Man set fire to 5G cell towers around San Antonio, indictment alleges

Jurors decided there is enough evidence for prosecutors to move forward with six federal arson charges against Sean Aaron Smith.

SAN ANTONIO — A federal grand jury decided there is enough evidence to pursue charges against a man accused of burning five 5G cell phone towers around San Antonio. 

An indictment accuses Sean Aaron Smith of setting fire to the utility poles in 2021 and 2022. 

Arresting documents first obtained by the San Antonio Express News indicate Smith held “anti-government views.” 

It’s not clear whether Smith blames 5G cell towers for the Coronavirus’s spread, but arsonists around the world who subscribe to that baseless conspiracy theory set fire to hundreds of cell towers during the pandemic. 

Michael Mosser is the executive director of the Global Disinformation Lab at the University of Texas. His research includes conspiracy theories about 5G cell phone towers. 

“Never underestimate the power of symbols,” he said. “They feel like they’ve lost control over their own lives, and cell phone towers are right there. We see them. They’re staring at us every day. They do represent something we don’t quite understand and we don’t feel like we’ve got control over.” 

British authorities claim conspiracy theorists burned nearly 100 cell phone towers in a single month in 2020. 

Mosser says 5G conspiracy theories are similar to 20th century fears about electricity transmission lines’ impact on cancer rates. Research has yet to prove electromagnetic frequencies cause health problems. 

“We want certainty,” Mosser said. “We want real-world explanations for something and we’re uncomfortable with ambiguity.” 

Conspiracy theories offer comfort, Mosser said. But the vast majority of people who subscribe to baseless beliefs do not act on those beliefs. 

Those who turn to violence may do so out of desperation. 

“That comes down to the individual rationalization that something needs to be done. They’re going to end up taking action,” he said, noting that psychological factors are likely to influence behavior. 

Prosecutors charge Smith with six counts of arson affecting interstate and foreign commerce. Smith allegedly set fire to the same tower on two separate occasions. 

Smith will appear before a federal judge for the first time on March 15. If convicted, he faces at least five years in prison for each arson charge. 

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