News & Politics

The “Heat Ray” That Could Have Been Used on DC Protesters Is Pretty Scary Looking

A small gun, it is not.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew M. Huff)

It’s recently come to light that a military police officer asked the DC National Guard if it was in a possession of a”heat ray” that could be used to disperse protesters. The weapon would potentially have been used on the peaceful protesters near the White House on June 1—smoke and tear gas were used instead.

Maybe it’s just us, but when we heard “heat ray,” we were thinking of some kind of futuristic gun-like object akin to the one carried by Marvin the Martian. But, no: this thing is mounted on a freakin tank.

To clarify, while the Active Denial System (ADS) is frequently described as a “heat ray,” it doesn’t actually burn any skin. Instead, it just heats victims’ top layer of skin to make it feel like their skin is on fire. Which….is better? But better in the sense that waterboarding only makes it feel like the victim is drowning.

When US border officials contemplated using the device against migrants in 2018, former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said “that she would not authorize the use of such a device, and that it should never be brought up again in her presence.” Everybody has their limit.

Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.