The Antifa Myth

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S1: This week in Washington, reporters spent a lot of time trying to convince Republican lawmakers to respond to a presidential tweet.

S2: In its latest controversial tweet, President Trump has claimed that the protester injured by Buffalo police officers late last week could be linked to and Tifa the fringe.

S1: Trump had accused a 75 year old man knocked over by police in Buffalo of being a member of Antifa, I should say. This claim is baseless. And this protester. He’s still in the hospital.

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S2: Monica. Anything more from Republicans or the campaign regarding the president’s tweet? No, Chris. And I think that’s what’s most striking here is the silence.

S3: Often when you have I mean, Trump said he wanted to declare an TIFA, a terrorist organization a few weeks back. Right. Had good luck with that.

S1: Brandy’s a Droney isn’t NBC News correspondent. She covers online culture, spends a lot of time in the darker corners of the Internet. She says it would be pretty hard to declare an TIFA a terrorist organization. They’re not very organized. For one, the Antifa or antifascists, they’re mostly connected by their tactics. They embrace vandalism, looting. They want to fight.

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S2: And it’s rooted in this idea that, you know, the Nazis would’ve never come to power in Germany if people had literally fought them in the streets in the 20s.

S1: So Antipas, not new, but Trump is bringing it up now. And Brandee thinks that’s worth paying attention to.

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S2: Antifa has been one of President Trump and the far right, you know, sort of boogey man for a while. Black Lives Matter was also a similar sort of boogie man group, fought for those folks. And but now I think as as Black Lives Matter has become a sort of national, widely accepted group and protest movement. I think that now we’re heading back to NTFS.

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S4: As you know, the easier boogeyman here, Brandee says, and Tifa is a useful foil for Trump right now. You might not see how successful the Antifa myth has been, but it’s gotten amazing traction in towns and neighborhoods across the country. Brandee seen people freak out about Antifa and these closed Facebook groups.

S2: So what we’ve seen from our investigation is that these private groups have really been trafficking in these false rumors that Antifa is is not just like a nebulous threat on the far left, but that is actually coming to your town. It’s coming for Main Street. And that is the new thing here.

S1: Today on the show, how the fear of an TIFA is spreading through digital whisper networks that can be hard for an outsider to penetrate. It turns out these online rumors are having real life consequences.

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S5: I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: Brandy’s big point about the digital rumors around and Tifa is that misinformation doesn’t stay online. And when some people hear that and TFA is coming to their town, they start girding themselves for battle. It sounds like a joke, but this is happening. Brandi saw it unfold in Oregon in a little town called Klamath Falls. The people there weren’t doing anything unusual a week ago. They were watching protests sweep major cities around the country. So a bunch of locals decided to plan a Black Lives Matter protest of their own unbeknownst to them. Other people in the region were gearing up for an end TFA invasion online.

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S2: What was happening was a rumor, and it was leading A.I. protesters to come and line the other side of the street, very armed, very intimidating and waiting for this fight with an TIFA that ultimately never came. They had a livestream from the Black Lives Matter side and they had a livestream from the counterprotests inside where everybody. Two hundred people came armed, ready to fight this anti fat rumor that they had heard on Facebook.

S6: I was called that there’s a.. Face here and they’re going to trash our town. I was called that. All hell’s gonna break loose in Cologne County tonight.

S4: You know, you mentioned these Facebook groups. What did you find?

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S1: Like what was going on in these Facebook groups to kind of get people interested, concerned and scared?

S2: I was able to join this private Facebook group and and just see when the first mention of Antifa coming to town. And it was interesting because this rumor spread so fast. And maybe that’s why the response was so extreme to because the panic was just severe. So it started with this Facebook post saying, you know, I’m not one to to spread fake news, but there are two buses heading this way from Portland full of anti four members. They’re loaded with guns and bricks and they’re going to destroy Klamath Falls. They’re going to murder police officers. And they’re going to go to residential areas and they’re going to mess up the white neighborhoods. Who sent that message? Just a resident. Nobody special. Nobody in particular a young woman. That’s in no way that I can tell. Did not respond to me to my request for comment. But she’s truly a resident. So it didn’t come from nowhere.

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S1: The woman was reposting something she’d seen on Twitter. And the problem was it was wrong. A white nationalist group posing as an TIFA had sent a message out, claimed they were going to target white communities, that they were going there to take what’s ours. Then Donald Trump Junior retweeted that message as a kind of warning. That’s when Facebook groups like the one in KLEMET Falls begin lighting up. People simply copied and pasted the bad information and posted it.

S2: Now, it’s important to note a lot of people initially were like, what? Now, like, this isn’t that’s not happening. But then a couple of hours later, at most someone else posted what they said was a screenshot from this Colonel Jeff Edwards, and he’s the commander of the Oregon Air National Guard in Klamath Falls. And keep that person posted a screenshot. And it said, you know, hey, team to his airman. Please avoid downtown. There is. We’ve received Intel that there could be two bus loads of A.F. of protesters coming to Klamath Falls. They’re coming at eight, 30 every day. This guy. He’s a hero in this small town. And everybody believed that. And so immediately I was like, OK. Mount up. And then you saw all the responses were like, this must be true. Who’s saying this? And then then it was attributed to law enforcement officials had told him. And so suddenly we’re just playing this game. Very small telephone. But very quickly, what’s sort of happened in this group was it turned to people going out and looking for these buses because, again, it’s a small town going to notice two bus loads fall and TIFA protesters. So they go out and they go to the Walmart and they go to, you know, vantage points where they can see the highway and just start looking and posting what they see. Someone said that they saw, you know, somebody in black at the grocery store at Albertson’s. So it just became this sort of scavenger hunt for for the people of Klamath Falls and Off-line. What they started doing is meeting in real spaces. They met at a space that’s dedicated to military folks and they started hatching a plan to come armed. And they gave out blue armbands, everyone. Know who the people were, you know, that were there to protect the businesses and fight and. If they had to. And then a few hours later, they were on the street.

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S1: When did they actually find what they were looking for?

S2: Yes. So they came out looking for an TIFA and they never found it because. And if it ever came. Of course.

S1: So instead of fending off foreign invaders, the group of would be Paul Revere’s found themselves in a good old fashioned counterprotest.

S4: Their side had guns. The other side had signs. The Black Lives Matter supporters, though, they were flummoxed and intimidated.

S2: They hadn’t been on these spaces. They weren’t in the private spaces where people were getting the blue armbands and planning like to be armed. So they didn’t know what they were walking into. And they were very afraid, as you might imagine. When you see a group of 200 mostly white men all holding guns and shotguns and somebody had an AK and a vase. And so for them, they they really were afraid. And the other, I think, prevailing emotion there. And what they described to me was pride. Like, so proud of their little down. They’ve been there now eight days in a row. People who are sort of our margins on these communities have come out and made their voices heard. And that’s been really powerful.

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S3: One of the characters were really stood out from your reporting was one of the few black residents of Klimov Falls, who is part of the Black Lives Matter protest. And we’re sort of seeing the residents of his town in this new way. I wonder if you can talk about him a little bit.

S2: Yeah. Frederick Brigham. He is a musician. He goes by the name Rick the Rebel, and also a little Freddie that he he hadn’t come to. He didn’t plan to come out to the protest. And he was at a pizza shop nearby. And he had heard that this was happening. And he was like, well, I’m one of the only black people in this town. So I guess I should walk on over. And he did. He he walked over and he said it was like walking through an enemy camp. Several people in the counter protesting camp across the street yell things like go home. And, you know, as along with their USA, USA, Trump chants, There was a lot of go homes. He said that he always sort of felt like an outsider. He said he felt lonely. He felt isolated. He felt sometimes scared just to live in that county. He said he has a six month old baby boy. So he was there to sort of make a statement about being a father of a young black boy as well. It was it was definitely hard for him, no doubt. But he’s a he’s a character. And the counter protesters did end up speaking to him because he is very charismatic and he’s able to speak pretty loudly about how he feels. And so there were a few bridges built between those sides. Threw him that night, too.

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S3: He said to highlight a couple of things from your story that I think are important and worth picking apart. More like first off, there’s the fact that Facebook is really important to signal boosting these rumors about TFA. And the second thing is that members of the military, like this National Guard person, are bolstering rumors that are later found to be untrue. I’m wondering if there are other examples where you’re seeing these in TFA rumors trickle into more official channels.

S2: We’ve seen local police departments and law enforcement agencies having to either come out and say there’s nothing here. You know, calm down, or they’ve said and it’s been published in local media there that they’ve said, OK, we are responding to rumors that there has been the Antifa is coming on a bus. It’s happening everywhere. I don’t I don’t know how you could give me a town and I can find you a Facebook group there. That’s a local closed Facebook group with community news. And I would be willing to bet you that there is some talk about antifa right now and those groups.

S3: Were you able to speak to Facebook about their role here?

S2: No, we did not speak to Facebook on this story. I work a lot and Facebook groups, I have probably published hundreds of stories about these very insular spaces and their importance and what people believe and what they do, and not only online, but off Facebook groups is that’s that’s where they’re growing their audience. They’ve moved they’ve pivoted to privacy since they’ve lost the trust of a bunch of people by, you know, mishandling their data and doing other things to breach the public trust. And so they’ve moved to these private spaces and we just have no idea about what’s going on there. So all of the problems that Facebook used to have between white supremacy, to medical misinformation, to political disinformation, that’s all happening. You just can’t see it anymore, but no, they did not respond to a request for this story.

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S3: Yeah, I mean, something that stood out to me from your reporting is that you reported on these Facebook groups were the anti for rumors were spreading. And especially these videos where local people live streamed themselves talking about their concerns about an TIFA coming to them and just how popular those were, like how many likes they had, how many shares.

S1: And then you also talked about that one black resident of Klamath Falls who who you’d spent some time talking to and how he was also live streaming himself. But only 14 people were watching. And so there’s this huge disparity in whose voice is being amplified.

S2: Yes, the truth is sometimes boring. You know, I watched both live streams. They were four hours each. And I watched them in totality. And I can tell you that protests where people are quietly saying the names of black men and women who’ve been killed in police custody and, you know, talking politely to one another for four hours is a lot less gripping than one win, which a man travels around with a rifle on his chest and tons of bullet proof vests all around and men and pipe with pipes, you know, over their shoulders, chanting and talking about this threat that’s coming to kill everyone. That’s that’s gripping, whether it’s true or not. And I think people who work in this disinformation space have almost basically the people I’ve talked to have given up on expecting the platforms to do anything about this. They’ve signaled that they will and they don’t care. I think what the new tactic is, is almost like like a polluted actual ecosystem. Right. A polluted environment is that at some point, you know, you want the large industrial waste makers to to clean up their plants. But what you also have to do is depend on each one of us to recycle, to, you know, take care of our own streets. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from people in Klamath Falls that have said, you know, OK, maybe next time I won’t share something so quickly or maybe next time I’ll be more careful with what I believe online. And I think that’s where it starts. And that’s sort of the hope.

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S3: That’s a really interesting way to put it, because just to compare this to your pollution, where it’s like, OK, well, we’re not going to bring down X on tomorrow, but we can clean up a stream maybe if we all work together.

S2: Yeah. And I mean, it is local, especially with these groups, I guess, still in this group. So even after this story, you know, there are some people saying, well, you know, Antifa was here and we ran them off. But that I spoke to I spoke to a fella who owns a pool bar and he had posted posts that went viral that said, you know, we beat Antifa. We had them here on the ropes and they ran away and they didn’t know what they were up against. And I called him and said, Do you still stand by that tweet? And he basically said, Oh, no, I guess not. And just just a quick talking, too. He admitted that, yeah, the protesters probably felt really scared and threatened. He said, you know, I have multiracial grandchildren. I feel terrible about what happened to George Floyd. And, you know, I, I think we got away with ourselves and what we saw online and that acknowledgement. I do think there’s you know, when people do realize they’ve made that mistake, they are more careful in the future about what they share. So it’s just going to we’re just going to have to reach every single person on social media and empathetically show them the error of their ways. And then the problem will be solved. No sweat. It’s easier than getting the platforms to do anything, that’s for sure.

S5: Brindusa Droney, thank you so much for joining me. Thanks, Mary. Brandi Sironi is an NBC News correspondent. Good. NBC News dot com for more of her reporting. And that’s the show. What Next is produced by Daniel Hewitt, Mary Wilson and Jason de Leone tomorrow. Lizzie O’Leary will be here for another episode of What Next? TBD. Thanks for listening.

S1: I’m Mary Harris to on Monday. There’s one less thing that I wanted to talk to you about, but I’m just not sure how to jam it into this, which is am I anti the.