"I get this strange burning sensation when I riot."
March 2, 2001 6:38 AM   Subscribe

"I get this strange burning sensation when I riot." The Pentagon wants to produce a crowd-dispersal weapon that sends electromagnetic waves up to 700 yards, making people in its wake feel like their skin has been stuck in a microwave. Supposedly there are no side effects. (The NY Times' coverage has a photo of the device strapped to a Humvee.) One of these could really come in handy on the morning commute.
posted by werty (16 comments total)
We just did this one.
posted by jpoulos at 7:13 AM on March 2, 2001

Well, considering the comments on that topic went astray, and there's new information in a new article, let's bring the conversation over here:

I wonder if anyone will take into account the psychological effects of "a non-lethal burning sensation," especially in the likely event that many of such devices are used in collusion to disperse/reroute crowds. "Cruel and Unusual" doesn't apply exclusively to war games; it's supposed to be a universal human right [see Article 5]. In other words, when this device gains acceptance by domestic "peacekeepers," don't wait too long before police forces in Seattle, Washington, and Québec City get their hands on them.

I know tear gas and rubber bullets have already passed beyond fundamental criticism, but making someone believe they are actually burning, and from an unknown cause [with no visual clues, like smoke or guns firing] -- this will make people genuinely fear for their lives, the hallmark of insidious torture.
posted by legibility at 7:42 AM on March 2, 2001

If I was caught in a large crowd of unruly people and suddenly felt a burning sensation all over - I'm not sure how I would know which way to run to avoid it...

Maybe they can just flick it on and off a few times :)
posted by fuzzynavel at 7:49 AM on March 2, 2001

That was a wonderful title :)
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:09 AM on March 2, 2001

How do they know what it feels like to have your skin in a microwave. I have nevr been able to get the door shut...
posted by donkeymon at 8:15 AM on March 2, 2001

The following was taken from http://www.patriotsonguard.org/dip100499.htm.
* Psychological Disorders:
Because of the disarranged brain waves, negative psychological effects also result. These include loss of
memory and ability to concentrate, suppressed emotional threshold, deceleration of intellective processes and
interruptive sleep episodes in a statistically higher percentage of individuals subjected to continual
range-emission field effects of microwave apparatus, from either cooking apparatus or transmission stations.

Is it the burning sensation, or suddenly forgetting what you were rioting about that makes this weapon work? I'm the type of person that freaks out when someone opens a Microwave door before pressing stop. I've also read somewhere that it is a good idea not to have your microwave below belt-level unless you'd like to earn a Darwin Award :)
posted by samsara at 8:28 AM on March 2, 2001

Were I to be using my cell phone in a crowd that this device was aimed at, would it intefere with reception?
posted by Postroad at 9:42 AM on March 2, 2001

Would an aluminum-foil hat protect against this? How about a full-body Mylar suit?

Or would it just make you spark all over *and* feel a burning sensation?
posted by beth at 9:57 AM on March 2, 2001

Put aluminum-foil in your microwave and nuke for let's say, 10 seconds. After seeing the results of this experiment, you'll understand where my concerns lay if this was aimed at a rioting mob of paranoid schizophrenics wearing tinfoil hats. (They shield from alien thought reading, I colored mine purp-le)
posted by samsara at 10:19 AM on March 2, 2001

Clearly this is a valuable addition to the force continuum, and I have no problem with peacekeepers feeling more comfortable about using this as opposed to, say, shooting people.

Home page of Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program. They have a number of wacky sci-fi devices under development, but the ones on the cusp of reality, including the Active Denial System (see image). The Marine Times has a little more info:
"The weapon is designed to stop people by firing millimeter-wave electromagnetic energy in a beam that quickly heats up the surface of the victim’s skin. Within seconds the person feels pain that officials said is similar to touching a hot light bulb." I think, beth, that it would pass through clothing easily -- but probably wouldn't be as intense. To really protect against it, you'd probably have to have some thin sheet of metal around you, say, metallic threads woven into clothing. Some other microwave-absorbent materials may be more effective.

I'm not so worried about the political implications of the weapon domestically -- after all, guns don't kill people and all that -- since that's a matter of political controls. Using something like this would be akin to indiscriminately billy-clubbing people in a crowd. The classic application of a weapon like this would have been Mogadishu. There, the force continuum went from close-quarter police batons to M16s. The Somalis weren't afraid to use kids as young as ten to throw stones or even shoot -- and gunmen would hide behind civilians (!!). The chaos would have been more manageable if there had been a non-lethal alternative.
posted by dhartung at 10:32 AM on March 2, 2001

Effective Counter Measures Revealed
You may need to expand these instructions a bit for a whole body suit, or check here.

Seriously though: NPR report this morning says: energy penetrates the skin to a depth of 1/64th inch. How could this possibly disrupt brainwaves?
posted by daver at 10:41 AM on March 2, 2001

I'm wondering about crowd control and whether you really want a whole group of angry people fleeing a scene. Sounds like there might be some trampling going on. 'Course, it would really suck to be an innocent bystander in this case.
posted by amanda at 2:07 PM on March 2, 2001

daver: In all seriousness as well, brainwaves do extend outside the cranium. And I would think that it would take something of less intensity than lets say, having that burning sensation, to cause any side effects due to microwave exposure. It's radiation no matter how you look at it...and radiation has that quality of sticking around for awhile after it's discharged. Whether this device does or does not cause these side effects, I haven't seen enough to convince me as of yet. But even if it does have psychological impacts (other than the feeling of being under a large magnifying glass), I wonder if the military would see that as a downside....or one of the perks.
posted by samsara at 6:47 AM on March 3, 2001

samsara, you may want to check the differential usage of the terms radiation and radioactivity. Microwaves are radiation (so are light and heat), but they are not radioactive.

The military are not claiming "brainwave disruption", only psychological side-effects from being quickly sunburned.
posted by dhartung at 8:29 AM on March 3, 2001

interesting...I'd still prefer the term "nuked", but thanks for pointing out my mistake in terminology. The patriotsonguard.org link about brainwave disruption was just me joking around BTW. I suppose they'll know of any side effects after testing. "Really, what would happen if you aimed this at someone's eye?"
posted by samsara at 3:16 PM on March 3, 2001

This is certainly a better alternative than shooting people. I don't think people are worried about that, but that police will find it a better alternative than letting people peaceably demonstrate.
posted by fable at 3:17 PM on March 3, 2001

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