The Dec. 9 earthquake site in Robbinston, Maine. U.S. Geological Survey

A week ago, a small earthquake struck the tiny town of Robbinston between Moneymaker Lake and Trimble Mountain.

It’s a quiet, pretty, out-of-the-way spot in Washington County, several miles off Route 1 on the road north from the sea to Calais.

But to hear some folks on the fringe tell it, the U.S. Geological Survey, which reported the Dec. 9 earthquake, wasn’t telling everything.

What really happened, they say, is that the U.S. military dropped a bunker-buster bomb on a hidden horde of Chinese troops.

In their telling, World War III is underway, and the Pine Tree State is pretty much Ground Zero.

“Who is spreading this nonsense?” asked attorney John Hawkes, who lives in Robbinston. “It was just a mild earthquake.”

A story on the Dark Outpost website touts radio host Hal Turner’s claim that the U.S. bombed a secret Chinese base in Robbinston, Maine.

“The social media people are getting carried away,” Hawkes said Tuesday. “Unfortunately because of the pandemic, there are people with nothing much to do except spread nonsense on the internet.”

The invasion tale apparently started soon after the earthquake with a broadcast the night of the earthquake by New Jersey radio host Hal Turner, a right-wing commentator who proclaims that he focuses on the news the media refuses to cover.

That night, he told listeners he had “devastating, dangerous, serious stuff to talk about” and proceeded to tell them that the site of the alleged quake was actually “an underground facility with Chinese troops inside the United States who had been brought by boat from the Bay of Fundy.”

More than 50,000 of those troops died, he said, when the U.S. dropped a 30,000-pound, bunker-busting bomb on the facility to try to thwart a longstanding Chinese effort to take over America.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we got real trouble,” Turner said. “I am the only media outlet reporting this.”

Turner, though, is not a reliable source of information.

Politifact said Turner “uses internet and radio broadcasts to float conspiracy theories and hate speech. In 2010, he was sentenced to 33 months in prison for threatening three federal judges over their decision to uphold handgun bans in Chicago.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center called Turner “a white supremacist true believer who has used radio and internet broadcasts to disseminate his hate.”

After his broadcast, the Robbinston, Maine, tale spread like wildfire through a network of conspiracy-minded websites, videos and radio shows that have planted the idea among untethered Americans that Russia, China and the United Nations are teaming up to grab hold of the United States.

Many residents in town have heard the chatter.

“We just laughed at it,” resident Barbara Stanhope said Tuesday.

Robbinston is “just as secluded as it can be,” she said. Even the nearest store is 20 miles away, she said.

Joan Siem, a longtime resident of Robbinston, said Tuesday that she and her husband have been bombarded with phone calls the last few days from people wondering whether they’ve seen any Chinese troops.

“We know almost everybody in Robbinston,” Siem said, and the only thing they’ve seen are lobster boats and locals.

She said many of the people asking questions are earnest and serious so she answers them politely.

If 50,000 Chinese soldiers somehow appeared in town, she said, “it would cause a sensation.”

“I don’t know where they’d stay,” Stanhope joked. She said the whole town only takes five minutes to drive through so “there’s nothing we’d miss” going on, let alone a big foreign army encamped nearby.

“You hear about conspiracy theories,” Siem said, “but you really don’t expect them to end in Robbinston, Maine.”

The town’s fire chief, Robert Merrill, said Tuesday that he went out after the earthquake to check on the sole camp that’s near the spot pinpointed by the government as the site of the tremblor.

“It’s still there,” he said, “No Chinese, no craters.”

Merrill said he’s heard chitchat about a supposed Chinese attack, but dismissed it as crazy.

“I’m still here,” he said. “Everything’s hunky-dory.”

Those spreading the tale don’t explain how the foreign soldiers arrived without anyone noticing — supposedly camping out in the Maine woods for years while somehow building a big base for 50,000 of them despite the absence of so much as a road to the site — or why nobody managed to get at least some blurry video of the explosion.

Many of those sharing information about the supposed attack on social media also proclaim all sorts of other dubious notions, including an insistence that COVID-19 is fake.

Siem said she finds it frightening that people are so quick to believe these kinds of stories that are clearly not true.

Conspiracy tales “mix people up about what reality is,” she said, and leave them open to ever more iffy propositions. They’ve stopped knowing who to trust, Siem said, and basically take the attitude that “it’s your word against ours” instead of pausing to think about what makes sense.

Some wonder if the Chinese troops’ tale is tied to a comment about Maine by controversial Republican operative Roger Stone.

“I just learned of absolute incontrovertible evidence of North Korean boats delivering ballots through a harbor in Maine, the state of Maine,” Stone told radio host Alex Jones last month. He did not provide any evidence.

In the last couple of days, a new story is spreading online that the U.S. government is sending tanks to the border near Jackman. Sometimes, pictures intended to prove it are included that were clearly taken when the trees of northern Maine were in their full autumn splendor – probably years ago, if they were taken in Maine at all.

“Social media is a bit out of control,” Siem said.

“I just hope we find a way to be able to rely on what we hear,” she said. “We’re in a funny place.”


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