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Portland Police Ridiculed For Tweeting 'Molotov Cocktails' Made From Plastic

The “molotov cocktail” tweeted by Portland Police this week (left) and another tweeted September 14, 2020 (right)
The “molotov cocktail” tweeted by Portland Police this week (left) and another tweeted September 14, 2020 (right)
Image: Portland Police Department

Portland Police tweeted a photo Tuesday night claiming to show a “molotov cocktail,” made from what appears to be a plastic bottle and a washcloth. It’s at least the second time this year Portland Police have distributed photos of what it claims are molotov cocktails made from plastic, something that defense journalist Kelsey Atherton appropriately called a “molotov mocktail.”

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Perhaps it’s time we discussed what a molotov cocktail is supposed to do and why people are ridiculing Portland Police online right now. Twitter users are having a field day with this photo, and there are really only two options: Either protesters in Portland don’t know how to make a proper molotov cocktail or the Portland Police are faking the whole thing.

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The bottle was found on Monday night at the Penumbra Kelly building after a group of protesters marched there from Laurelhurst Park, according to Portland Police. People in the group were allegedly throwing objects from the parking lot, though no arrests were made and the group dispersed by themselves.

“One of the items thrown was identified by the Explosive Disposal Unit and Arson investigators as a viable Molotov cocktail,” Portland Police claimed in a press release. “The wick was lit and the device was thrown onto the property. Fortunately, the fire extinguished and no one was injured.”

Gizmodo could not independently verify that anything Portland Police said was true, especially the part about a wick being lit. Based on the photo published to Twitter, this “molotov cocktail” is sitting in a pile of dry leaves and it’s not clear there was any fire present. But even if there had been fire, it’s unlikely there would’ve been any significant damage, given the basic nature of plastic bottles. You really can’t make a molotov cocktail out of plastic.

Invented in the 1930s with beer bottles, the molotov cocktail has been an inexpensive weapon of insurgency for generations. They’re simple to make and require just three things: A glass container, a flammable liquid like gasoline, and a fuse of some kind. The glass part is key.

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A glass container is necessary because the whole idea is to disperse the liquid fuel by breaking the glass against the ground or on the intended target. If you simply drop a lit match into a container of gasoline, it’s going to burn, but it won’t explode in the way that some people might expect. While virtually everything explodes in action movies, the real world isn’t quite like that. If the plastic yellow growler that Portland Police tweeted out yesterday really was supposed to be a molotov cocktail, it would’ve been a very shitty one.

If you take a look at photos from any of the pro-democracy movements around the world right now, from Hong Kong to Belarus, you’re like to see molotov cocktails being made by protesters. And they’re always made using glass.

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For example, Molotov cocktails were assembled at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong during the pro-democracy protests there in November 2019. As you can see from public photos of the protests, the students used gas canisters—the kind of butane fuel you might take on any camping trip—and emptied them into glass bottles.

Pro-democracy protesters make molotov cocktails at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in Hong Kong on November 14, 2019.
Pro-democracy protesters make molotov cocktails at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in Hong Kong on November 14, 2019.
Photo: Dale De La Rey (Getty Images)
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The students then practiced throwing the homemade devices into an empty swimming pool at the university, in preparation for a fight with Hong Kong’s anti-democracy police forces.

Some of the students, as you can see in the slideshow below, even tried out experimental flaming archery near the empty pool, something we haven’t seen in American protests quite yet.

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Hong Kong Police accused the students of operating a “weapons factory” and said they were engaging in “terrorism”—a word commonly thrown around by authoritarian governments these days.

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When the molotov cocktails were finally thrown at Hong Kong police vehicles, as you can see in this video from the protests, they cause a small “explosion” because the glass container is breaking, spreading out the fuel.

If the students had used plastic containers, they likely would’ve just bounced off the police trucks and the burning fuel would’ve been largely contained inside the bottle.

As the New Republic pointed out in a 2014 article, molotov cocktails have a long history as an improvised weapon. The Finns mass produced almost half a million molotov cocktails in 1939 and 1940 to fight off a Soviet invasion, back when the Soviet Union was aligned with Nazi Germany. And even though they were likely used earlier than 1939 during the Spanish Civil War, they got their name from the Finns.

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From the New Republic:

In the winter of 1939, after seizing eastern Poland and leaving the country’s west to the Third Reich, the Soviets invaded Finland. Molotov (“Hammer” in Russian) then said in a speech, “Tomorrow we will dine in Helsinki!” After Soviet bombs began to fall on Finnish troops, Molotov insisted that the Soviets were dropping food and drink instead. Exhibiting a keen wit, the Finns thus dubbed Soviet cluster bombs “Molotov bread baskets” (the food) and named the improvised weapons that they were using against Soviet armor “Molotov cocktails” (the drink).

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Portland, Oregon is one of three cities the Trump regime recently declared to be “anarchist jurisdictions”—an imprecise term with no clear legal definition. But President Donald Trump has made it clear he will seek to harm anyone who opposes him, with Attorney General Bill Barr encouraging prosecutors to charge anti-fascist protesters with sedition, the act of trying to overthrow the government.

President Trump has made it clear that the only outcome he’ll accept during the November presidential election is a victory and yesterday said that Republicans must appoint a new Supreme Court justice before the election so that it can rule in his favor about “rigged” ballots.

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“We need nine justices. You need that with the unsolicited millions of ballots that they’re sending. It’s a scam,” Trump said outside the White House on Tuesday according to The Hill. “It’s a hoax. Everybody knows that. And the Democrats know it better than anybody else. So you’re going to need nine justices up there. I think it’s going to be very important because what they’re doing is a hoax with the ballots.”

The real sedition appears to be coming from inside the house, as it were.

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

There’s no visible burn marks on the washcloth (which you would expect if it was soaked with gasoline) nor any dents on the plastic bottle (they may be on the bottom, but there’s no visible here). Yet more bullshit from the police. Hopefully the end result of all this is that media stop reporting whatever the police say as true, and simple say “police claim X”