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In the early hours of Sunday, June 10, a webcam set up to watch Puget Sound near Whidbey Island, WA, caught what looks exactly like a missile being fired into the sky.
My good night cam picked up what appears to be a large missile launch on Whidbey Island Sunday AM. I sat on it for a while. After sharing with Cliff Mass he did a blog on it. https://t.co/jBPXRtRGFP @NWSSeattle @WunderCave @WeatherNation pic.twitter.com/RnN8H3IsQ9— Skunkbayweather (@Skunkbayweather) June 11, 2018
After the owner of the webcam posted the picture on Twitter the next day, it was immediately seized upon by followers of the online persona known as Q Anon. Their hypothesis: not only was this a missile, but it was fired by anti-Trump forces in an effort to shoot down Air Force One, then on its way to Singapore for the summit with Kim Jong Un.
And how do they know this? Because of secret clues left in the misspelled words Trump used on Twitter in the days around the summit indicating that the missile had been shot down. It’s a technique Trump supposedly uses often to convey information to Q Anon believers.
Conspiracy theories like the “Whidbey Island Missile” work because the human brain is extremely susceptible to both confirmation bias and pareidolia, the phenomenon where we see patterns and shapes where none exist.
In the case of the “missile,” it really looks like what we think a missile looks like. Then, other people see the same image and confirm that they think it looks like what we think it looks like.
Missile launch? Mysterious object over Washington state raises questions... https://t.co/IIdeBgrMY2— DRUDGE REPORT (@DRUDGE_REPORT) June 12, 2018
Ergo, it’s a missile because it looks like what a missile looks like.
However, to look at the picture and declare it has to be a missile because it looks like a missile is to ignore a great deal of other evidence that it’s not a missile To take a step back, what exactly is the photo? How was it taken? And where?
Whidbey Island is a long, rugged island in Puget Sound, north of Seattle. It’s 168 square miles, and has a population of over 80,000 people.
The webcam belongs to the owner of the website SkunkBayWeather, and is one of four that broadcast a live feed of the weather in the Skunk Bay area on the south edge of Whidbey Island, all situated in Hansville, south of the island, and pointing north.
A 'lens flare'. Riiiiiight. https://t.co/pDyDiFHNYX— Scott Philbrook (@AstonshngLegnds) June 12, 2018
A writer with the tech website The War Zone reached out to the webcam’s owner, who confirmed that it’s his, that the picture is real, and that the camera captures images every 40-45 seconds, with a 20 second exposure.
These details are important because they help establish what the image actually is.
But first, how do we know it’s NOT a missile? Whidbey Island does have a naval base, and the Navy has a number of other bases in the area, including a base for nuclear submarines (along with thousands of warheads) about 60 miles south of that base, Naval Submarine Base Bangor.
Could it have been fired from either the Whidbey Island base or a submarine from Bangor?
It couldn’t have been fired from Whidbey Island itself, because that base is a small airfield with no offensive or defensive missile launchers.
97) There are many military installations near Whidbey Island.— Praying Medic (@prayingmedic) June 13, 2018
Whidbey Naval Air Station at Oak Harbor is on the island but has nothing (at least that I know of) that could vertically launch such a missile. #Qanon pic.twitter.com/6BY35qYutz
Could it have been a submarine? Again, it’s possible, but the Navy doesn’t test missiles in Puget Sound for a good reason, it’s a heavily populated area, and what goes up must come down. And submarines don’t actually have the ability to launch missiles and hit high, fast-moving planes. Several anti-aircraft missiles have been tested in submarines, and none have entered wide use.
The Navy and the Whidbey Island base both confirmed to local news that there were no submarines or Navy planes in the area, and that the base has no ability to fire a large missile.
Beyond that, the time lapse picture of the object is the only proof of the “missile launch.” Nobody on the island reported hearing or seeing a missile launch, nor of seeing a launched missile destroyed. If the missile went up, it must have come down, or at least parts of it must have come down. And there are no reports of any missile or missile debris coming down anywhere in the Puget Sound area.
Some researchers claim the object in sky is the cone of a missile, next to AF1?— Melanie Lauren (@Sweetemmilyn) June 13, 2018
Attempted assassination? UFO?
Stopped by our own submarine? Or was our submarine hacked, used to launch a missile?
"Launch" from Whidbey Island was Sunday 6/10 3:56am#Qanon pic.twitter.com/W80fz4HztP
So if it’s not a missile, what’s the object in the picture?
It’s conceivable that the object could be a plane taking off from Whidbey Island and immediately firing its afterburners, but such a maneuver would be extremely loud, and again, nobody reported hearing any kind of disturbing noise at the time.
The virtue of a picture snapped at 4:00am is that there’s not much in the air at the time. The War Zone studied data from flight tracking app FlightRadar24 and found just two objects flying near Skunk Bay at that time—an Alaska Airlines flight descending from the northwest that would have been out of frame of the camera, and an air ambulance flying north that was exactly in the path of the camera at the exact time the picture was snapped.
In all likelihood, the image is that helicopter, caught in a long exposure in low light, with the running lights from its tail forming the arc of the “flames” coming from the “missile.” The air ambulance company confirmed FlightRadar24’s data, seemingly putting the matter to rest.
It’s not a sexy or dramatic explanation, but it’s the one that squares the best with the available facts, and discards special pleading or secret knowledge.
Of course, Q Anon is all about special pleading and secret knowledge. So when Q dropped a picture of the “missile” with the caption “This is not a game. Certain events were not suppose [sic] to take place,” it sent Q Anon followers into overdrive with theories and clues.
From the “research” they were able to put together, Q believers “figured out” that was a missile fired by someone in the deep state to shoot down Air Force One. The big clue came from Trump himself, who followed his usual pattern of tweeting misspelled words as a code to announce in regards to North Korea that “all missle launches have stoped,” misspelling “missile” and “stopped.”
The fact that I am having a meeting is a major loss for the U.S., say the haters & losers. We have our hostages, testing, research and all missle launches have stoped, and these pundits, who have called me wrong from the beginning, have nothing else they can say! We will be fine!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 11, 2018
And Q’s post included the grammatically incorrect use of the word “suppose,” missing the letter “d.” Sure enough, Q’s very next post drew attention to the missing “d,” inferring that the “d” stood for “Donald.”
So was Air Force One near Whidbey Island at the time? It wasn’t even close. The plane landed at Paya Lebar Airbase in Singapore at 8:20pm local time on the 10th, which was 8:20am in Seattle—four hours after the “missile launch.”
For the missile to get anywhere near the plane would mean it would have to fly thousands of miles west, through the airspace of multiple countries—and hit an airplane flying west to east.
To think this could happen with nobody knowing simply isn’t credible, and as a plan to assassinate the president, it’s utterly useless.
Mike Rothschild is a writer who specializes in researching and debunking conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs. He also writes about politics, history, and breaking news.