‘Antifa bus’ hoaxes are spreading panic through small-town America

Photo by Kainoa Little/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Mythical buses full of bloodthirsty antifa protestors are causing panic in rural counties throughout the country — even though there’s no evidence they exist. The Associated Press has catalogued at least five separate rural counties where locals have warned of imminent attacks, although none of the rumors have been substantiated. Notably, the rumors are often tailored to a specific local region, a “hyperlocal” approach sometime used to boost the spread of misinformation on social media platforms.

NBC News first reported on the recent surge of antifa-related misinformation, some of which was promoted by white nationalist groups posing as antifa accounts. But even after the rumors were debunked, they continue to spread on Facebook, often inspiring real-life confrontations and instances of violence.

In Forks, Washington, a multi-racial family of four was harassed by armed locals, who believed they represented an antifa incursion. The family had arrived in town on a camping trip, traveling in a full-sized school bus. Local police say they were confronted by “seven or eight carloads” of people, who aggressively questioned them about their antifa connections. When the family attempted to drive off, locals felled trees across the roadway to prevent them from escaping. They were only able to leave after a group of students intervened.

In other cases, everyday bus charter businesses have been pulled into the confusion, treated as presumed troop convoys until proven otherwise. On Wednesday, an Idaho fleet services business was targeted by a minor panic, after a debunked rumor claimed incoming agitators were targeting the state. One local posted a picture of his bus on Facebook as evidence of the antifa incursion, claiming “this bus was full of them.”

“If anyone sees a post about my bus, please flag it,” the company owner posted on Wednesday. “Nolan was driving home from work and someone posted it saying it’s full of antifa.”

Elsewhere, the misinformation has come from sheriffs themselves. In Curry County, Oregon, Sheriff John Ward told his department’s Facebook followers, “I got information that three buss [sic] loads of Antifa protestors are making their way” into the county — although he added, “I don’t know if the rumors are true or not.”

He called on civilian volunteers to help defend the town, should the buses materialize. “Without asking I am sure we have a lot of local boys too with guns that will protect our citizens and their property.”

Ward took down the post after harsh criticism from Facebook commenters. He insists it was not intended as a call to arms. It’s unclear where Ward got his original tip about the incoming buses — including the specific location and number — but it appears to have come through a similar chain of rumors. “Our county attorney forwarded me a post from somebody,” he told local reporters, “and it was sent to him by another attorney that is kind of a private attorney.”

The rumors have been particularly lively on Facebook. One post, written by a previously unknown outlet called DC Dirty Laundry, claims to have discovered specific plans to bus large numbers of “antifa terrorists” into a small town called Sparta, Illinois, “where they will be directed to target rural white Americans by burning farm houses and killing livestock.” The article names specific routes that the buses will be taking (sourced to “highly reliable individuals”), and claims Illinois was targeted because restrictions on gun ownership have “transformed the state into a shooting gallery for Antifa terrorists.”

The post is a credited reprint of an earlier report from Natural News, a notorious anti-vaccination outlet that has been banned from posting on Facebook. But syndicating the article to a new URL seems to have completely evaded those restrictions, allowing the post to travel widely on Facebook. Links to the DC Dirty Laundry post have been shared more than 1,000 times since Thursday, including by fan groups for President Trump, Candace Owens, and Rush Limbaugh.

Sparta’s sheriff addressed the rumors on Friday, saying “we have no evidence leading us to believe this threat is at all credible.” Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In some ways, the panic has been stoked by the federal response to protests, which continues to pose antifa groups as a primary driver of the ongoing unrest. This week, President Trump announced his intention to designate antifa as a terrorist group, but neither the FBI nor the Department of Homeland Security have any available intelligence to back up the assertion. None of the 22 criminal cases filed in connection with the protests have shown any ties to antifa groups.

But in a statement last week, Barr warned of traveling antifa cells similar to those described by Natural News. “In many places, it appears the violence is planned, organized, and driven by anarchistic and far left extremists,” Barr said, “using Antifa-like tactics, many of whom travel from out of state to promote the violence.”

It’s a more restrained version of the rhetoric used by President Trump, who has used antifa as a political foil since early in his campaign. “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left,” he tweeted on the same day. “Don’t lay the blame on others!”

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Mythical buses full of bloodthirsty antifa protestors

Just like the caravan of migrants waiting at the Mexican border. More right-wing trolls and white supremacists spreading false info to change the direction of the BLM movement.

WaPo covered this militia group in Idaho who also believed these fake Facebook posts and sent groups out into the streets, open-carrying, to protect their town. Here’s a quote from a member of that group in Idaho:

Treller, who left California five years ago for Coeur d’Alene, said reports of extremist activity were "quadruple verified," including by "those who monitor some of the communications going on between these groups." He could not produce the communications. "Several of them were going to be coming in from out of state, particularly from Washington and Oregon, in hopes of causing trouble of some indeterminate kind," he said. "Possibly rioting, possibly looting, certainly demonstrating, which can lead to those sort of things if it’s the wrong kind of people demonstrating, like the more radical elements of Black Lives Matter or left-wing extremists."
The apparent intention, Treller said, was to "strike a symbolic blow against a state that doesn’t cultivate these sorts of unpleasant and not-very-patriotic movements."

The insanity and stupidity of these people is amazing.

This whole idea of people getting their ‘News’ from Facebook, Twitter, etc. is Bullshit. Social networks will never draw a line between legitimate and bogus content.
We need to get back into the habit of getting our News only from trust worthy, sources with professional Editors. Especially sources that can be held liable.
TV News channels, News Papers and Journalistic Web sites are still liable and represent an entity that can be held accountable.

I can’t fathom how somebody seems some random article on Facebook from a publication they’ve never heard of, and thinks "yeah, must be true!" These are often the same people who would say "you can’t believe everything you read on the internet" while I was growing up, but they just blindly accept anything that they’re told. It’s just astonishing.

It’s not astonishing at all. They believe it because it confirms what they already think. With Facebook becoming a right-wing echo chamber, nothing in their media diet will ever penetrate this bubble.

while i agree with the sentiment, lets be honest here and just call social media a general echo chamber. same mechanisms apply to non-right-wing people. i consider myself socialist but even i get sick looking at the left wing filter bubble some days. not much different if you just look at the ignorance and self-affirmation.

It becomes believable, because Google, Facebook, Twitter really are good sources of information for many things. But the problem is they then lend that same legitimacy to completely bogus content as well.

There’s a lack of intellectual honesty. If you can’t accept being wrong, like a child, you’re going to seek out something to validate you. And, eventually, you will find it and believe it to be true.

the problem is Facebook calls it "news" so people think there’s some sort of verification or validation of the information. people should just drop FB. Zuckerberg only cares about making money. nothing else matters.

Bus full of bloodthirsty antifa seems like a downgrade versus bus full of cartel Mexicans. Our democracy is only saved by the incompetency of facists in charge.

Look. There are no fascists in charge. It’s so effin’ insulting towards people who fought against the nazis and those who died in the camps. Please stop.

You know Nazis aren’t the only fascists, right? Calling someone a fascist isn’t necessarily the same thing as calling them a Nazi

That’s how fascists got in office today. Public education is so bad now that they don’t know there can be other types of fascists!

People who want to need their guns will always find a reason. And that has consequences.

hmm those sheriffs spouting the lies seems like a huge lawsuit waiting to happen.

No surprise here. I feel like "small-town America" also drives the success of those broken-English phishing/scam emails.

That and multiple state unemployment processes.

This is going right on my "Idiocracy" Feedly board.

This would explain the weird email that I got from a client saying that his town was prepping for "Antifa" rolls eyes

It’s amazing how the right wing media has a nation of self-proclaimed "tough guys" scared shitless of a ragtag bunch of young hippies and art and sociology students.

Who’s scared of whom? These anarcho-commies only attack when they have overwhelming odds, because they’re punks. The people running them out of town aren’t the scared ones.

Or the racist who’s quiet as a mouse around BAME people unless surrounded by their bigot buddies.
People generally don’t do shit that’s not socially acceptable unless they can get lost in the herd

This sounds a lot like the days right after 9/11, when people in rural areas were frantically afraid that terrorists were coming to attack their local Wal-Mart. Except I don’t think there was an organized misinformation campaign then.

This makes me so very sad. I’m in no doubt that these small town folks are genuinely afraid of antifa, which has been puffed up into this al-qaeda-esque terrorist organization by Fox News and co. I wish I could get out there to explain that

  1. Antifa (anti-fascism) is a set of principles that some people adopt, at most in tiny atomized groups. It’s not some umbrella conspiracy. And
  2. If it were some violent commie umbrella conspiracy, it wouldn’t be going out to your little town to terrorize your grandma.

1. They are FAR more organized and prolific than they’ve ever been. I’ve been encountering them for decades, and they used to just be very isolated and predictable, but they’ve become more sophisticated on many levels. They’re still punks, but they’re not as isolated (most likely because it’s easier to organize people as social media continues to grow).

2. They’re definitely not the sophisticated communist types, but they are anarchists who associate deeply with communism. They were literally the street thugs of the communist party in Germany back during the Weimar Republic. Essentialy, they’re the expendable useful idiots of communism. They may not have the political savvy to actually begin a communist state, but they can certainly create mayhem in support of it.

You do realise that with a few changes to the wording you could be describing alt right militias, right?
Extremists=bad
Doesn’t really matter which side of the political fence they sit

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