Upcoming Eclipse Prompts Viral Conspiracy Theories

A partial solar eclipse. (Photo by Camilo Freedman/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

On April 8, 2024, the United States will experience only its second visible total solar eclipse since 1979. In the time-honored tradition of eclipse speculation—in Ancient China, for example, it was commonly believed that, during an eclipse, a celestial dragon consumed the sun—a number of conspiracy theories have found purchase online. “This is getting wild, the National Guard is going to be here now for the solar eclipse,” the narrator in one viral video says. “But things get much weirder. The 22 members of an elite chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear unit will be housed in Broken Bow, in addition to 110 to 150 Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers. They’re also urging residents to stock up with one to two weeks of food in advance of the event and to have full fuel tanks. They’re also saying that it’s likely that communication facilities could be overloaded, possibly making it difficult to make cell phone calls. Similar warnings are going out in different states including Noblesville Fire Department in Texas, and apparently schools are canceled this day.” The video’s audio appears to originate from TikTok creator WFF News, who regularly posts short clips and narrations about news stories—many of which garner millions of views on the platform. 

Americans can rest assured, however, that the role of Oklahoma National Guard is just to assist with the massive influx of tourists expected in the southern part of the state that’s in the path of totality, where the sun will be completely covered by the moon for several minutes. “McCurtain County Emergency Management requested our support because they expect up to 100,000 additional people visiting their communities to watch the eclipse,” Lt. Col. Jabonn Flurry, commander of the Oklahoma National Guard’s 63rd Civil Support Team (CST), said in a statement. “This influx of visitors has the potential to overtax local resources and thanks to the training and experience our Guardsmen have working alongside local agencies all across Oklahoma, the CST is uniquely qualified to support our fellow Oklahomans.” 

The 63rd Civil Support Team (CST) is a specialist unit within Oklahoma’s National Guard that primarily focuses on supporting local authorities in the event of an emergency related to a weapon of mass destruction—such as a chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological attack—or other disasters. There are currently 57 CST teams across the country—one in each state and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, plus a second team in California, Florida, and New York. According to the Oklahoma National Guard, the 63rd CST’s presence during the April 8 eclipse will allow its resources to respond to HAZMAT emergencies such as an industrial fire, freeing up local emergency responders to focus on the needs of local citizens and visitors to the area.

Some local authorities—including the Noblesville Fire Department (which is in Indiana, not Texas, as the video claims)—are advising citizens to prepare by filling up gas tanks and stocking up on groceries. These advisories are not due to an expected emergency, however, but instead because heavy traffic is anticipated and local resources are expected to be strained as tens of thousands of tourists seek out the best locations to watch the eclipse.

Some school districts across the country have announced closures or early releases on April 8, particularly in areas directly in the eclipse’s path of totality. These closures are primarily to address that it may be unsafe for students to contend with heavy traffic, large crowds, and distracted drivers when trying to get to and from school. “School districts in other regions of the country that have experienced total eclipses like this have encountered those issues and the district decided to make the switch,” Meghan Piper, a public information officer for Liverpool School District in New York, told Central New York’s NewsChannel 9 WSYR.

Additional information on where and when to best view the April 8 eclipse can be found here. Just remember to always practice proper ophthalmological safety, lest readers wish to be quoted by The Dispatch Fact Check in a future story on eclipse blindness.

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