A charred swing set and car in Gates, Oregon on September 10, 2020 (AFP / Kathryn Elsesser)

False claims of Antifa arson arrests spread online as fires hit Oregon

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Social media posts claim members of Antifa, the far-left movement, have been arrested for setting fires in Oregon, a state on the US West Coast hit by devastating wildfires. This is false; law enforcement officers from areas where the arrests were allegedly made have denied they took place, and said calls about the claims are hampering operations.

“Oregon is on fire! Pallet Company in Oregon City confirmed Antifa arsonist on camera. Douglas County Sheriff has 6 ANTIFA arsonists in custody,” Paul Romero Jr, who unsuccessfully ran for the US Senate, tweeted

A screenshot of a tweet taken on September 11, 2020

The tweet was spread as a screenshot on Facebook here and here and on Instagram here.

But the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post: “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.”

And Sergeant David Edwins of the Oregon City Police Department told AFP by phone: “As far as the actual city limits go, we have no information on a pallet company having any arson done to it.” 

A screenshot of a Facebook post taken on September 11, 2020

Oregon and other West Coast states are facing wildfires that have left more than two dozen people dead.

Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is a structureless movement which says it is dedicated to fighting fascism online and in public. It has come under increased scrutiny -- particularly from President Donald Trump -- during recent protests against police violence and racism across the US.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Portland office denounced “conspiracy theories and misinformation” that “take valuable resources away (from) local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control.”

“FBI Portland and local law enforcement agencies have been receiving reports that extremists are responsible for setting wildfires in Oregon. With our state and local partners, the FBI has investigated several such reports and found them to be untrue,” it said in a statement.

Social media posts also cite a police scanner in Medford as indicating that Antifa members were arrested for arson.

“7 Antifa members in custody for starting the fires. Police scanner Medford,” says a Facebook post. The claim also appears on the social media site here.

A screenshot of a Facebook post taken on September 11, 2020

Mike Moran, public information officer for the sheriff’s office in Jackson County, which includes Medford, said the claim is false.

“There is absolutely no truth to that story that seven Antifa people or anyone affiliated with Antifa or other organizations have been arrested for anything in our area,” Moran said by phone.

“It’s totally counterproductive. We’re trying to do a lot of emergency work and people call in with things making false reports or just wanting to check on this story that has no merit,” he said.

And the Medford Police Department said in a Facebook post that it did not arrest “anyone affiliated with Antifa or ‘Proud Boys,’” a far-right organization, for arson.

AFP Fact Check has previously examined other false claims about Antifa, including that the FBI said most of its members are teachers, unproven plots to attack Gettysburg National Cemetery or suburban neighborhoods, and false ties between the Minnesota attorney general and the movement.

EDIT: The death toll from the fires was updated on September 17, 2020.