No, this video does not show Brazilians tearing down an American weather-control weapon

·6-min read

Since early July, some social media accounts have been circulating a video that they say shows Brazilians tearing down an American weapon that is supposedly used to control the weather. It turns out, however, that the video actually shows people tearing down electrical installations during a riot that took place at a Brazilian farm in November 2017.

This 26-second video shows several people running towards a cluster of electrical towers, each one consisting of a pole with three horizontal bars. One of them pushes down one of the towers, causing a whole row to topple down in a domino effect onto the red earth, a cloud of dust billowing in its wake.

The footage, which seems to have been edited, looks like it was filmed on a cellphone due to its vertical orientation and the relatively poor video quality. The Facebook pages that have been circulating this footage in recent days claim that it shows a group of Brazilians destroying “HAARP-style” antennas.

HAARP, or the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program, is a research program funded by the US military to look at the ionosphere, which forms the barrier between Earth’s lower atmosphere and space. However, there is a long history of conspiracy theories about this program, with many claiming that it is actually a site built for weather warfare – allowing the United States to control the weather of other countries to their own advantage.

"In the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest, locals destroy HAARP antennas," reads this tweet in French, posted by the Twitter account Rifain nouvelle on July 1. This Tweet was retweeted nearly 900 times.

Over the following days, the video popped up on other pages that often share conspiracy theories, both in France and abroad. The video first started circulating on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, after being shared by accounts belonging to QAnon France and Le Grand Réveil (the Great Awakening). It also started circulating on the Odyssée and VK video platforms. After that, it began circulating on the more well-known platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Most of these posts said the people in the footage were tearing down “HAARP-style" antennas.

We ran a keyword search of the term "HAARP" on Twitter and pulled up dozens of similar Tweets that have been posted online since July 1. We found posts featuring the video in English, Japanese, Turkish, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese.

HAARP: A classic conspiracy theory

HAARP is a research program financed by the United States Army, which has had conspiracy theories swirling around it since its inception in the 1990s.

The program, based in Gakona, Alaska, is aimed at studying the ionosphere, the upper layer of the atmosphere located at a height of sixty to 1,000 kilometres, according to HAARP’s website. To do this, it uses the impressive Ionospheric Research Instrument (IRI), the world's most powerful high-frequency radio transmitter, made up of 180 high-frequency antennas spread out across 15 or so hectares. But many conspiracy theorists have fixated on the IRI and believe that it is actually a secret weapon created by the United States to control the weather and create natural disasters.

Over the past 20 years, people have blamed HAARP for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011 and the 2014 floods in Serbia. Venezuela’s former president, Hugo Chavez, even blamed HAARP for the 2011 earthquake in Haiti.

However, the device only works in the small part of the ionosphere above the site of the program in Gakona. According to an article in Alaska newspaper the Anchorage Daily News, it is unable to change the weather.

"If we made [the IRI] 10 times bigger and tried, we still couldn't affect the weather,” said Bob McCoy, director of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which operates HAARP.

The US Army actually withdrew from the project in 2014. Today, it is run by the University of Fairbanks, Alaska, where McCoy works. The site, which you can see here on Google Maps is accessible by car and open to the public once a year.

But those who believe in the conspiracy theory think that Americans are hiding hundreds of other antennas around the globe. Regularly, people claim they’ve located one of these antennas, like this French Twitter user, who claimed to have found one last week.

But the towers in the Brazilian video look nothing like the high-frequency antennas used in the HAARP program, which are visible below. The first and most obvious difference is in their height. The image below shows a man standing near one of the HAARP antennas. You can use this to compare the size of the structures in Brazil by viewing the video at the 10 second mark, where a man is standing near one of those towers.

A video that’s been wrongly attributed for the past four years

Our team ran a screengrab from the video through a reverse image search and quickly discovered that the footage has been circulating online for a few years (click here to find out how). We found that the video was posted on YouTube on November 6, 2017, but this time, the story was different. The title, written in Portuguese, says "Igarashi Farm in western Bahia. Residents of Correntina topple electrical transformers.”

We typed the same title into Google and found several articles in Brazilian Portuguese from November 2, 2017, that describe two farms being destroyed by rioters in the Brazilian state of Bahia. Local media Noticias Agricolas shared several photos of the destruction. The video at the end of their article shows the same toppled towers that appear in the video that has been circulating online.

We also searched for the farm mentioned in the article, which is called Igarashi, on Google Maps. The towers from the video are partially visible in this photo of the site from August 2017.

We continued to research the riot and found another video showing the destruction in a report broadcast by G1 on November 6, 2017. The journalist covering the incident explains, at 24 seconds, “the attack was filmed with a cellphone and leaked on social media." The video shows a group knocking over electrical poles.

It’s not the first time that this video has been shared in the wrong context. Just last year, people were sharing it, claiming it showed an attack by the Brazilian anti-globalization movement MST, or the Landless Workers Movement. In November 2020, the Brazilian Checamos fact-checking team at French press agency AFP looked into it and explained its origins.

But the videos of this attack were associated with the HAARP conspiracy theory very early on, as shown by this Facebook post from December 11, 2017, which we found by doing a reverse image search on the search engine Yandex. The caption, in English, says “People destroy HAARP antennas in Brazil.” When we searched on Google, we pulled up this Youtube video that was posted online on December 6.

The video regularly pops up in circles inhabited by people who believe in the theory. This video from January 2018, for example, garnered 60,000 views.

One possible reason that it has resurfaced this month is that there have been a number of natural disasters since early July. There were mudslides in Japan, Hurricane Elsa over the Atlantic and violent storms and floods all over the globe. Instead of blaming the phenomenon on climate change, adherents of the theory say it is actually a secret weapon adversely affecting the climate.

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