Authorities in Oregon are pleading with the public to only trust and share information verified by official sources about the unprecedented wildfires sweeping the state. The pleas come as law enforcement agencies described 911 dispatchers being overrun with calls about a false online rumor that “Antifa” members had been arrested for setting the fires — a claim promoted by the anonymous account behind the QAnon conspiracy theories.The incident highlights how online conspiracy theories, a sustained right-wing campaign to create increased fear of anti-fascist groups, and amplification of false claims by QAnon followers, have real consequences.“Rumors spread just like wildfire,” the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office warned in a Facebook post Thursday, adding that staff had been “overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires” in the area.That specific claim had been amplified by “Q” — the anonymous person or people behind QAnon — only 12 hours earlier.Early Thursday morning, “Q” posted a link to a tweet from Paul Joseph Romero Jr., a former US Senate candidate who lost his Republican primary in May, that falsely claimed the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office had six Antifa “arsonists” in custody.
An anonymous post to an obscure online site wouldn’t normally merit much attention, but QAnon followers are fervent and persistent, and the FBI has labeled them a potential domestic terrorist threat.
“We are inundated with questions about things that are FAKE stories. One example is a story circulating that varies about what group is involved as to setting fires and arrests being made,” they wrote, adding, “THIS IS NOT TRUE!”And police in the city of Medford said screenshots of what purported to be a Facebook post from the police department’s account were fake. In the screenshot, a post showed a man’s picture and claimed five people were arrested in connection with arson.“We did not arrest this person for arson, nor anyone affiliated with Antifa or ‘Proud Boys’ as we’ve heard throughout the day. Also, no confirmed gatherings of Antifa which has also been reported,” police wrote.