Joe Rogan pushes debunked conspiracy theory about wildfires and “left-wing people”

Update (9/18/20, 3:15 p.m. EDT): Following this reporting, Joe Rogan apologized for his remarks and acknowledged that they were not true. He wrote on Twitter, “I repeated it without looking into it and it was a really fucking stupid mistake that won’t happen again. I’m sorry."

On the September 17 edition of his podcast, host Joe Rogan pushed the baseless conspiracy theory that “left-wing people” are “lighting forest fires” on the West Coast.

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,” short for anti-fascist activists, have been behind the wildfires has spread across major social media platforms. 

In reality, as BuzzFeed News reports, there are people being arrested for arson, but none of them are anti-fascists. Instead, NBC News noted, incidents like “lightning, faulty or knocked-down power lines and accidents, like the El Dorado fire in California ignited by a pyrotechnic device during a ‘gender-reveal party,’ are some of the reported causes of this year’s wildfires.” One firefighter even debunked the conspiracy theory in a viral TikTok video, saying that many fires were started by campfires and lightning strikes.

Authorities including the FBI have been forced to rebut the false “antifa“ narrative as people have refused to evacuate due to baseless fears of antifa “looting,” and armed militia groups are getting active to confront this “fictitious problem.”

Despite this reporting by reputable outlets and pleading by local law enforcement, these claims are still being spread.

On the September 17 edition of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan repeatedly and falsely said that “they've arrested left-wing people for lighting these forest fires” in Portland, Oregon. He added that there was “a madness going on there” and claimed that “these people want your head and they want blood, and they don’t seem to be willing to settle for anything less.”

Video file

Citation From the September 17, 2020, edition of The Joe Rogan Experience  

JOE ROGAN (HOST): I actually love Portland. It’s one of my favorite places to perform. Most of the people there are very nice. But there’s a madness going on there. You want to talk about madness of crowds. That is -- that exemplifies that right now. And it’s, to me, they’ve arrested people for lighting forest fires up there. They've arrested left-wing people for lighting these forest fires. You know, air quote, “activists.” And this is something that’s also not widely being reported. You know, that people have actually been arrested for lighting fires up there. This is -- I don’t know what, like if I would love to talk to the mayor and say what is your strategy for ending this? Are you hoping this is just going to die down? Like because they -- these people want your head and they want blood, and they don't seem to be willing to settle for anything less.

Multiple YouTube videos with hundreds of thousands of combined views have also pushed this conspiracy theory, and Fox’s Laura Ingraham and the co-hosts of Fox & Friends Weekend have also made the false claim. QAnon conspiracy theory groups have used Facebook to spread the claims despite Facebook’s promise to remove misinformation about the narrative and to scrutinize QAnon organizing on its platform.

Rogan is one of the most influential podcast hosts in the world, and he has frequently used his platform to attack and demean trans people and spread misinformation. In May, he signed an exclusive licensing agreement worth more than $100 million with Spotify, which began streaming 11 years of his show as well as new episodes on September 1. Notably, numerous past episodes featuring right-wing guests were not uploaded to Spotify’s library, including interviews with far-right bigot Milo Yiannopoulos and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.