Posts stoke unsupported Sept. 24 disaster theory
CLAIM:Warnings for people to stay inside on Sept. 24, survival pack giveaways, a flier recruiting volunteers for a “mass casualty exercise” and an episode of “The Simpson” are evidence that a large-scale disaster will happen that day.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. This conspiracy theory isn’t supported by credible evidence. It grew online after a German lawmaker misspoke while making remarks about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
THE FACTS: An unfounded conspiracy theory that some sort of catastrophic event is planned for Sept. 24 has spread globally this week online, with internet users pointing to a Denver emergency bag giveaway, a Kansas firefighter training event and a German lawmaker’s slip-up as supposed evidence.
The theory emerged after the leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party, Friedrich Merz, referred to the date Sept. 24 by mistake in a February speech.
In his remarks about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at a Feb. 27 meeting of the Bundestag, or German parliament, Merz misspoke and said Sept. 24 would be a day that people would remember.
But in the official minutes of the Bundestag meeting, Merz’s comments include the date Feb. 24, the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, not Sept. 24. Still, videos of his misstatement have rippled across social media with false claims that a major event is being planned for Sept. 24.
Some social media users went a step further to suggest Germans had been told to stay inside that day. There’s no evidence of a large-scale announcement like this though — neither German lawmakers nor Olaf Scholz, the country’s chancellor, has issued such a warning.
Following the German politician’s slip-up, internet users have grasped for other evidence that might support that something big is going to happen Sept. 24.
Some have even pointed to an episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer joins a survivalist group preparing for the end of the world. It is the ninth episode of the show’s 24th season, which a number of posts note reflects the date Merz mistakenly said.
While some of the posts acknowledged that “The Simpsons” didn’t really make a doomsday prediction, others urged caution. “Just in case this takes place, please be prepared,” one Twitter user wrote with a clip from the episode.
Others have pointed out that Denver’s Office of Emergency Management announced that it was going to hand out what it called “bug out” bags on Sept. 24 in honor of National Preparedness Month. The city’s website advertises the emergency kit giveaway as one of a series of events in its DenverReady initiative educating residents on disaster preparedness.
Social media users shared videos and posts interpreting the giveaway as evidence the bags would be used for some planned doomsday event. “Yes- Denver is handing out bug out bags in the days before Sept. 24th,” one Twitter user wrote. “I have a feeling something terrible is going to happen that day.”
However, the agency released a statement dismissing those claims as “unequivocally false.”
“We have been made aware that a video is circulating social media by a conspiracy theory network alleging our Bug Out bag giveaway for National Preparedness Month is a result of a known/expected disaster expected to happen in Denver,” the statement read. “We want the Denver community to know if we were ever aware of an imminent threat or disaster expected to occur, the first thing we would do is alert our community and the media as your safety is our number one priority.”
As evidence of an impending crisis on Sept. 24, some internet users also pointed to a flier calling for volunteer actors for a simulated “mass casualty exercise” at a fire station in Oskaloosa, Kansas, that day.
“September 24, False Flag Event,” several social media users wrote in posts containing the flier.
Keith Jeffers, emergency manager for Jefferson County, Kansas, where Oskaloosa is located, and whose contact information was listed on the flier, confirmed in a phone interview with The Associated Press that the event was going to be a regular training exercise intended to help firefighters prepare for a potential wildfire incident that involves injuries.
He said the event had been canceled due to cross-country and bike races happening in the community that day, but that he had gotten hundreds of calls from 40 states, as well as countries around the world, about the flier. He said people had even asked him about a potential nuclear event or meteor strike on Sept. 24, and that all of it was “misinformation.”
“We’re receiving phone calls from all over the country, and emails and calls from Canada, Ireland, Puerto Rico,” Jeffers said. “It’s on every social media site that I’ve heard of and a lot that I haven’t heard of. And we’re just trying to stop it.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.