About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair, John Hill and Richard Wiens.


Short takes, outtakes, our takes and other stuff you should know about public information, government accountability and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

Bad news travels fast: The Sunshine Blog has resisted reporting on some of the crazy talk that has been spreading on social media about the origin of the Aug. 8 wildfires on Maui. You never know when someone might actually believe it.

First we heard that a Directed Energy Weapon shot from a satellite ignited the landscape near Lahaina. Then came reports that wealthy land speculators torched West Maui so they could buy land at bargain prices.

But the conspiracy theory unearthed by NewsGuard, a site that tracks and catalogs false narratives that spread online, and its extensive research debunking this tall tale is worth sharing.

Here’s the first paragraph of NewsGuard’s exclusive report published Monday, and the rest of the story is a fascinating read:

“Dozens of pro-China social media and blog accounts are spreading the false claim that an experimental U.S. military weapon caused the August 2023 Maui wildfires — in what appears to be part of a coordinated online campaign to portray the U.S. military in a negative light, NewsGuard has found.”

NewsGuard traced the first post, on Aug. 14, to a Chinese user in Gansu, then followed it as it spread around the world and on many platforms.

The social media accounts push the narrative that a U.S. “weather weapon” — a secret experimental weapon gone awry — started the fire and that the U.S. action had been discovered by MI6, the British intelligence agency, which even put out a statement “revealing the amazing truth” about what happened.

NewsGuard found none of that to be true. Read how.

  • A Special Commentary Project

The fire this time: In case you missed conservative commentator Joe Rogan’s podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience” the other day, the topic was the Maui wildfires and the guests were Tulsi Gabbard and BJ Penn.

Gabbard, who represented Maui in Congress for eight years, sounded not a little like a member of the Civil Beat Sunshine Editorial Board, fulminating against the lack of transparency and accountability on the part of Maui County officials.

Gabbard, now a frequent Fox News personality, lambasted what she called a “total vacuum of information from government officials to the people.” That vacuum has led to all sorts of theories, she said, about what started the fire while people were left “without any communication from anyone in a position of authority to provide help for days and weeks.”

No wonder, then, that there is so much distrust in all levels of government, a government that should instead be “bending over backwards to answer our questions.”

Gabbard said she was not sure whether she had ever met Richard Bissen, but she does believe he did not do his job as Maui mayor.

“The result of their decisions left people and families and communities stranded in their most dire time of need, and the mayor didn’t go out and show his face until almost two weeks after the fire happened,” she said.

“That’s insane,” said Rogan.

“It’s crazy,” said Gabbard.

At that point Penn, the former MMA fighter and failed gubernatorial candidate, said this: “And then he says he wants to take the land for the state.”

No, Gabbard corrects him, that was Gov. Josh Green. Rogan and Gabbard then proceeded to discuss how the people of Maui might want to start calling themselves Ukrainians so that the federal government will give them money.

“How about give the fucking people their homes back,” Rogan adds, arguing that Green should not bother with workforce housing or a memorial to the victims.

“Exactly,” Gabbard agrees, adding that losing land to the state is the No. 1 concern of people in Lahaina.


Read this next:

Naka Nathaniel: Here’s A Better Way To Help Hawaii


Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.

Contribute

About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair, John Hill and Richard Wiens.


Latest Comments (0)

Well done. Keeping the Fed reminded of Lahaina loss is imperative.I'm not sure showing a Banana Tree is the right type of growth or resilience to show, tho.Most of them Mainland guys look at Hawaii as a half-way Banana Republic.

Fairhouser · 5 months ago

Personalities and politics aside, disinformation springs up when transparency is perceived to be lacking. People who are comfortable with the thoroughness and accuracy of the information they are receiving do not need to turn to fringe sources of crazy info.

CatManapua · 5 months ago

Crazy how many uninformed conspiracy theorists think Lahaina is some kind of anomaly. Incompetent, corrupt governments allow people to suffer and die every single day. The U.S. is no exception. Rogan, Gabbard, and Penn are all old enough to remember New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. I don't know why they're so surprised by our government's disregard for citizens' lives. It's easier for people to believe in conspiracy theories than to acknowledge government officials and corporations have no concern for us. It's not a conspiracy, it's business as usual. Gabbard seems to understand this more than the conspiracy theorists who follow Rogan, Penn, social media hacks, etc. If you're too young to remember Hurricane Katrina or didn't pay attention when it happened, there are plenty documentaries to show you how much the government does not care about people.

ALC20 · 5 months ago

Join the conversation

About IDEAS

IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.

Mahalo!

You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.