WASHINGTON -- Some young conservatives heard an apocalyptic warning Tuesday morning from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich when the conservative Republican told a right-wing student conference that the massive power outages following the powerful June 29 derecho storm gave a taste of what an "electromagnetic pulse attack" would be like.

(Listen to Gingrich's dire warnings in the above video -- things get alarming at the 27:30 mark.)

"Any of you who were in Washington during the recent week-long opportunity to experiment with an electromagnetic pulse attack, just talk to people, we were out of electricity for seven days at our house," said the moon colonization enthusiast during his speech at the Young America's Foundation's National Conservative Student Conference, where he was speaking about threats to American security. (Other threats include radical Islamists, China and cyber attacks, which Gingrich said he's writing a novel about.)

What exactly is Gingrich worried about?

An electromagnetic pulse attack -- or EMP -- is a favorite terrifying idea of some conservatives and survivalists.

Here's how the Heritage Foundation describes EMPs in a 2010 paper:

EMP is triggered by the detonation of a nuclear weapon at a high altitude over the earth. As a result of this detonation, an electromagnetic field radiates down to the earth, creating electrical currents.

These fields cause widespread damage to electrical systems -- the lifeblood of a modern society like the U.S. In turn, the damaged electronic systems can cause a cascade of failures throughout the broader infrastructure, including banking systems, energy systems, transportation systems, food production and delivery systems, water systems, emergency services, and -- perhaps most damaging -- cyberspace.

Effectively, the U.S. would be thrown back to the pre-industrial age following a widespread EMP attack.

Gingrich has been talking about EMP attacks for years -- since at least 2004, according to The New York Times.

The one-time presidential hopeful has been talking about EMP attacks and the derecho power outages more or less since the storm struck, tweeting about it that weekend then writing an op-ed for The Washington Post about how the derecho outages were a mild version of what an actual EMP attack would be like.

Gingrich has a proposal, too -- a plan to "harden at least part of the national electric grid against an EMP attack or major solar storm."

During the Q&A session, none of the attendees asked Gingrich about EMP attacks. But one did ask how to become a better debater, though. Gingrich recommended he "listen to the other side":

"What is their argument? Why do they believe that? Where does that come from?" Gingrich said. "And is there a simple factual rebuttal?"

In the case of Gingrich's interest in EMPs, there may be a simple factual rebuttal.

The New York Times, among others, reported last year that scientists aren't quite convinced this form of attack is realistic:

Critics of such pre-emptive attacks say their advocates ignore, among other things, that Iran is having trouble keeping its missile bases from blowing up and that North Korea cannot seem to get a big rocket off the ground without it tumbling out of control.

To even begin to attempt to do what Mr. Gingrich fears, these rogue states would have to perfect big rockets, powerful bombs and surreptitious ways to loft them high above America, military experts say. And if they did -- and there are much easier ways to deliver a nuclear bomb than by missile, these experts argue -- United States defenses would spring into action.

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  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    A car was crushed in the parking lot of the WRC-TV/NBC4 studios in the Tenleytown neighborhood of the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    Tree damage on Chesapeake Street NW in the North Cleveland Park neighborhood in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    Tree damage near the Lincoln Memorial.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    A truck on 8th Street SE near Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill in the District of Columbia was damaged in the storm.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    Tree damage on Chesapeake Street NW in the North Cleveland Park neighborhood in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    Tree damage outside Woodrow Wilson High School in the Tenleytown neighborhood in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    A split tree blocks part of Ridge Road in Rock Creek Park in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    A tree blocks part of the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Kalorama Road outside the Dresden apartments in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, Derecho Storm

    A Metropolitan Police Department cruiser and Pepco crews respond to a tree that uprooted a section of sidewalk on 31st Street NW near Woodland Drive in the Woodley Park neighborhood in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    Tree damage off Observatory Circle near the Vice President's Residence in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, Derecho Storm

    Trees block U Street NW at 37th Street NW in the Glover Park neighborhood in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    Tree damage in Garfield Park on Capitol Hill in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    Storm damage on the porch of a home on Ashmead Place NW in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho Storm

    A home on Massachusetts Avenue near Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda, Md., sustained damage from a fallen tree.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    A tree crushed the fence separating the Department of Homeland Security headquarters and the studios of WRC-TV/NBC4 near American University in the District of Columbia.

  • June 29, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    A tree in the 3000 block of Massachusetts Avenue NW on Embassy Row in the District of Columbia was snapped during the storm.

  • June 30, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    Part of a fallen tree in Dupont Circle in Washington D.C.

  • June 30, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    Part of a fallen tree in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in NW Washington D.C.

  • June 30, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    Part of a fallen tree crushed the read of a sedan in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in NW Washington D.C.

  • June 30, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    Part of a fallen tree in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in NW Washington D.C.

  • June 30, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    A fallen tree destroyed a car in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in NW Washington D.C.

  • June 30, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    A fallen tree destroyed a car in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in NW Washington D.C.

  • June 30, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    A passer-by shooting a photo of branches that destroyed a car in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in NW Washington D.C.

  • June 30, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    Part of a fallen tree damaged the rear of a car in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in NW Washington D.C.

  • June 30, 2012, D.C. Derecho

    Broken branches in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in NW Washington D.C.

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