A contributor to the National Rifle Association's (NRA) Frontlines series suggested that an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on America could kill 90 percent of the population and cause people on food assistance to start “eating each other in the streets.”
The NRA routinely fearmongers that an EMP attack -- where a nuclear bomb is detonated in space, supposedly causing the destruction of the power grid -- would cause widespread chaos and death, even though experts have dismissed such claims as coming from a “crowd of cranks and threat inflators.”
During the September 22 broadcast of the NRA's radio show Cam & Company, Frontlines contributor Chuck Holton promoted an episode of his series featuring former CIA director James Woolsey. Called “The Fight for Light: The Coming Catastrophe,” the episode largely speculated about the prospect of North Korea using a satellite to detonate a nuclear bomb in space to destroy the United States' power grid.
Frontlines is hosted by NRA board member and Iran-Contra figure Oliver North and takes viewers “inside the most dangerous threats and critical events concerning your freedom.”
While promoting the North Korea EMP episode, Holton said on Cam & Company, “Like Admiral Woolsey said in that piece -- you know, this is the former director of the CIA, it's not just some old guy that we found on the street, OK? He knows what he is talking about. And they're estimating that 90 percent of Americans would die in the case of a large-scale grid down situation.”
“You're talking about mass starvation, disease breaking out,” Holton continued. “It's not just like people are going to die because their iPhone doesn't work anymore, you're talking about large scale -- people eating each other in the streets, because when you have these sort of systemic issues in our government of nearly half of the people in the United States receiving some sort of subsidy from the government, imagine what happens when all the EBT cards start flashing zeroes.”
The NRA's claims about the chance of an EMP attack are greatly overblown. For one thing, North Korean satellites are not sophisticated enough to be used as reliable delivery systems for nuclear bombs (and look nothing like the highly-sophisticated satellite depicted as exploding over the United States in the Frontlines' episode.)
As Wired noted after “hysterical headlines” in 2012 about how North Korea had “finally managed to put an object into orbit around the Earth after 14 years of trying,” North Korea's satellite is 2.5 feet by 3.5 feet tall and weighs just 220 pounds. While the satellite was supposed to transmit “scientific data when orbiting over the DPRK and the hymns of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il the rest of the time,” it is apparently non-functional.
Woolsey, whom the NRA's considers its expert on EMP attacks, has also been criticized for his EMP claims and promotion of the conspiracy theory that Iraqis were responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
In a 2013 article in Foreign Policy, nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis criticized Woolsey for a Wall Street Journal op-ed suggesting the United States should launch pre-emptive strike on North Korea to prevent an EMP attack on the United States.
Even if an EMP attack somehow occurred, Lewis demonstrated how past experimentation suggests that the “EMP crowd” has baselessly speculated about what would actually happen during an attack:
Even if we understand how an electromagnetic pulse works and have data about the vulnerability of equipment, a modern system like a power grid or communications network presents just too complex a set of resiliencies and vulnerabilities.
The solution of the EMP Commission was simply to collect more data, essentially creating laundry lists of things that might go wrong. For example, the EMP Commission exposed 37 cars and 18 trucks to EMP effects in a laboratory environment. While EMP advocates claim the results of an EMP attack would be “planes falling from the sky, cars stalling on the roadways, electrical networks failing, food rotting,” the actual results were much more modest. Of the 55 vehicles exposed to EMP, six at the highest levels of exposure needed to be restarted. A few more showed “nuisance” damage to electronics, such as blinking dashboard displays.
The NRA routinely fills its magazines with advertisements for bulk survival food and alternative power sources in case the grid goes offline.
Just before the 2014 elections, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre urged supporters to “vote your guns” while fear mongering over the prospect of a Russia, China or North Korea-led EMP attack that could kill “as much as 90 percent of the population of the U.S.” by bringing about the reemergence of “Third World” diseases like “amoebic dysentery, typhoid, [and] cholera -- killing our youngest and frailest family members.”