As protests against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter continue to proliferate across the small towns and rural communities, so, too, have rumors of white vans of masked antifa driving from town to town, reportedly intent on destruction. In Hood River, Oregon, antifa were, according to screenshot of a fake Instagram story, calling on followers to “root loot do anything in your power.” In Spring Hill, Tennessee, there was a “busload” staying at the Holiday Inn, prepping to loot Walgreens at noon. In Wenatchee, Washington, bands of men dressed in black were surveilling potential targets. In Payette, Idaho, a plane full of protesters was circling overhead. In Honolulu, antifa had been flown in from the mainland. In Billings, Montana, some claimed agitators had been spotted by the National Guard. In Nebraska, they were creating Craigslist ads offering to pay people $25 a day to “cause as much chaos and destruction as possible.” In Sisters, Oregon, they were planning to show up at the local Bi-Mart.
To be clear: All of these rumors were false. They were all, as the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office put it, “fourth-hand information.” To combat them, police departments in dozens of towns are holding press conferences, posting announcements on social media, and telling anyone who calls the station that there has been no indication of a planned presence from antifa or any other outside agitators, whether “from Chicago” (code, in many parts of the Midwest, for black people) or “from Seattle” (code for liberals).
Yet these rumors continue to spread. That spread is facilitated by Facebook — where they thrive in groups whose previous focus was protesting pandemic-related shutdowns and circulating conspiracy theories about COVID-19 — and fanned by President Donald Trump, who recently declared his intention to label antifa a terrorist group. This morning, the president raised the antifa menace yet again, tweeting that the protester violently shoved by police in Buffalo, New York, “could be an ANTIFA.” (He was not.)