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Emily Tian
By Emily Tian July 23, 2021

No, it doesn’t take divine intervention for a brick wall to collapse

If Your Time is short

  • It’s not confirmed whether the cause of the George Floyd mural’s collapse was lightning. Other cited possibilities include vandalism and the building’s old age. 

  • Lightning can cause structural damage to brick walls. 

A mural of George Floyd — painted on the exterior brick wall of a building in Toledo, Ohio— crumbled on July 13, likely after the building was hit by a bolt of lightning. 

The mural was designed last summer amid the Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s death. The outer layer of brick wall came down, but the rest of the building remains intact

In response, Donald Trump Jr. took to social media to speculate that the hand of God was involved in the mural’s ruin, saying in a widely circulated reaction video that "brick walls are not good conductors of electricity" and would not "blow out usually."

In his career as a building developer, he said, he had "never heard of a brick wall getting blown out by lightning."

The three and a half minute video shows Trump suggesting that, by reducing the mural to rubble, a "higher power" may have been conveying a message to "not worship false prophets" and heroize George Floyd.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

We’re not in a position to weigh in on the intentions of the divine. But the notion that bricks cannot be naturally damaged by lightning is wrong.

Toledo’s Fire and Rescue Department is attributing the cause of the collapse to a lightning strike, based on witness reports and evidence gathered from the scene. There was a severe storm in the area around the time of the collapse, and a local station’s Doppler radar also indicated that lightning struck the block that afternoon.

Lightning is an electrical discharge that causes the air around it to heat and expand very quickly. Even though bricks are not electrically conductive — as Trump explained in his video — they can still be vulnerable to damage from lightning. 

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Martin Uman, an expert in lightning phenomena at the University of Florida, speculated that "any number of things" could make the brick wall collapse, including the vibration caused by thunder. 

He explained that lightning does more damage to insulators — like brick — than to conductors, if lightning current is able to vaporize some of the insulating material, causing high pressure. The shock waves generated by a lightning bolt could cause mortar to break apart, dislodging or disintegrating bricks and causing a structure to collapse. 

Other factors may also have contributed to or caused the mural’s destruction, officials said.

A city building inspector said that the wall had already been deteriorating prior to the collapse due to the building’s age. Other inspectors had found that the middle section of the wall had been bowing even before the section’s collapse. The mural’s artist has suggested that vandals may have intentionally destroyed the George Floyd memorial, though this account is unconfirmed. 

Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz told reporters that the cause of the mural’s destruction is uncertain. "It could have been an act of nature, or it could have been an act of vandalism," Kapszukiewicz said.

Our ruling 

Trump claimed that  "brick walls are not good conductors of electricity" and would not "blow out usually."

However, we don’t know for certain whether lightning caused the mural to collapse. It’s possible the outer wall of the building was already unstable, or that vandals tore the Floyd memorial down. 

If lightning did strike, it’s within reason to suppose that the shock caused the brick wall to crumble. 

In either case, a supernatural or divine phenomenon did not have to bring the mural down. 

We rate this claim False. 

 

Our Sources

Email with Dr. Martin Uman, emeritus distinguished professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Florida

The Brick Industry Association, Technical Notes on Brick Construction

USA Today, Lightning strike? Vandalism? Ohio mayor says 'we may never know' what destroyed George Floyd mural, July 14, 2021

Twitter post, July 14, 2021

Twitter post, July 14, 2021

Facebook video, July 16, 2021

Toledo Blade, George Floyd mural in Toledo crumbles, cause disputed, July 14, 2021

https://www.13abc.com/2021/07/13/george-floyd-mural-summit-lagrange-collapses/

13 ABC, Lightning? Disrepair? Conflicting reports on what may have caused George Floyd mural to collapse, July 14, 2021

CNN, Ohio mural honoring George Floyd collapses, July 14, 2021

National Severe Storms Laboratory, Severe Weather 101 — Lightning

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research Center for Science Education, Thunder and Lightning

Risk Analysis and the Security Survey, 2011

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No, it doesn’t take divine intervention for a brick wall to collapse

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