The weekslong onslaught of fireworks in cities across the US has rattled residents, terrified pets, and caused New York City’s mayor to launch a new illegal fireworks investigation unit. And now the constant pyrotechnics are inspiring baseless conspiracy theories by people who claim to have been “boompilled” into believing that the fireworks are part of a government operation.
Fireworks industry experts and authorities have said the increase has likely been caused by restlessness born of the pandemic and a spike in sales in advance of July 4, which this year falls on a Saturday. The American Pyrotechnics Association, a fireworks industry group, said it expects this year to be a banner one for sales.
“The APA predicts an all-time high in backyard consumer fireworks sales and use as families prepare to celebrate Independence Day at home due to the pandemic and cancellation of large public celebrations," said Julie Heckman, the organization’s executive director, in a statement.
Last week, Slate reported that fireworks laws had become more lax in the US, and that the pandemic led to a surge in online sales. One fireworks retailer based in New Hampshire told them that sales are up 28% from last year thanks to a rush of online orders. Another fireworks retailer, Anthony LoBianco of Intergalactic Fireworks, told Time magazine that people were buying and using fireworks earlier than previous years.
But on social media, people are offering conspiratorial explanations for the nightly fireworks displays, including that they’re the result of a government psyops meant to destabilize communities of color or to target the Black Lives Matter movement.
One popular theory is that the fireworks are being set off by the police.
“My neighbors and I believe that this is part of a coordinated attack on Black and Brown communities by government forces; an attack meant to disorient and destabilize the #BlackLivesMatter,” wrote author Robert Jones Jr. on June 20, in a viral Twitter thread and Facebook post.
Fireworks are being set off in cities all over the US, but New York, including Jones' part of Brooklyn, have been particularly hard hit. City data shows there were 8,967 complaints of illegal fireworks between June 1 and 22. That’s up from just 28 for the equivalent period last year.
An Instagram account using the hashtag #FireworkTruth collected theories and speculation about the fireworks, many of which alleged police involvement without offering evidence. The theory is that police or other government agencies are either setting off the fireworks or providing them in massive quantities to young people, supposedly to frighten locals into calling the police, thus providing the justification for a crackdown.
On Reddit and elsewhere, some are using the term boompilled to refer to people who’ve become convinced of government involvement in fireworks. This is a reference to being redpilled, which is used to describe someone who has rejected liberalism in favor of extreme right-wing or misogynist views.
There’s no evidence of coordinated efforts to set off fireworks for political reasons, and nothing implicates law enforcement or government agencies. A video did surface in New York of fireworks being set off by firefighters at a Brooklyn station, an incident now under investigation by the FDNY. On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new illegal fireworks task force with more than 40 officers aimed at stopping illegal sales and use of fireworks in the city.
“The ‘fireworks conspiracy theory’ appears to be nothing more than what almost every other conspiracy is: an attempt to find a better explanation than the explanation we’re being given,” wrote conspiracy researcher Mike Rothschild on his website.
It’s understandable that some people might think there’s something more nefarious at play with the fireworks, given the emergence of fireworks displays at roughly the same time protests against police killings and racial injustice erupted in the US. But that coincidence isn’t enough to support a theory of a massive government conspiracy.
“Despite the long Twitter threads and impassioned posts from people who know for sure what’s going on here," Rothschild wrote, "it doesn’t appear that there’s any evidence that anyone is giving fireworks to anyone else for nefarious purposes.”