Firework conspiracy theories: why you should be skeptical

When Anne-Marcelle Ngabirano started listening to fireworks in late May, she discovered that celebratory sounds were welcome. But for the next few weeks, they rang closer and closer to their three-bedroom apartment in Sunset Park, until the booms started shaking the walls and the apartment filled with smoke.

“My roommate had just recovered from Covid,” she said. “It was difficult to breathe.”

Then one night last week, Ms. Ngabirano, a documentary filmmaker, stood up and was forced to investigate the source. Instead, what she found showed how the proliferation of fireworks in recent weeks has led to a series of unproven and wacky conspiracy theories.

The avalanche of illegal fireworks, heard in nighttime bursts, explosions, and explosions across the city and country, has escalated to such an extent that some people are desperately seeking explanations for the chaos, with many suggesting government complicity.

Conspiracy theories have been widely shared on social media and appeared in flyers in New York City parks. They have flourished as national scrutiny of police brutality and racism has revealed deep mistrust of law enforcement.

But interviews with city officials, industry experts, fireworks retailers, law enforcement officials, and people who buy fireworks tell a very different story. As is often the case with conspiracy theories, they said the truth is not a plot made by the government, but a very simple one: after months of quarantine and social estrangement, people get bored and fireworks for fun, and watch fireworks simply makes fireworks enthusiasts want to pop more fireworks.

Fireworks are legally sold through state lines in neighboring states like Pennsylvania. They’re for sale in bulk at bargain prices as companies, recently reopened due to the pandemic, encounter consumers eager for a flashy diversion or illegal resale opportunity, particularly as the weather warms and Independence Day is coming.

The video of Ms. Ngabirano, which she posted on Twitter, showed fireworks exploding right next to a police station, and said officers were standing outside, apparently not caring.

The video was shared thousands of times and people flooded their account with messages saying that their video was evidence that the government was using fireworks as a form of psychological warfare, with light and noise intended to desensitize people. at potentially increasing levels of force.

Ms. Ngabirano, 25, said she did not believe that.

“I am very careful with social media and conspiracy theories,” he said. “I thought this is what I have, this is what I can show you. Whatever you do about that, I can’t take responsibility for that. It was happening in front of me. That is all I can confirm.

A video also appeared recently of what appeared to be fireworks lit in front of a fire station; The Fire Department said it was under investigation.

The New York Police Department denied giving fireworks to anyone, but did not respond to additional requests for comment on where the illegal fireworks might come from or if they had seized an unusual number of fireworks this year. The Police Department generally detonates illegally seized fireworks every summer before July 4.

But before fireworks hit New York City, many appear to come from stores in Pennsylvania, where a 2017 law expanded the types of fireworks that people could buy in the state to include antennas or products that can fire more than 100 feet up in the air before exploding.

Some of the conspiracy theories mention the size and seemingly professional nature of fireworks. But Julie L. Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, said most of the fireworks she has seen on social media or on the news do not appear to be professional and can be legally purchased in several states.

Entrepreneurs are buying fireworks in bulk, advertising them through social media accounts, and some people are finally illegally selling car products in New York neighborhoods.

“The past few weeks have been like the day before July 4 every day,” said Kenneth Crissinger, deputy manager for Phantom Fireworks in Matamoras, Pennsylvania, about 130 miles northwest of New York City. “We cannot keep our shelves stocked.”

On a recent trip to Phantom, one of the largest fireworks retailers with stores and showrooms in the entire country, the parking lot was full of out-of-state license plate cars. Groups of young men braved the warehouse without air conditioning on a 90-degree day and filled their trunks to the brim.

“We are looking at the reasons why everyone has accumulated energy for being locked up during quarantine,” said Pat Moran, manager of Phantom Fireworks. “Fireworks is a great release for ventilation. Really is. You can go out and enjoy a little noise, color and explosions. “

He said the stores had just reopened in the last days of May, and that as recently as last week, Phantom was offering a buy one get two free special. Moran said the special sale occurs annually, usually at a time when nobody cares about fireworks. This year, it coincided with the fireworks season.

Moran said he believed the promotion explained, in part, the rise of fireworks in New York.

“And the same can be said for Boston, because we have stores in New Hampshire, just across the border,” he said. “Or our stores in Nevada, which are the closest locations to California.”

On Monday afternoon, Derian Torres, 23, of Passaic, New Jersey, hunted fireworks at Phantom with friends. But I was also fulfilling requests for others through FaceTime.

“A lot of people say, ever since I took the opportunity, buy this for them or buy that for them,” he said. “I bought for three people today and I plan to go back tomorrow and spend another $ 700.”

Instagram accounts that resell Phantom products show just how lucrative the fireworks resale market can be. A small cube called the Fiery Discus, which shoots bursts of red and blue light, recently sold for $ 34.99 with a buy one, receives two free in-store promotions, but was resold on Instagram for $ 50.

On Monday afternoon, about 10 Phantom employees helped unload a 53-foot truck containing approximately 50 pallets, each containing approximately 12 boxes of fireworks. About 90 minutes later, entire sections of the store were completely empty, except for a few assorted boxes with names like Grounds for Divorce, priced at more than $ 1,400.

At Keystone Fireworks, a competing store just a parking lot away, people from Queens, the Bronx, Delaware and Connecticut filled cars with fireworks. After all, Keystone was running his own promotion to buy one and get one for free.

Mayor Bill de Blasio finally promised to crack down on the illegal fireworks earlier this week, after the city received thousands of complaints about its aid and hotlines.

At a press conference Tuesday, Mr. de Blasio said the effort will focus on using law enforcement agencies to disrupt the supply of fireworks to the city, including undercover operations.

On a recent Tuesday night, a man selling fireworks from his car in Washington Heights said he obtained them from a warehouse in Pennsylvania. The man spoke on condition of anonymity because his business was illegal.

“The warehouse will run out of things,” he said. “So when we come back, we come with two loads of cars.”

He sells fireworks for double the sale price. On a recent Sunday, he said, he spent $ 1,500 buying fireworks in Pennsylvania. By Monday night, he said, he had earned $ 4,000. He said he sometimes gives away fireworks.

He said he had not heard the conspiracies being shared on social media about the police or the government supplying fireworks.

“I am not very in tune with the police,” he said. “The police really don’t mess with us. They don’t really bother anyone. I don’t see them arresting anyone, but they don’t give us fireworks. They simply lead directly by us. They don’t even stop. “

However, conspiracy theories continue to spread on social media, particularly through a Twitter account, SonofBaldwin, which belongs to author Robert Jones, Jr.

Jones declined to comment through his publicist.

A thread he posted on Twitter suggesting that the government was providing fireworks to youth had been shared more than 16,000 times.

Except for significant government intervention, there is little sign that the barrage of fireworks is diminishing. Brandon Gecaj, 20, a third-year student at Syracuse University, said he spent $ 716 on Phantom fireworks, more than he intended.

“When you start shopping, you just want to keep buying things,” he said. “It is like an addiction.”