Dangerous Disinformation Spreads Fear About Black Lives Matter Protests

Republican Virginia state legislator Amanda Chase announces her intention to run for Virginia governor at a press event in February 2020. (Source: YouTube via WSLS 10)

Right Wing Watch reported June 2 that Virginia State Senator Amanda Chase had urged gun owners to be “on alert” for anti-fascist activists that she warned might fan out from protests in Richmond and “wreak havoc and destruction” in local communities. “If you are a gun owner and proficient in using, I’m just putting you on notice,” Chase said. It turns out that was the tip of the iceberg of a wave of dangerous disinformation that has spread across the country.

Among those inflaming fears about supposed threats to small towns from groups of anti-fascists is Jo Rae Perkins, a passionate Q-Anon conspiracy theory believer who is the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Oregon. “This is the army that Obama put together a few years ago,” she warned.

That kind of disinformation could have deadly results. In Klamath Falls Sunday night, a group of people who gathered to protest the police killing of George Floyd was met by “hundreds of their mostly white neighbors” who had heard that antifa was busing in people “hellbent on razing their idyllic town,” reported NBC News. “Most everyone seemed to be carrying something: flags, baseball bats, hammers and axes. But mostly, they carried guns.”

An interracial family of four from Spokane that planned a camping trip in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state last weekend was harassed in a store parking lot by a group of people demanding to know if they were antifa activists. They were followed by gun-toting people in vehicles and barricaded in a camping spot by people who cut down trees to block them from leaving.

Journalist David Neiwert has documented the spread of similar fearmongering hoaxes on Facebook and Twitter meant to create panic about “antifa operatives” and “antifa terrorists” supposedly bent on bringing destruction to mostly white small towns and rural communities.

Neiwert found that similar rumors were spread by individuals, law enforcement officials, a local chamber of commerce, a chapter of the Three Percenters militia group, and a commander of Oregon’s Air National Guard. As Neiwert noted, U.S. Attorney General William Barr “gave serious credence to the groundless claims” in his own evidence-free statements about antifa involvement in protest violence.

There is a purpose to this kind of false information, as Neiwert notes:

“Far-right and anti-government groups are eagerly helping spread misinformation about anti-fascist protesters gathering in local communities,” Lindsay Schubiner of the Western States Center told Jason Wilson of The Guardian.

She added: “The rumors may not be true, but extremist groups find them useful for activating their supporters and sowing turmoil and division. We encourage law enforcement, media and the general public to carefully evaluate claims and guard against spreading misinformation.”

Right Wing Watch recently published “Disinformation, Coronavirus and the 2020 Presidential Election,” written by disinformation expert Melissa Ryan. The report warned, “Whether claiming that George Soros controls the American left, spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic, or using disinformation to suppress black voters, right-wing operatives, along with actors who simply hope to destabilize the U.S., are sowing false and misleading information designed to foment suspicion of society’s institutions and the experts who lead them.”