The Atlanta Case

On Thursday, March 30th, man walked into the Atlanta regional office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to find out the value and purpose of the Red Mercury he had.  To be clear, Red Mercury does not exist, but if you thought you had some, the NRC would be a reasonable place to inquire about its relevance as the NRC is responsible for oversight of nuclear reactors and nuclear material in the United States.

245 Peachtree

245 Peachtree Center Avenue in Atlanta, home of the Atlanta regional office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Photo from Google Streetview.

By bringing the material to the NRC, the man set in motion a series of government responses, starting with a shutdown of several blocks of the city and deployment of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) teams. Within a few hours, the city blocks were re-opened, the material in question confirmed to be harmless mercury sulfide and the matter was laid to rest with the man released, sans his mercury (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Two things about the story (beyond the involvement of Red Mercury) caught my eye. The first was the fact that the material believed to be Red Mercury was “from Africa,” and second, some conspiracy-minded people linked the Red Mercury incident to the collapse of a bridge on Interstate 81 in Atlanta less than 24 hours later (YouTube).

I did some digging. First I contacted the NRC and asked them about the incident. The NRC told me to contact local law enforcement which investigated the incident. So I wrote to Atlanta’s police and fire departments which referred me back to federal investigators. I tried to contact the Department of Homeland Security but received no reply. I also tried to contact the reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution who also did not reply. Basically, I had little to go on and began to feel a bit conspiracy minded myself. But then a break.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wins high marks for transparency. As the government agency with the capacity for monitoring mercury exposure (even if Red Mercury is a hoax, ordinary mercury is nasty stuff) and upom receiving the report of mercury in downtown Atlanta, the EPA dispatched a local agent to determine what is any risk to the public was posed by the mercury. The agent’s report included the above photo and described the incident. I sent an email to the agent who confirmed the details for me and told me that the initial HAZMAT responders confirmed the substance was mercury sulfide. The EPA agent then tested to ensure that the substance was contained and posed no danger to the public.

I asked the agent about the origin of the substance; did the man indicate where it came from in Africa? Turns out he got it from an elderly relative who told him it was Red Mercury but didn’t say how she had obtained it. So, mystery half solved. The man’s identity remains unknown to me.

Red Mercury does not exist and the collapse of the I-85 bridge is a coincidental event that appears to have been caused by a couple of (literal) crack addicts. The plot of the novel, Red Mercury, describes an incident around the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta which heightens interest in Red Mercury incidents in the city, but again, coincidental. I was amused the Atlanta Journal Constitution would not print a definitive denial of Red Mercury’s existence (which would be helpful and true), but that’s their prerogative.

In the conspiracy stories around the Atlanta incident, I saw reference to Red Mercury as the Soviet code name for the isotope, Lithium 6, which can be used for making thermonuclear weapons. Regular mercury can be used in the production of lithium (via the “mercury exchange” process), but there’s still no evidence for the existence of Red Mercury, just more reason to monitor ordinary mercury.

So, the Atlanta incident resulted in no arrests, no proof of Red Mercury and no injuries or exposure from mercury sulfide. Just a guy trying to make a quick buck who went home empty-handed.

Mercurypackage

Mercury Sulfide brought to NRC’s Atlanta office. Pro Tip: Ziploc is a poor containment system for suspected nuclear materials.

Michael P. Moore

May 8, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 

 

In which I get offered some “red mercury”

I think I have been pretty clear: Red Mercury is a hoax substance that does not exist.  In every post I have made about the stuff I have repeated these lines. But that hasn’t stopped at least six (!?) people from trying to sell me the stuff.  So… I took the bait.  Sure, send me the “evidence” you have of Red Mercury and I’ll check it out.

This video supposedly came from a worker at a Russian munitions plant who had managed to smuggle some Red Mercury from the plant where he worked. As he described it, “it is a pink colour, rounded shape, TT ball size, looks like metal mercury appearance , they can suck it into a syringe and when they press out from syringe it can bounce like TT ball, and its weight is one kilogram.” I have no idea what the stuff really is, but it isn’t Red Mercury (because it doesn’t exist). Unfortunately, our conversation did not continue.

More recently, I received this video from a person in Cameroon. He said the stuff came from Guinea (which I had not previously heard of as a possible source of Red Mercury). bottle-label

The label calls the stuff Mercuric Iodide and was brought to my attention by a fellow who wanted to be paid a finders-fee for linking me to the person with the Red Mercury, Mr. R. I had a couple of WhatsApp exchanges with Mr. R. who never quoted me a price for the Mercury, but did offer me a partnership in his 50 hectare farm if I was interested in that instead of the Mercury.  When it became clear I was not about to try and buy Mr. R.’s Mercury, our correspondence ended.

If someone else offers me Red Mercury, I will continue my inquiries; if only because I am curious.  But I know, as should all of you, that this stuff is pure hokum and a con.

Michael P. Moore

November 24, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

Video of “Red Mercury”

A few days ago, someone reached out to me to say that he had seen Red Mercury and also had a cell phone video of the stuff.  According to the writer,

[I] have seen red mercury( quick silver), after putting into a cup fill with acid, the colour remain the same and can pass through white canvass without any colour left, and another one is looks like mercury, semi liquid, size of TT ball, having characteristic of TT ball ( it can bounce back and fro) .

He later wrote to say,

i tried to dye metal mercury in many different ways but it can not dye. if you have some information, please do tell me, the other item i said on my comment is not like this, it is a pink colour, rounded shape,TT ball size, looks like metal mercury appearance , they can suck it into a syringe and when they press out from syringe it can bounce like TT ball, and its weight is one kilogram

You can see the video for yourself here.  I would appreciate any thoughts. I’m certain this isn’t Red Mercury because Red Mercury does not exist (and the lemon rind is a new twist [!]). Red Mercury is a hoax and anyone who tries to sell you some is a conman.

Michael P. Moore

May 21, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

A Victorian Take on “Red Mercury”

In the Victorian era, beauty treatments could be fatal.  In addition to using arsenic, belladonna, ammonia and lead-based paints (for that “whiter-than-white” look), women used vermillion, “a known poison,” was used as an early lipstick (Atlas Obscura).  In those days, vermillion was also know as our friend, Red Mercury, another example of how this substance has been lethal over the years.

Remember: Red Mercury does not exist and anything that claims to be Red Mercury is hazardous to your health.

Michael P. Moore

December 18, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

Who is looking for Red Mercury

All of the recent attention on the Red Mercury hoax has been welcome.  But it did make me curious about who is searching for Red Mercury (because it DOES NOT EXIST) and in what context they are looking for it.  Using the search engine data collected by the Campaign’s site and doing a content analysis, I came up with the following information:

Red Mercury Searches

More than a quarter of the visitors to the Campaign’s website have found the site by using search terms like “Where to find Red Mercury”?  One in eight visitors are looking for Red Mercury and either landmines or other unexploded ordnance.  Two new areas that we can explore are the ideas of “cutting money” which means creating money through magical processes and the “Sandawana” which is a mythical animal in Subsaharan Africa.  Presumably, people are searching for Sandwana and Red Mercury for the same purpose: to get rich.  I was heartened to see almost one in ten searchers are looking at Red Mercury as a hoax or looking for stories about the con men running Red Mercury scams.

As for where the searchers are coming from, more than a quarter are from Southern Africa (Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe), but a surprising number are from Europe.  India, with 5% of the searches, was unexpected but Turkey, where recent arrests for Red Mercury scams took place, was not.

Red Mercury Search Origins

Unfortunately, I could not correlate the location of the searcher with the search terms used, but I did think it interesting that Zambia had more people searching for Red Mercury than any country except the United States.  South Africa and Zimbabwe had the third and fourth most searches, respectively.

But wherever you are: Red Mercury does not exist and anyone who tells you otherwise, whether in person or via Google is a conman.

Michael P. Moore

December 8, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

Someone tried to fool CBS News with Red Mercury

From CJ Chivers’s blog:

An investigative journalist with CBS News, Jennifer Janisch, obtained the following images from a Syrian smuggler trying to peddle fake antiquities from Iraq and Syria.

CBS News Image 1 CBS News Image 2

I hope it goes without saying that this stuff isn’t Red Mercury.  It’s a very well-manufactured and decorated canister for fooling buyers.  Fortunately for whoever had this, it’s also not an explosive.

My favorite part of the picture is the line “NOT FOR SALE” at the bottom.  Which is true.  Because Red Mercury does not exist.

Michael P. Moore

November 23, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

More Red Mercury coverage

The New York Times Magazine article is continuing to generate coverage of the Red Mercury Hoax.

On Slate’s Political Gabfest podcast  (at the 1:06:00 mark) Emily Bazelon, a writer from the Magazine, calls attention to CJ Chivers’s article and refers to Red Mercury as “The Holy Grail of Super Dangerous Weapons.” Which is a good line.

A story on News Corp’s Australian website mentions this website and says efforts like ours to combat the hoax and present the truth are “merely deemed to be the work of non believers” by members of Islamic State.  Yes, we’re non-believers in the myth because that’s what it is: a myth. And we’re right.  Red Mercury is a hoax. A fantasy.  And people who do believe are dying trying to prove otherwise.

Michael P. Moore

November 21, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org