Journalist Reports Being Held at Gunpoint by Oregonians as Conspiracy Theories Surrounding Wildfires Abound

Remains of a mobile home are seen after a wildfire sweep through an R.V. park destroying multiple homes in Estacada, Oregon September 12, 2020. - US officials girded today for the possibility of mass fatalities from raging wildfires up and down the West Coast, as evacuees recounted the pain of leaving everything behind in the face of fast-moving flames. Dense smog from US wildfires that have burnt nearly five million acres and killed 27 people smothered the West Coast on September 12.
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A photojournalist was held at gunpoint in rural Oregon as conspiracy theories continue to swirl that leftist activist known as “antifa arsonists,” or far-right groups are the alleged culprits of the wildfires raging across the Pacific Northwest, according to The Guardian

These “baseless rumors” reported by the news outlet are allegedly being spread by elected officials, rightwing protest groups and conservative media.

Some residents in Estacada, Oregon have taken matters into their own hands to protect their property from looters since many have evacuated, the news outlet reported.

Last week, Nathan Howard was on assignment for a picture agency when he was approached by two different men, who accused him of being a looter, he said. 

“The man began yelling and became so agitated, it was like his eyes were popping out of his head,” he told The Guardian.

Another incident occurred as Howard was driving, when a truck parked horizontally across the highway in order to block him from passing. 

Howard said the man went up to his windshield and pointed a loaded assault rifle with his finger on the trigger. “You're a looter,” Howard said the man yelled. “You have to get out of here.”

Since wildfires have ravaged many states, there have been arrests for alleged arson, officials said. 

According to officials, the social media disinformation that appears to be spreading like wildfire has been problematic. Officials have already denied any allegations that the fires have been politically motivated, The Guardian reported.  The fires appear to have “been sparked by power lines and other ignitions, and have exploded amid dry, hot and windy weather conditions in a landscape primed for fire because of drought,” the news outlet said.

Earlier this week, a group of residents in Oregon armed themselves, set up roadblocks, and told people to show their identification after someone started a blaze with fireworks, authorities said. 

The small fire near Corbett was started “intentionally,” and remains under investigation, according to Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese as reported in the New York Post.

“We told people engaging in this behavior that roadways are open to all users, and their actions are illegal and they could be subject to citation or arrest,” Reese said.

The recent event was just one of the ways residents have dealt with a number of conspiracy theories swirling around.

Some believe that "antifa" or “extremists” are behind the blazes, which have killed at least 10 people, despite the FBI finding no evidence to support that claim. In a statement, the Portland FBI said they are working with local law enforcement agencies regarding reports that extremists are responsible for setting wildfires in Oregon.

“With our state and local partners, the FBI has investigated several such reports and found them to be untrue. Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away from local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control,” the FBI said. 

Additional claims that have circulated and been shot down by various local law enforcement agencies throughout the state include, “an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires," said the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. 

In nearby Jackson County, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office has been dealing with similar issues.

“We are inundated with questions about things that are FAKE stories," the department said in a Facebook post. "One example is a story circulating that varies about what group is involved as to setting fires and arrests being made.”

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