Social media falsehoods about antifa arsonists spread rapidly Thursday as Oregon dealt with unprecedented destruction from uncontrolled wildfires.
A failed Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Paul Romero, was among those spreading the falsehood that the fires forcing evacuations across Oregon were started by antifa, a left-wing group of antifascists that contributes to the sometimes destructive protests in Portland.
More than 10,000 people had retweeted Romero.
"Pallet Company in Oregon City confirmed Antifa arsonist on camera," tweeted Romero. "Douglas County Sheriff has 6 ANTIFA arsonists in custody. Many fires in Oregon. Obviously there are more to track down and arrest. Governor Kate Brown built this."
(Romero lost the Republican Party primary to Jo Rae Perkins, an avowed supporter of QAnon, the right-wing conspiracy theory that falsely alleges that President Donald Trump is attempting to save the country from a child sex trafficking ring in league with the Democratic Party.)
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office took to social media to dispel the rumors, saying it had not arrested antifa arsonists.
A small bright spot amid the dark social media landscape? The post from the sheriff's office had been shared 21,000 times.
Romero attributed his false claim to Pallet Company in Oregon City. There is no company by that name publicly listed in Oregon City, though a person answering the phone at the only Oregon City pallet company listed in the white pages said they had experienced no fire or arson. Romero did not respond to a call and text to his campaign phone number.
But Romero was not alone in rumormongering.
The Molalla Police Department yesterday dispelled rumors it was advising people to be on the lookout for antifa. In fact, Molalla police were advising people to alert them to looters.
But the fear appeared to have spread from social media to reality.
Three Portland journalists—Alissa Azar, Sergio Olmos and Justin Yau, who have been filming the Portland protests—traveled to Molalla today to document evacuations from the forest fires. The trio, all people of color, were confronted by men with guns seeking "antifa liberals."