Multiple videos on YouTube are pushing a baseless conspiracy theory that anti-fascists are starting wildfires across the West Coast -- and these videos contain ads, meaning both YouTube and the accounts posting the videos are making money while advancing harmful misinformation.
During the month of September, record wildfires made worse by climate change have raged across California, Oregon, and Washington. As the fires have spread and officials have tried to contain them, a conspiracy theory claiming that “antifa” has been behind the wildfires has spread across major social media platforms. In reality, as NBC News noted, incidents like “lightning, faulty or knocked-down power lines and accidents” have been reported as the cause of many of the fires. Authorities, including the FBI, have been forced to rebut the false “antifa“ claim as people have refused to evacuate and militia groups are getting active.
A Media Matters review found multiple YouTube videos uploaded since September 7 with hundreds of thousands of combined views that give credence to, or fully embrace, the conspiracy theory and also run ads, leading to the account owners and YouTube making money from them. (Media Matters searched online tracking tool BuzzSumo for YouTube videos with “antifa” and then “wildfires,” “fires,” or “arson” in the title.)
One of these videos comes from the verified conspiracy theory channel and frequent misinformation-pusher The Next News Network, and it is titled “ANTIFA behind RAGING Wildfires? Experts Believe it's a Coordinated and Planned Attack.” In the video, host Gary Franchi said that “some experts believe that it's a coordinated and planned attack” by antifa, citing a false article from the site Law Enforcement Today. He later added that as the West Coast states “continue to burn, literally burn, and likely at the hands of antifa,” it was evidence why President Donald Trump “needs to step in and stop this Marxist revolution now.”
In another video, titled “Is Antifa Starting The Wildfires?,” the host claimed that he “heard from police officers in Oregon” that the false claim is true. He also attacked the “morons” at fact-checking site Snopes for debunking it, saying, “Nobody takes Snopes seriously anyway these days.”
In another video, titled “The Wildfires Were No Accident, Antifa Leftists Are Starting Fires to BURN THE COUNTRY DOWN,” an “independent journalist” showed a story from Russian state-controlled media outlet RT and said that “antifa is responsible for the wildfires raging across the United States” based on “several reports” and “a lot of evidence that adds up to suggest as much.”
Another video, partly titled “MSM Denies ANTIFA Arson,” featured a man claiming to have “secondhand reporting … from several different sources that multiple sheriff's departments in that area of the country have arrested multiple antifa scumbags for arson” and “coordinated attacks.” He also attacked mainstream media reporting that rebutted that narrative.
And in yet another video, a man said that the wildfires are “definitely the work of antifa” and claimed someone he knew heard “that they are actually calling it a coordinated attack on the police scanners.”