On September 10 2020, wildfires raged across western states — as did social media rumors that anti-fascist protesters (or “antifa”) started fires in Oregon (and elsewhere) in a coordinated mass attack.
On Reddit’s r/Eugene, a subreddit for residents of Eugene, Oregon, a user posted and deleted an iteration of the rumor:
An archived version of the post included the following text:
I keep hearing speculation that “Antifa is purposely setting the fires.” Can anyone explain what Antifa would have to gain by setting these rural fires? Are we just blaming Antifa for everything now?
An Oregon politician, Paul J. Romero, Jr., also fueled the rumors in tweets published the night of September 9 2020:
A video titled “Antifa & BLM Are Setting The West Coast On Fire | One Already Arrested” also spread virally, raking in views and claiming antifa and Black Lives Matter activists started the Oregon fires.
What Law Enforcement Sources ‘Reportedly’ Said About Antifa and the Oregon Fires in Baseless, Sourceless Posts
Some tweets or posts referencing the rumor that antifa was deliberately setting fires can be traced back to a September 10 2020 post by the unreliable site Law Enforcement Today, headlined falsely, “Sources: Series of wildfires on the West Coast may be ‘coordinated and planned’ attack.” Unsurprisingly, the post was stitched together speculation and fabrication, hinging entirely on vague “sources” (which likely didn’t exist) and composed primarily in passive voice:
A series of wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and California are now being considered arson – and sources tell Law Enforcement Today that they may be part of a “coordinated attack”. Law enforcement throughout the west coast is reportedly being put on alert to look out for “opportunists” and those who may have more sinister motives.
A number of arsonists are already in jail, and there a few on the run, we’re told.
Federal law enforcement sources also tell Law Enforcement Today. that some of the people who started the fires may be connected in some way.
Interspersed with tweets about the fire from various sources (none of which mentioned anti-fascists), the report claimed:
There are current concerns and allegations that many of these people who have started fires may be related to Antifa. However, these allegations have not be confirmed.
Nowhere in the item or any like it were any posts or statements from local law enforcement, cited or embedded, that gave any credence whatsoever to the “antifa did arsons” claim.
What Law Enforcement Sources Actually Said About ‘Antifa’ and Oregon Fires in Verified, Attributed Posts
Oregon-based reporter Lincoln Graves shared a screenshot of one of the above tweets on September 9 2020, describing the rumors as conspiracy theories. He added that none of the many law enforcement sources he had consulted believed that anti-fascists were setting fires in Oregon, or anywhere else for that matter:
Oregon law enforcement also addressed the rampant rumor, as with a September 10 2020 Facebook post from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (also verified):
In a seriously depressing post, the Department pleaded with locals to stop sharing disinformation — which they said can cause enormous problems for them and otherwise hamper their operations during major emergencies:
Remember when we said to follow official sources only. Remember when we said rumors make this already difficult incident even harder? 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 in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON.
THIS IS NOT TRUE! Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems.
Do your part, STOP. SPREADING. RUMORS! Follow official sources of information such as local emergency response websites and pages, government websites and pages and local reputable news outlets.
Please, share far and wide!
Oregon’s KGW published a short article (“VERIFY: No, Antifa did not start the wildfires in Oregon”) about deliberate disinformation spreading locally about antifa and fires in Oregon; it included a separate Facebook post from police in Medford, Oregon and debunked a falsified post attributed to the same department:
Rumors that anti-fascists, or “antifa,” had started fires in Oregon in September 2020 appeared to originate with or be exacerbated by speculative, baseless blog posts and repetition on Facebook and Twitter. By contrast, news organizations as well as law enforcement sources in Oregon and beyond refuted the rumors — and begged social media users to stop spreading claims that they described as corrosive and disruptive to their operations during an ongoing fire response.