charred landscape, Lahaina, HI
A cook stove stands out on a charred landscape in a neighborhood destroyed by a wildfire in Lahaina, HI, August 17, 2023. Photo credit: DHS / Wikimedia

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As inured as I have become to the genre, and as much as I’ve come to expect that pretty much every official story will come with its very own conspiracy theory in tow, I was nevertheless gobsmacked to discover that conspiracy theories about the fires that destroyed Lahaina were already winging their way around social media.

Why so astounded? Because the National Weather Service had warned of high fire danger on the Hawaiian islands as the consequence of drought, low humidity, and high winds. 

In such conditions, in places with miles and miles of highly flammable invasive grasses, dry brush, and woods, all it takes is a downed power line (high winds will do that) or a lightning strike and the winds and the dry kindling take it from there.

If you’ve built your town right on the edge of this wildland paradise… If it’s generally been humid enough to keep fires at bay… If global warming has altered your weather pattern so that the wildland has dried out… If a hurricane a few hundred miles away is sending 60-to-80 mph downslope winds from those wildland hills to your coastal town… If your town is almost all old structures built of wood… And if, because of what was unfortunately an all-too-typically slow pre-disaster adaptation to climatic changes, virtually none of the infrastructure has been hardened and defended against it and little emergency response planning put in place… If all these conditions are met, you might well find your town in the crosshairs of catastrophe.

California Burning

I know from personal experience. In 2020, our home in the Santa Cruz mountains of California escaped the roaring, 86,509-acre CZU Lightning Complex fire by about a fifth of a mile, less than a lap around a high school track — and that only because of an unexpected, and frankly miraculous, wind shift that allowed heroic Cal Fire crews to set a line in the woods just above our house and town. 

Thousands were not as fortunate and lost their homes — here and in the other climate- and weather-driven fires of that terrible California season. But unlike the terribly unfortunate residents of Lahaina, for us, there was no nearby hurricane driving the flames, so we had time.

The CZU fire, which burned through our drought-stricken woods for more than a month, was started by multiple strikes of dry lightning

We were on our way home from a week away and we saw the strikes for much of the way, over a hundred miles. It was a huge, rainless storm — the clouds charged with electrical energy. 

As we drove, we picked up the emergency texts — that unmistakable loud beeping like a fire alarm in our phones — and arrived home to an evacuation order. We, as the saying goes, grabbed and went, not to return for over two weeks, during which we were glued to the fire map, the weather map, and the grim morning and evening Cal Fire briefings. 

For several days, right up to that prayed-for but unlooked-for wind shift, we were all but certain our house and all we had left behind would burn.

It was — and here I understate — a very sobering experience. And one that cultivated in us a new and deep respect for our place in and interface with the beautiful natural world that was all around us. 

We understood, really for the first time, what we were asking of it; and we also became a little more aware of what we were doing to it. Our fragility and our hubris: It was deeply unsettling but it all made sense. Scientific sense.

So when social media lit up with a revival of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) 2018 post that that year’s devastating California wildfires were set off by “space lasers” — the construction of which was funded by the Rothschild family, so Jewish space lasers — the depravity hit close to home. 

Not only do we of the 21st century have global warming to somehow deal with, we also have denial of science, and QAnon, and unhinged, irrational, and utterly unsupported “explanations” for various events and troubles being spewed all over the place by the ignorant, the cynical, and the exploitative among us. The reality is dangerous enough without the dark fantasy and magical thinking.

damage, structures, Lahaina Town

Damaged buildings and structures of Lahaina Town destroyed in the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Maui on August 15, 2023. Photo credit: US Army National Guard / Wikimedia

A Friend’s Email

Now, turning back to Lahaina. I learned of the quick-brewed conspiracy theory via a friend who, in the course of an unrelated email conversation casually dropped the item that he was hiking in New England with a group of like-minded friends, and: 

Lahaina looks to us like controlled demolition. Who is capable of such evil?

Having exhausted my supply of tact when dealing with such assertions, I wrote back that I thought he was “nuts” about Lahaina, giving what I thought were rock-solid reasons. 

He, in turn, responded by forwarding to me the following email-cum-infomercial from one Mikki Willis, award-winning filmmaker; writer and director of the Plandemic series, which begins with the “hidden agenda behind COVID-19” and only gets more conspiratorial from there; and a mover and shaker in the “we’re just asking questions” world. 

I present it in sections but please imagine it in its entirety because only that whole can convey the full flavor of this art form. Here is the opening, with comments following:

Maui, Lahaina, fire, email solicitation

Opening of Willis email blast, forwarded by my friend. Photo credit: From email solicitation

The email begins virtuously enough, sending “Aloha and Prayers” and a plea for donations to the victims. Then Willis gets down to business.

We’re told that “theories are spreading online” that the Maui fires “allegedly” started “too suddenly” and “burned too harshly” to be “classified as a natural wildfire.” And we’re told that the “general consensus” of the “Maui locals” is that the fires “were not a natural disaster but a deliberate act.”

Rough translation: “We’re not suggesting anything, but ‘theories are spreading’ so we are compelled to deal with that phenomenon. And, oh by the way, we’re told that the locals, who should know, have reached a general consensus that the whole disaster was deliberate.”

This is Conspiracy Theory 101: It’s out there, so it must have some basis, so we have to step in and give you the information you need to know the truth. And here’s a “fact” to get you started — the “general consensus” — distorted at best, if not made up entirely from whole cloth.

What then follows — the “details worth contemplating” (more 101: gentle, innocuous understatement) to guide us in our search for “the truth” — is a series of 10 bullet points, which I will “contemplate” in turn.

Willis starts off well, with a concession: A video’s gone viral purportedly showing lasers setting fire to Maui — but he acknowledges it’s actually some explosion in Chile. 

Two observations here: 1) Still more 101: Establishing credibility with an anti-conspiratorial feint; 2) Note how difficult “quality control” is with this stuff: The bogus laser story is already viral, working its way around the internet, inflaming the faithful and likely winning some new converts. It’s just too easy to make stuff up — and a lot harder to prove it false (boring!!) or get it back into the bottle.

And it’s all downhill from there.

The head of Maui Emergency Management resigned. An official made an unfortunate decision not to sound the sirens, a deadly disaster occurred on his watch, and he resigned — wow, call in Scotland Yard! 

Did Willis bother to consider why he made that decision, why it was a rational decision? 

The sirens were a tsunami warning system. What do you do when you get a tsunami warning? You head inland — in this case straight into the fire. You can see why, operating under the stress and urgency of the moment, he might have thought that was a bad idea. You can also see why, given the outcome, he’d resign. Worth general consideration: A poor decision does not equal an irrational decision, does not equal a malicious or nefarious decision. And, of course, hindsight is 20/20 vision.

Next. Cell communications went down; that’s what happens when fires or floods or gale-force winds take down cell towers or other critical infrastructure; this happens all the time; it happens periodically to us.

Next. The water supply was “turned off,” the implication being that some nefarious operative twisted a main valve somewhere with malice in their heart. 

But water supply is also dependent on infrastructure, including pumping stations and mains. In an area weakly defended against an unprecedented type of damage, it’s predictable that such critical infrastructure will fail. 

Not that a functional water supply (which itself is a stretch, given that the simultaneous townwide demand likely would have reduced hose volume to a trickle) would have been particularly beneficial in these circumstances; in fact it just would have induced more people to stay and try futilely to save their property and so get killed. So if it was a deliberate act, it may just have saved lives.

Next. If private rescue boats were turned away, it is because that is what authorities generally do when they’re trying to manage an evacuation; the last thing you need is a bunch of “heroes” heading into the danger zone without coordination (check out The Russians Are Coming if you don’t believe me). In this case, it may have been the wrong decision, but an understandable one and SOP. 

Apart from that, the suggestion here seems to be that the evil ones weren’t content to destroy the town, they also wanted the maximum number of residents to be trapped and die. Quite a dark imagination, perhaps the product of a daily overdose of Fierce Immunity (see below).

Next. Maui’s police chief had the misfortune to be around two whole “events.” Wow, nothing like a convergence like that to get the suspicions flowing! Should we perhaps “investigate” what he was doing in Las Vegas for that “controversial” (to whom?) slaughter of innocents with the assault weapons this same crowd seems to believe will protect us from governmental tyranny and the loss of our “freedoms?” 

The suggestion — or “question” — here is that the guy was an operative, working the inside for the cabal, a kind of roving catastrophe artist, jack-of-all-evil, whether bullets or lasers or fire accelerants.

Next. Biden nickel-and-dimed Maui with $700/household while allocating (actually requesting; it will be up to Congress) $24 billion to Ukraine. 

It’s hard to figure what international aid to Europe’s largest country — in this case an invaded ally fighting a desperate war of survival — has to do with domestic emergency relief to a town, but whatever, that is the way emergency relief works: It begins with a “get you fed and into shelter” immediate general distribution, and then moves on to higher levels based on damage assessments, etc. Except if you’re Donald Trump and decide to condition aid to post-Maria Puerto Rico on various economic and political concessions.

Next. Apparently, the World Economic Forum had big plans for Maui and had to wipe out Lahaina to build a 15-minute city or a prototype for AI-controlled clean energy. But it wasn’t enough to wipe out Lahaina. The schemers also had to kill as many of its residents as possible (by shutting off the water and banning the private boats). Or was that some other evil actor working independently of the WEF to bring extra death and destruction? 

You’ve got to be careful when you start fingering multiple evildoers who happen to be in the same place at the same time — why, it’s almost like that Maui police chief being in Las Vegas! Or maybe the WEF and the real-estate developers were in cahoots? I mean, as long as we’re asking questions. Actually, the real estate developers are the most plausible villains here — if we’ve concluded there are villains, which Willis tells us is the “consensus” of the locals. 

That stuff — institutional arson or sabotage — does happen, and it is evil, but hardly something global-sinister and in any event nonsensical in this case, given the fires’ wildland origin.

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‘Just Asking Questions’: A Technique

None of this is to say that all the best decisions were made or that Maui or Lahaina were as ready for and defended against this perfect storm as they might have been. They quite obviously were not (though we note that, nationally and globally, they are hardly alone). 

There’s room for a sober and searching post-mortem and many improvements to be made in the course of rebuilding — and we can expect some cynical politics and economics to at least attempt to muscle in on that process. Along with attempts to evade responsibility and accountability for errors and negligence. Greed, self-interest, and unfairness are, unfortunately, part of the human story, including its current chapter.

But that is not what Willis and his ilk are talking about. Rather they are pumping out the same dark vision of Lahaina as they did of COVID-19 (a bioweapon deliberately loosed?), vaccination (deliberately deadly, worse than the disease?), lockdowns (governmental tyranny?), the 2020 election (stolen from Donald Trump?), Ukraine (NATO aggression?), global warming (a hoax?), et cetera, et cetera.

I put question marks in the parentheses above because that’s all these reflexive conspiracy theorists claim to be doing: asking questions, and what could possibly be wrong with that? On the surface, nothing. 

But it must be understood for what it really is: a technique, a way of undermining an established narrative when you have no evidence based on which to do so — and without really making any case at all. Just asking questions, ma’am.

In this case, Willis, to address the “theories” that are already “spreading online” and help us “stay grounded in facts and reality,” presents a series of “details,” dots to connect, that veer between the irrelevant and implausible. The intent and the effect are to undermine and darken our perception of a natural disaster explained by a series of factors related to global warming (a “hoax” that Big Oil was already secretly predicting in its internal memos 70+ years ago) and human fallibility — factors more plausible than Willis’s “details” by orders of magnitude.  

Supplements for Sale

Now for the rest of the Willis email my friend forwarded in defense of his view of Lahaina as “controlled demolition.”

I hope you have your credit card handy because, if you haven’t noticed before, these folks are always selling something (pick you up on the other side):

Maui, Lahaina, fire, email solicitation

Photo credit: From email solicitation

Maui, Lahaina, fire, email solicitation

Photo credit: From email solicitation

Maui, Lahaina, fire, email solicitation

Remainder of Willis email. Photo credit: From email solicitation

What they’re selling are tickets to the first “Great Awakening” shindig in Vegas (naturally), featuring the likes of Dr. Sherri Tenpenny (of vaccines make you magnetic fame) and renowned scientific savant Roseanne Barr. 

And of course the obligatory supplements, in this case a modern-day Geritol that goes by the name of “Fierce Immunity.” This elixir is apparently available by subscription only, but with that subscription comes a free hardcover copy of Plandemic and a chance to win all sorts of bling and merch, including a “gold foil trucker hat, a Plandemic hoodie, and an exclusive copy of Plandemic signed by Mikki Willis” (emphasis added).

The Damage Done

In sending me this package, my friend asked that I please not call him “crazy” for finding some circumstances suspicious and calling for investigation, though his “Lahaina looks to us like a controlled demolition” sounded more like a conclusion than a question. But my friend is not crazy — and in fact I am certain his intentions are good. Which is a big part of what makes this whole thing so grievous. He’s not peddling any elixirs or tickets or merch, only ideas. But some of those ideas seem to me to be doing great damage.

Consider the general, cumulative impact of this cadre’s work. These mere “questionings” don’t come free. When Marjorie Taylor Greene wondered aloud whether Jewish space lasers were responsible for our California wildfires, was that a free shot, a musing without consequence? 

Or did it in fact advance the cause of not just antisemitism but general suspicion of nefarious alien forces — “such evil” — as cause for the various miseries and disappointments of millions of MAGAs? 

There are, indeed, heavy consequences and costs. Among these is the empowerment of charlatans and demagogues like Trump. Distrust is, after all, what he thrives on. The ceaseless barrage of “questions” and “dots” — born of a reflexive, compulsive distrust of most if not all of the workings of the world — undermines trust by and of all of us, wherever one turns. And that is what is turning our country and our era, for too many of us, into an unrecognizable hellscape.

Wheat and Chaff

Before closing, let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that you swallow whole every official story. Our experience tells us that governments are not above lying; corporations are not above lying; people, including friends and family, are not above lying. We know this — it’s why we ask witnesses to testify under oath.

It may surprise you to learn that I am the author of a book questioning — long before Stop the Steal — the safety and integrity of computerized vote counting in US elections. So I’ve lived in houses on both sides of these tracks, but with a profound awareness of the hazards of losing perspective — the dual hazards of swallowing whole everything from official sources, or so completely distrusting those sources as to insist that everything bad that happens must be the result of evil, every misfortune a plan

My book, accordingly, had a sound basis for the questions it posed and was grounded in known systemic vulnerabilities and objective analysis of hard data. As was the rest of my work in election forensics, now drawn into disrepute by association with the slapdash ravings of Trump’s Stop the Steal campaign.

In a sea of conspiracy theories, it is difficult to find the islands of sanity — the serious, factually grounded analyses that legitimately challenge and expose dishonest official stories. And few are willing to evaluate, case by case, the soundness of each offering. It’s often difficult work. Nor is it necessarily easy to remain an independent thinker, immune to the peer pressure from either side. 

As a consequence, much sound and vital work will be dismissed and much that is grossly flawed or even ridiculous accepted as gospel. 

So, when “just questions” are flying around the internet, it becomes imperative to question those questions. Do they have a sound basis? Or do they seem contrived for shock effect? Are they just throwing stray facts — or distortions of facts — and wild speculations against the wall without a constructive purpose? 

If no distinctions are made then everything becomes suspect. If you stub your toe on a rock, you might start “asking questions”: Who put the rock there? And why? And who is covering it up? You can construct a whole theory, put on a conference, make a movie, build a movement, sell T-shirts and hats.

That way lies madness.


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