intercept that while threats to infrastructure were not unusual, it was strange to see three grouped together in such a short time. Notably, the attacks took place the day before and the day of the US Capitol riots.

In addition to threats posed by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, cell towers have been increasingly targeted by conspiracy theorists, both inside the US and elsewhere. Last year, there was a spate of attacks against cell towers in Europe linked to false beliefs that new 5G equipment was spreading coronavirus among the population and weakening individuals’ immune systems. Dozens of sites were targeted by arson attacks in the UK, Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, and beyond. Although such attacks may have been motivated by anti-5G conspiracy theories, they had the same outcome desired by far-right groups, including disrupting the work of first responders.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment from The Verge regarding the authenticity of the report seen by The Intercept.