Conspiracy That Antifa Started West Coast Wildfires Is Hurting Officials’ Ability To Fight Blazes
According to a local sheriff’s office, an untrue theory is spreading that claims six Antifa members were arrested for starting the fires.
State and local authorities in Oregon are urging people to stop spreading misinformation about the ongoing wildfires because it’s taking away local agencies’ ability to fight the fires. The misinformation, which some right-wing conspiracy theorists have pushed, claims six members of Antifa are responsible for the wildfires.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the West Coast fires have burned more than 4.6 million acres across 10 states including Oregon, Washington, and California since August 18. While officials have arrested several people in connection with starting the fires, the exact origins of the fires in Oregon and Washington remains unclear, the Associated Press reported.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon urged people last week to only “follow official sources only” in a Facebook post after it said a conspiracy theory was spreading around. Other sheriff's offices in Oregon have posted similar warnings.
“Rumors spread just like wildfire, and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires,” the office wrote. “THIS IS NOT TRUE! Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems.”
The FBI in Portland echoed the warnings on Friday, saying it “investigated several reports and found them to be untrue.”
“Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away [from] local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control,” the FBI wrote. “Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources.”
Shortly after, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone announced the platform would be removing the false claims.
This is consistent with our past efforts to remove content that could lead to imminent harm given the possible risk to human life as the fires rage on. (2/2)— Andy Stone (@andymstone) September 12, 2020
President Trump, Barr and their GOP supporters have been trying to paint “Antifa” as an organized, dangerous movement, even going so far as to say it should be designated as a terrorist organization, despite legal experts saying that it’s a loosely organized movement with no actual organization or leaders, by nature.
Former Republican Senate candidate Paul Joseph Romero Jr. tweeted and retweeted multiple conspiracy theories about people being arrested for starting the fires last week. In an interview with CNN, Romero said, “My original tweet is not 100% accurate, there is no question about that, but it is mostly accurate.”
According to CNN and NBC News, his tweets were reposted by QAnon conspiracy theorists on the messaging board 8Kun.
In July, Twitter announced it would be removing thousands of accounts linked to the right wing extremist group QAnon. The group stemmed from an anonymous poster known as “Q” on the website 4Chan in 2017, and has since spread several unfounded theories, including one about politicians and celebrities being part of a global sex trafficking ring. Supporters also believe President Trump will be the one to expose the trafficking ring.
In 2019, the FBI confirmed it was monitoring QAnon supporters, saying “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” were a threat.