A sheriff’s deputy in Clackamas County, Oregon, was suspended Saturday after video showed him propagating baseless rumors that anti-fascist activists had started the wildfires now devastating the state.
Video shows the deputy—an unidentified bald man calling himself Mark—saying, “Antifa motherf--kers are out causing hell, and there’s a lot of lives at stake and there’s a lot of people’s property at stake because these guys got some vendetta.” He also warns of “antifa or other crazy left-wing people” attacking firefighters.
The sheriff's officer was also heard in a different video posted by freelance journalist Melissa Lewis counseling residents of Eagle Creek, five miles north of Estacada, on how to avoid legal trouble when defending their homes from antifa. “You have to prove it was seriously physical injury or death,” the officer can be heard saying. “Now, you throw a fucking knife in their hand after you shoot them, that’s on you,” he said, to the sound of laughter. “I wouldn’t let this shit happen in my neighborhood either, but be smart about it.”
Craig Roberts, the Clackamas County Sheriff, said in a statement to Oregon Public Broadcasting, “As soon as I was made aware of this incident, I moved swiftly to place this deputy on leave while we investigate. The Sheriff’s Office mission is to provide calm and safety especially during unprecedented times such as these. I expect nothing less of our deputies, and apologize to all in our community.”
The nearby Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department issued a similar warning over reports of groups of armed citizens illegally establishing checkpoints and detaining passersby. The department did not respond to a request for comment on whether the illegal stops were related to conspiracy theories concerning antifa.
“While we understand their intent is to keep the community safe, it is never legal to block a public roadway or force other citizens to stop. This type of action increases the risk of injury to everyone at one of these roadblocks,” the announcement read.
As cars were evacuating the cities of Molalla and Estacada on Thursday, armed men could be seen walking north along a state road winding along Cascada slope, where massive fires were burning just miles away. The same day, three journalists reported being confronted by armed men while reporting on the wildfires.
In Molalla, as residents could be seen packing up their vehicles to evacuate, one man who lived in the neighborhood and was not planning to evacuate told The Daily Beast he’d seen a video showing members of antifa pouring gasoline into a Molalla resident's backyard. When asked to show the video, the man declined and would not give his name. “There's people out there fucking up our homes, and now it’s on us,” he said, retreating back into his house.
Even Facebook responded to hoax claims about the wildfires having political origins. In a statement on Saturday, the social media giant’s policy communications director, Andy Stone, said, “We are removing false claims that the wildfires in Oregon were started by certain groups. This is based on confirmation from law enforcement that these rumors are forcing local fire and police agencies to divert resources from fighting the fires and protecting the public.”
Rumors of anti-fascist arsonists have no basis in available fact, and law enforcement agencies have had to work overtime dispelling the conspiracy theories, which add chaos to a situation already rife with uncertainty and draw law enforcement resources away from assisting residents in need. A million acres have burned in the Oregon wildfires this fire season, the most on record. The blazes have consumed entire towns and killed more than a dozen people, with dozens more reported missing. One man, described by police as a “local transient,” has been charged with arson in connection to one fire. Local authorities say the 41-year-old has no known connection to anti-fascist activists.
Earlier this week as smoke enshrouded cities along the West Coast in darkness, Governor Kate Brown warned, “We expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and in human lives. This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”