Congressional candidate James P. Bradley told an online program that “there's a lot of truth” to the claim that a “ray beam” started the deadly 2018 Camp Fire in California, a conspiracy theory that originated from fringe internet sources.
Bradley is a Republican who is running against Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu in California’s 33rd Congressional District. The California Republican Party has endorsed his bid and stated in January that it’s “proud to endorse” him.
The Camp Fire was a horrific wildfire that occurred in November 2018. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection stated that it “burned a total of 153,336 acres, destroying 18,804 structures and resulting in 85 civilian fatalities and several firefighter injuries. The Camp Fire is the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. ... After a very meticulous and thorough investigation, CAL FIRE has determined that the Camp Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity (PG&E) located in the Pulga area."
The natural disaster gave rise to conspiracy theories, especially on the internet. The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer wrote in November 2018 that “some corners of the right-wing internet are already cooking up a conspiracy theory to explain the fires in California: airborne laser attacks meant to clear the way for high-speed rail.” Sommer added:
The idea that the fires were created to make way for a rail line rests primarily on a graphic that purports to compare the areas damaged by fire with the layout of the California high speed rail system.
In fact, as Snopes points out, the graphic is incredibly misleading, comparing fire advisory areas, rather than actual burned areas, to an outdated map of the proposed high-speed rail. When compared to a current map of the rail plan, the two graphics don’t match up at all.
Bradley seized on a version of that conspiracy theory during a May 8 appearance on the online program Steel Truth with host Ann Vandersteel, a QAnon believer who has pushed a variety of other toxic conspiracy theories. (Bradley and Vandersteel did not talk about QAnon on the show.)
During the program, Vandersteel discussed natural disasters and asked Bradley if he thought “some of this stuff, frankly, has been intentional?” During his response, Bradley stated: “There's a lot of suspicion, and I think there's a lot of truth to this, that they had a lot of the -- as you -- when you put in the new homes you have the meters that go in there -- these meters were set off by some, a ... ray beam that blew up these meters in the start of the Paradise fire, which took so many lives.”
He added: “So is it planned? I don't want to go down that rabbit hole, but I can tell you there's a lot of questions that need to be answered now.”
From the program:
ANN VANDERSTEEL (HOST): Do you think some of this stuff, frankly, has been intentional? I mean, President Trump went out, looked at your forest fires and there was so much dead timber that was kindling fuel for forest fires. I mean, even if lightning started these forest fires, you still had a lot of timber down there, so forest fuel to fuel the fires which rage every now and then in your state seemingly out of control. And then the state files for money, they get money from the federal government and the cycle continues. Is this something that can be stopped?
JAMES P. BRADLEY: Well, the only way you stop it is get rid of the career politicians that have been playing into this. Started under the [former California Gov. Jerry] Brown team where he took the funding away from the forestry services to do the proper, I wouldn't say deforestation, it was basically proper grooming and cleaning the brush off.
There's a lot of suspicion, and I think there's a lot of truth to this, that they had a lot of the -- as you -- when you put in the new homes you have the meters that go in there -- these meters were set off by some, a lucid ray beam that blew up these meters in the start of the Paradise fire, which took so many lives. So is it planned? I don't want to go down that rabbit hole, but I can tell you there's a lot of questions that need to be answered now. And they've been doing it primarily, these natural disasters, is primarily to grab more federal funds because they know that federal, the feds will bail us out. And here we are again, coronavirus, 52 billion, finally came out and they said it. So that is the beginning of the, beginning of the end of the [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom regime. And hopefully with that, some of the other nefarious characters will be taken out as well.
The California Republican Party is also endorsing congressional candidates Buzz Patterson and Nikka Piterman, who have both supported the violence-linked QAnon conspiracy theory that originated on far-right message boards. It is additionally backing Mark Reed, a radio host who posted a conspiracy theory meme to social media claiming that it's “odd that the George Floyd psy-op” happened “just as COVID-19 loses traction.” The CAGOP recently dropped its endorsement of QAnon-supporter and congressional candidate Mike Cargile after Media Matters reported that he wrote an anti-Black rant on Facebook in which he used the n-word and also repeatedly shared bigoted memes on the platform.