Near the beginning of Donald Trump’s time in office, the then-president had a pressing question for his national-security aides and administration officials: Does China have the secret technology — a weapon, even — to create large, man-made hurricanes and then launch them at the United States? And if so, would this constitute an act of war by a foreign power, and could the U.S. retaliate militarily? Then-President Trump repeatedly asked about this, according to two former senior administration officials and a third person briefed on the matter.
“It was almost too stupid for words,” said a former Trump official intimately familiar with the then-sitting president’s inquiry. “I did not get the sense he was joking at all.”
The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, tell Rolling Stone that Trump began interrogating national-security officials and other staffers about the alleged weapon during the first year of his presidency, and his question would pop up sporadically until at least 2018. Two of the sources recalled that as Trump got deeper into the second year in his term, he started to drop the topic, and occasionally joked about it.
In certain circles within the upper ranks of Trumpland, the then-leader of the free world’s query became such a mockable occurrence that it became known among some as the “Hurricane Gun” thing.
“I was present [once] when he asked if China ‘made’ hurricanes to send to us,” said the other former senior official. Trump “wanted to know if the technology existed. One guy in the room responded, ‘Not to the best of my knowledge, sir.’ I kept it together until I got back to my office… I do not know where the [then-]president would have heard about that… He was asking about it around the time, maybe a little before, he asked people about nuking hurricanes.”
This patently boneheaded line of inquiry from Trump, which has not been previously reported, was merely one instance in an administration overflowing with Trump’s rampantly absurd, conspiracy-theory-powered ideas and policy proposals, many of which were ignored or shot down, thus avoiding additional atrocities. Last week, it was revealed that Trump’s former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper wrote in his new memoir that his ex-boss wanted to attack Mexico with missiles — during peacetime between the two nations — and then try to pin the blame on another country.
Despite leaving office in disgrace, Trump has continued on as the undisputed leader of the Republican Party and by far its most popular and influential national figure. He is currently the clear favorite to win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, should he ultimately decide to launch another campaign. Though a final decision has not yet been made, Trump has strongly signaled to a variety of associates and counselors that he intends to run again, having made it his mission to turn his anti-democratic lies about the 2020 election being “stolen” from him into party orthodoxy.
A Trump spokesperson did not provide comment on this story.
“That does not surprise me at all,” says Stephanie Grisham, a former top Trump aide who has since had a very public break with the Trumps. Though Grisham said she was not privy to the “Hurricane Gun” chatter, she simply noted: “Stuff like that was not unusual for him. He would blurt out crazy things all the time, and tell aides to look into it or do something about it. His staff would say they’d look into knowing that more often than not, he’d forget about it quickly — much like a toddler.”
Trump’s “hurricane gun” inquiries add to a list of odd beliefs the former president holds not just about climate science in general — which he has called a hoax “created by and for the Chinese” — but hurricanes in particular. During the 2019 hurricane season, Trump insisted on telling the public that Hurricane Dorian was headed towards Alabama, which no models had predicted. Trump later appeared with a map that appeared to have been edited to include a projection of the storm hitting Alabama. The incident, dubbed Sharpiegate for Trump’s erroneous marking of a map, led to an inspector general’s report which concluded that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had falsely backed up Trump’s claim about the hurricane’s path as a result of White House pressure.
At times, Trump’s comments about possible Wile E Coyote-style weapons have touched on similarly bizarre ideas mulled by the U.S. during the Cold War.
During the 2019 hurricane season, Trump reportedly kept suggesting to aides that the U.S. bomb hurricanes with nuclear weapons in the mistaken belief that the explosions would somehow mitigate or destroy the tropical storms — an idea first floated by eccentric Cold War scientists working on Project Plowshare, which tried to brainstorm peaceful uses for nuclear weapons.
The U.S. Air Force’s Project Popeye aimed to use cloud seeding — dropping salts and dry ice into clouds in order to induce rain and snowfall — to try and defeat the insurgency in South Vietnam.
“The idea behind it was that we could we slow down weapons and materials getting from North to South Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh trail by creating a monsoon season year round so that trail would be unpassable,” explains Vince Houghton, a historian whose book, Nuking the Moon, chronicles some of the more bizarre failed weapons of the Cold War.
While cloud seeding works to create precipitation, it can’t create hurricanes, which inflict damage primarily through strong winds and high storm surges rather than rainfall. But China’s investment in cloud-seeding technology for agricultural production and disaster mitigation has prompted conspiracy theories in the kinds of right-wing fever swamps that often inform MAGA discourse.
More recently, right-wing believers in the QAnon conspiracy theories have taken to arguing that President Joe Biden used a Chinese-made weather weapon to send the freezing weather that crippled Texas power lines as Sen. Ted Cruz fled to Cancun, Mexico.