Law enforcement agencies in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States are struggling to dissuade people from buying into conspiracy theories alleging extremists are starting many of the wildfires currently ravaging the area.
A number of social media posts on Facebook and other sites allege without evidence that “antifa” is purposely starting the fires, either as a means to destroy communities or to loot homes after owners evacuate the areas. The posts have been proven to be without merit as there is absolutely no indication that activists who identify as antifa or any organization associated with these activists are setting fires to achieve such ends.
“Antifa” is not even a formalized organization but rather a term used to describe individuals who espouse an ethical set of beliefs in opposition to fascism. Still, posts on Facebook alleging the fictional group is setting the fires continue to persist.
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A number of right-wing groups online have shared posts making such claims. “A lot of these fires starting around Oregon are being purposely set by ANTIFA BLM,” reads one such post that has been shared hundreds of times.
Officials in the region are pushing as hard as they can against the disinformation campaign. Ashland, Oregon, Chief of Police Tighe O’Meara issued a statement decrying the allegations, saying flat-out that the idea that fires near that community were set by antifa is “100% false information.”
Meanwhile, leftist organizations in cities like Portland and Seattle (places that some on the right might portray as antifa hotspots) are stepping up, providing aid to those who have been displaced by the effects of the wildfires in these areas.
Images on social media demonstrate how these groups in Portland, which have set up mutual aid projects near a popular theater in the city, are handing out a number of items for those who may have lost their homes. Aid is coming in the form of food (including cooked meals), hygiene supplies, toys for kids, masks and other devices to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and even food for pets. Camping space at a nearby park, as well as medical and crisis support, is also being provided by these organizations.
Mutual Aid @ Lloyd Theater! We've got hot food, packaged food, bottled water, pet food, hygiene supplies, clothing for…
“In case you were wondering what anti-fa is doing right now, they’ve been in the movie theater parking lot at Lloyd Center delivering aid to people displaced by fire and anyone else who needs it,” one user on Facebook pointed out.
Among many organizations taking part, Portland Equitable Workers Offering Kommunity Support (Portland EWOKS) is providing updates multiple times a day on social media on ways in which people can get involved to help those displaced.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with despair as I was earlier today, check the @PDXEWOKS donation list and get down to MALT to help out. I just left and while I am still sad and angry, I am also more hopeful for our city than I was before, and I was reminded of our strength. pic.twitter.com/Xw4pIysgma
— Cherchez LaNoah #ACAB (@sheapforwheet) September 13, 2020
In spite of these efforts from progressive organizations, a number of people in these areas aren’t convinced, holding fast to the false belief that groups like these are the “antifa” bogeymen they were told about on social media — often with near-violent outcomes for those with no associations with antifa at all.
Just last week, a photojournalist named Nathan Howard was near Estacada, Oregon, to document the wildfires in order to showcase how climate change has contributed to the crisis. While there, he was approached by a man who accused him of being an “antifa” looter. Even after Howard explained he was a journalist, the man wouldn’t relent.
Soon after, Howard tried to drive away to avoid further confrontation, but the man followed him down the road in his own vehicle, he explained to The Guardian. Another vehicle, coming from the opposite direction, blocked Howard from driving onward, and another man came out pointing an assault rifle at the journalist. Only after a third vehicle came by to make sure nothing serious was happening did the men relent and allow Howard to drive away.
“Huge parts of the state are being destroyed by fire, and we can’t document it because that’s exactly where conspiracy theories are running wild,” Howard said of the situation.