Story at a glance
- Amid rumors online, police are saying neither leftist groups like antifa nor right wing groups like the Proud Boys are under investigation for the wildfires plaguing the Pacific Northwest.
- A criminal arson investigation is underway for the Almeda Fire.
Local police and federal law enforcement are working to debunk reports on social media that have falsely accused anti-fascist activists of lighting the wildfires ravaging more than 1 million acres of land in Oregon.
Police indicated that one of the groups being falsely tied to the fires is antifa, a far-left political group that works to stand against what it deems as fascist politics.
While antifa is a largely disjointed group, President Trump has targeted its supporters frequently in campaign speeches, even tweeting that the U.S. will designate antifa as a terrorist organization. So far, antifa has not been labeled a terrorist group.
“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,” Oregon’s Douglas County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. “THIS IS NOT TRUE!”
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Police in Medford, Ore., also denounced a post that implied members of the Proud Boys, a far-right all-male organization diametrically opposed to antifa’s values, were arrested and accused of arson.
“This is a made up graphic and story. We did not arrest this person for arson, nor anyone affiliated with Antifa or ‘Proud Boys’ as we’ve heard throughout the day,” Medford police wrote in a Facebook post.
The FBI's Portland office also took to Twitter to debunk the claims:
Reports that extremists are setting wildfires in Oregon are untrue. Help us stop the spread of misinformation by only sharing information from trusted, official sources. pic.twitter.com/ENc4c3kjep— FBI Portland (@FBIPortland) September 11, 2020
While authorities have debunked the involvement of political activists in the fires, authorities have said that a criminal arson investigation has been launched into the cause of one of the fires, the Almeda Fire.
Authorities reportedly opened this investigation after finding human remains at a site in Ashland, according to The Oregonian.
The fire has consumed more than 3,000 acres of private land and scorched approximately 600 homes.
“One thing I can say is that the rumor it was set by Antifa is 100% false information,” Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara told reporters via email. “We have some leads, and none of it points in that direction.”
To help subdue the spread of misinformation online, a Facebook spokesperson told Reuters that it had begun to attach warning labels with the help of its third-party fact-checkers.
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