It appears no conspiracy is too outlandish for U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to peddle. There’s QAnon, false flag conspiracies about the Parkland shooting, and the whole election fraud lie. Now we can add a new one: That the deadly 2018 Camp Fire was ignited, intentionally, by a space laser so California could build a high speed rail system. (Naturally, the Rothschilds were involved somehow.)
Taylor Greene espoused her belief in the space laser — or “direct energy weapon” in conspiracy theorist parlance — in November 2018 in the wake of the most costly, deadly, and damaging fire in California history. In a Facebook post, first reported by Media Matters, Taylor Greene pulls out the classic frame of “just asking questions” about utility PG&E’s real role in causing the fire.
Before we go off the deep end, these are the facts: An investigation pinpointed the utility’s power lines as the direct cause. The fire was further stoked by fierce winds and hot, dry conditions as it stormed through the town of Paradise and the surrounding area. PG&E paid out more than $US25.5 ($33) billion in settlements and has pleaded guilty to manslaughter; in an effort to stave off more potential tragedies it has turned to cutting power during times of high fire danger. But dangerous fire conditions are becoming more frequent due to the climate crisis, and avoiding more wildfires without a multi-decade effort to thin the forest and fix the power grid is nigh impossible.
But in the mind of Taylor Greene, there was perhaps something more nefarious afoot. In the now-deleted Facebook post, she does her best Glenn Beck impression.
“I’m posting this in speculation because there are too many coincidences to ignore, and just putting it out there from some research I’ve done stemming from my curiosity over PG&E stocks, which tanked all week then rallied Thursday night after CA official [sic] announced they would not let PG&E fail,” she wrote.
Now, stocks plummeting when a company causes a multi-billion dollar catastrophe resulting in dozens of deaths is not surprising. Nor is it surprising they would rebound when it became clear the state would bail it out. There is nothing weird here! (At least as long as you understand the stock market is a sociopathic enterprise that values money over human life, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
Taylor Greene’s “research” turned up that Roger Kimmel, a PG&E board member, also served as vice chairman of Rothschild, Inc., an institution that bears the name of a family that’s long been a boogeyman of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. She then weaves together some donations that the utility made to then-Gov. Jerry Brown, and a bill he signed that basically allowed utilities like PG&E to pass fire liability costs onto consumers just a few months before the Camp Fire. This is of course bad, because money is corrosive to politics, but nothing abnormal. (It also presents a strong argument for passing campaign finance reform laws.) But a shadowy cover-up it is not.
Things in Taylor Greene’s now-unearthed post go even further into the deep end, with the soon-to-be U.S. Congresswoman speculating about a high speed rail project that costs the equivalent of “3 border walls,” which is certainly one frame of reference by which we can measure expensive things. Senator Diane Feinstein’s investor husband also makes an appearance, as does a space solar power plant startup, as well as unsubstantiated, World Weekly News-level claims of people seeing “blue beams of light causing fires.”
The whole thing honestly makes my brain hurt. At the time, other QAnon followers pushed the space laser lie with different flavours. One version tied it to HAARP, a research program in Alaska which conspiracy theorists often misleadingly associate with weather and mind control. Another 2017 wildfire season theory suggested a plane or drone could be responsible for wielding a direct energy weapon and burning some homes and not others, an explanation for the pattern of seemingly discriminate destruction that’s common in fire-stricken areas based on defensible space around homes and not secret government programs.
Needless to say in the over two years since the Camp Fire was fully contained, no ground has been broken or contracts sold on any sort of high speed rail project in the devastated region. In reality, the towns devastated by the fire have struggled to recover, and more fires have burned in the region, indicating we need substantial intervention to stave off a repeat of the Camp Fire. Taylor Greene does not live in this shared reality, to the detriment of public discourse and my personal emotional equilibrium.
U.S. Republicans have refused to repudiate Taylor Greene or her wild-eyed conspiracies around events like the fire and school shootings that have caused real anguish and irrevocably altered people’s lives. But then, I suppose that would require them to confront decades of climate denial in their caucus as well. Instead, Republican leadership assigned Taylor Greene to the House Education Committee this week.