MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to go back now to the wildfires that are devastating so many areas in the West. But along with fighting fires, officials are dealing with another issue. Social media is full of what law enforcement officials say are untrue rumors about the causes behind the destructive wildfires in Oregon. Many are falsely blaming antifa or leftist activists who identify as anti-fascists. They are a frequent focus of far-right conspiracy theories. Officials are uniformly saying these claims are baseless. Here to walk us through it is Oregon Public Broadcasting's Conrad Wilson. Conrad, Thanks so much for joining us.
CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: So, first of all, what do fire officials say about how these fires actually started?
WILSON: Well, there are a number of factors, but the big one, fire officials say, is this massive and extremely unusual windstorm that happened on Labor Day. It came in amid very dry conditions and conditions across Oregon. By Tuesday morning here, it was just fires everywhere. In some cases, that windstorm downed power lines, which started fires. Fire officials here say some of the fires are human caused, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're intentional. And others are arson and are being investigated criminally. Many other fires are being investigated, and the causes are not known.
MARTIN: Can you tell us about these conspiracy theories? And do you have any idea who is starting them and spreading them?
WILSON: So there's a sense online among some that there are just too many fires for this to be a coincidence. Many, without evidence, are saying that they're being caused by antifa. The Republican candidate for Oregon attorney general posted on Facebook this week that the fires were clearly arson, constituted domestic terrorism and stated that he heard of 14 people involved in starting fires. I called him and pressed him repeatedly, and he couldn't provide evidence. And then later in the week, a sheriff's deputy in Clackamas County, Ore., was seen in a video posted online claiming anti-fascist activists have been starting fires in the area. On the video, he said and antifa, quote, "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." Now, after that video was posted, the Clackamas County sheriff apologized and placed the deputy on administrative leave.
MARTIN: Is law enforcement doing anything else about this?
WILSON: Well, officials all the way from the FBI to a small town police chief has said the rumors about and antifa having anything to do with these wildfires are completely false. There is just no evidence. And, in fact, law enforcement say the rumors are taking away resources. One county here said that their 911 dispatchers were overwhelmed with calls about an apparent arrest of several antifa members in connection with a fire. On Facebook, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said in all-caps, this is not true. Please share this widely. You know, law enforcement investigating the devastating Alameda Fire in southern Oregon have stressed over and over again that there is no connection to antifa or any other political group. I spoke with Ashland Police Chief Tighe O'Meara this week, and here's what he told me.
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TIGHE O'MEARA: That investigation is criminal, and it is ongoing. And in no way does it point toward any political group, including anybody associated with antifa, and any rumors suggesting that it is pointing toward antifa are entirely fabricated.
MARTIN: Well, just briefly, Conrad, I understand that Facebook has removed some posts linking Oregon wildfires to activist groups. This is according to Reuters. But are these bizarre and these false rumors penetrating? I mean, how are people dealing with all that?
WILSON: Oh, people here are totally freaked out, I mean, especially in areas hit hardest by the fires, where there's an imminent threat of fire. One of my colleagues at OPB was out reporting in Molalla, Ore., and was confronted by an armed person who told my colleague he had to leave immediately. So I think it just shows how dangerous some of these rumors on Facebook can be.
MARTIN: That is Oregon Public Broadcasting's Conrad Wilson. Conrad, thank you so much for sharing your reporting with us.
WILSON: You're welcome.
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