oil train derailment from directly overhead. Emergency response vehicles and overturned rail cars.

Henry C Jorgenson/Shutterstock (Licensed)

After failing to pin recent train derailments on Russia—conspiracy theorists shift to blaming China

It's the second Ohio trainwreck in weeks.


Claire Goforth


Posted on Mar 6, 2023

Conspiracy theorists are all over the recent string of train derailments in Ohio, including another Norfolk Southern train that wrecked this weekend.

There are multiple unsubstantiated theories circulating online about who is behind the effort, such as Bill Gates, undocumented immigrants, and BlackRock.

An emerging, popular theory now blames China.

On Saturday, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Ohio. This wreck comes just weeks after another of the company’s trains derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, contaminating the area with toxic chemicals. That accident similarly inspired numerous conspiracy theories and viral rumors.

The train that derailed on Saturday wasn’t carrying hazardous materials. But that didn’t stop people from worrying and speculating.

For many, the two derailments have highlighted railway safety issues and problems associated with deregulation and the nation’s aging infrastructure.

For conspiracy theorists, the second derailment can mean only one thing: It’s part of a Chinese plot.

Multiple versions of the baseless claim that China is behind the trainwrecks are circulating online.

One person mixed fact and fiction, wondering whether the derailments are related to secret police stations run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In December, human rights group Safeguard Defenders revealed that China operates over 100 police stations in foreign countries, including the United States. It has permission from some, though not all, of the nations to run these stations, which are ostensibly intended to help Chinese nationals living abroad.

In January, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) demanded an investigation into Chinese police stations on U.S. soil.

China violating U.S. sovereignty by operating an unauthorized police station is an undeniably serious issue—but it is also quite the leap of logic to link that to the Ohio trainwrecks.

A Telegram user opined that the second train derailment demonstrates that “we’re still under CCP-deep state-globalist-communist attack.”

On Twitter, another person linked the much-publicized Chinese spy balloon to the trains. “Ever since the Chinese space balloon was downed, I see a lot more train derailment news in the USA on Twitter,” they wrote. “Hmmm has the Chinese hacked into the U.S. infrastructure?”

Another user suggested that contamination left behind by the East Palestine derailment is proof the Environmental Protection Agency is now run by China. (It isn’t.)

Some theories circulating online are more generalized, such as that Ohio is under attack or the United States is. In the wake of the initial train derailment, Donald Trump Jr. speculated that Russia was retaliating against the U.S. for its actions in Ukraine.

“The question needs to start being asked… if this is an act of deliberate derailment or terrorism,” a Facebook user wrote.

Investigations into the accidents are still in their early phases, but there is thus far no indication that the train derailments were intentional. More credible theories point to deregulation and the railway industry overall prioritizing profits over safety as two significant contributing factors that caused the conditions that led the trains to derail in Ohio.

However reasonable this explanation may be, for conspiracy theorists, it’s a bit too vague. Their theory that China is behind an American company’s trains running off the tracks may not make much sense, but it is much simpler and easier to understand than a confluence of circumstances involving multiple layers of government and industry.

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*First Published: Mar 6, 2023, 11:55 am CST