Did a helicopter release a swarm of deadly mosquitoes over the crowd at Baltimore's African American Festival (AFRAM) on June 18, 2023? No, that's not true: An urban entomologist told Lead Stories that day-active mosquitoes in that region do not swarm the way videos showed. The Baltimore Health Department has not had any reports of mosquito-borne illness from the festival. There were helicopters that flew over the festival, and there was a pesky swarm of bugs that appeared late in the day just before the Isley Brothers were to perform -- but this swarm was not comprised of "deadly mosquitoes" intentionally released onto the festival.
The AFRAM festival took place in Baltimore's Druid Hill Park over Juneteenth weekend on June 17 and 18, 2023. An estimated 300,000 people attended. On the evening of June 18, 2023, sometime after 7 p.m., people reported that a swarm of gnats suddenly crashed the party. The bugs were so irritating, some people chose to pack up and leave. Many videos shared online show concertgoers waving their hands and hats in a futile attempt to get the bugs to go away. Most first-person accounts from the park refer to the bugs as gnats.
It didn't take long for some people to suggest that there was a connection between the helicopter and the bugs. At 9:16 p.m. on June 18, 2023, @MrRDot tweeted:
They said thePolice helicopter dropped the gnats on us #AFRAM
Videos of the crowd were posted in the days after the festival, but the full conspiracy narrative did not get rolling for several weeks, changing the bugs from gnats to "deadly mosquitoes." On July 4, 2023, a video was posted to Instagram by @dt_goodvibes with these hashtags:
#usa #what #ig #instagram #trendingreels #maryland #california #florida #texas
Text captioning on the video reads:
Helicopter 🚁 released deadly mosquitoes in Baltimore, MD AFRAM 2023
Baltimore I can't believe yall did us dirty and released those bugs on us
This is how the post appeared at the time of writing:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Fri Jul 14 16:50:13 2023 UTC)
There are many video examples of the crowd's reaction to the bugs that evening. That there was a swarm of bugs is not in question. In posts online, people complained the bugs were getting in their nose, mouth, hair and eyelashes. One woman, @beigeojai, made a vlog news report about the event, and published it on TikTok on June 19, 2023. At 11 seconds into the video there is a shot with dark trees in the background, which provide a backdrop to highlight the volume of bugs hovering in the air. At the 1:09 mark, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott is shown addressing the crowd from the stage saying:
Y'all can deal with the gnats. Y'all dealt with the cicadas, you can handle the gnats. Calm down. Calm down.
Lead Stories was put in contact with Harold Harlan, an urban entomologist in Maryland who was not able to positively identify the swarming bugs because we could not offer him a specimen or a clear photo. He explained in an email received July 13, 2023, that several types of insects, including several species of Diptera, which have two sets of wings, could swarm like this and that the swarm was likely composed of several species. He also clarified that there are a number of species common in the area that share the common name "gnats."
Harlan ruled out the possibility that the swarm was comprised of mosquitoes either released from a helicopter or naturally occurring, stating:
And the idea that a police, or any other, helicopter had dropped those toward the crowd is utter nonsense!!...
Additionally, most mosquitoes native to this region, that are day-active at this time of year, would have a very short flight range (<1/4 mi.) AND would not swarm like those insects shown. They also are ALL much smaller; typically less than 3/8ths of an inch in body length.
Lead Stories reached out to the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) to ask if there had been any reports of mosquito- or insect-borne sickness after the festival. On July 14, 2023, Communications Director Arinze Ifekauche replied:
I can confirm that BCHD has not received any reports of bug-borne illness from Afram.
There were police helicopters that flew over the area that evening. Historic data available to subscribers from Flightradar24.com show that police helicopters did circle over the park several times after 7 p.m. that evening and also flew meandering routes over central Baltimore during flights that lasted about two hours. Lead Stories reached out to the Baltimore Police Department to enquire about the purpose of these flights, and will update this article if we receive a reply.
Some versions of the AFRAM mosquito conspiracy suggest that this may be connected to recent cases of malaria found in Florida and Texas. Lead Stories debunked the claim that Bill Gates was involved with using genetically modified mosquitoes to introduce malaria to Florida and Texas. Gates was not involved in funding the mosquito control programs using genetically modified mosquitoes. So far this experimental mosquito control method has only been implemented in a limited area in Florida -- and those mosquitoes are not capable of spreading malaria.