Last week, fireworks conspiracies were all the rage. As residents of major cities across the country noticed a drastic increase in pre-Independence Day fireworks going off into the wee hours of the night, people couldn’t help but wonder—is there something more sinister behind this?
A few of the early theories, including a viral Twitter thread from author Robert Jones, Jr., posited that the fireworks were a “coordinated attack on Black and Brown communities; an attack meant to disorient and destabilize the #BlackLivesMatter movement.” The fireworks were a means of sleep deprivation and “desensitization,” conditioning people to ignore loud explosions over time and write them off as fireworks.
Good morning Family:
— Son of Baldwin (Robert Jones, Jr.) (@SonofBaldwin) June 20, 2020
But a new story from The New York Times says different. What big city folks are hearing is essentially the perfect storm for massive summer fireworks. After months of quarantine, people want to blow off steam; fireworks companies, hurt by the COVID-19 economy, are offering unprecedented discount deals; clearing out fireworks warehouses to resell them at a markup to fellow city residents who want in on the explosive action.
The confluence of conditions appear to explain the fireworks uptick. Still, the conspiracies relied on a few factors the Times piece and others don’t address—namely how far police departments are willing to go to disrupt and agitate protests. After more than two weeks of breaking up peaceful demonstrations with tear gas, rubber bullets, and other outwardly violent means, psychological disorientation would seem well within law enforcement’s purview. That’s led some on social media that fireworks are the police’s new “bait bricks” which were left out in neat piles during protests to tacitly encourage property destruction and looting.
The theories also submit that police, frustrated with constant demands for their defunding and abolition, are rebelling by ignoring fireworks-related noise complaints (Jones specifically mentions this in his thread). Noise complaints have risen astronomically this year and police departments have been slow to respond. Perhaps the lack of response could be due to fear of perceptions of over-policing, specifically in Black neighborhoods and other communities of color. But it doesn’t fully explain incidents like the one recorded in West Harlem on June 22, where police drove around slowly with their lights on and sirens blaring.
— Jeo (@fromzerotojeo) June 22, 2020
Other reports from New York and beyond have described police as being in on the fireworks disruptions, as well as pyrotechnics being shadily distributed. One poster pointed out that fireworks in NYC, which had normally been going until 2 or 3 a.m., started to taper off earlier the night after a massive protest in front of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s mansion.
These are the kind of factors and questions conspiracy theories rely on—individual accounts that are difficult (or impossible) to verify and that, when combined together, form a loosely-constructed series of unprovable truths.
Either way, it’s hard to question the ears of city residents, which verify the massive increase in firework explosions. The uncertainties of our current moment have people on edge, and it’s not hard for the mind to wander toward sinister conclusions. The reasons for the fireworks increase are likely multi-faceted and simple all at once—and so are the fears that accompany it.