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A story published in The Guardian today takes a closer look at how Northern California law enforcement agencies, including the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, got duped by baseless social media posts into launching a wild goose chase for a nonexistent “Antifa bus” last summer.
As readers may remember, back in June 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests were taking place across the country in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Sheriff William Honsal addressed the alleged threat posed by alleged antifa busses during a media availability video. In response to a question from the Outpost about such “wild, unsubstantiated theories,” he said:
We did have reports — substantiated, law enforcement reports — that said antifa did have people in buses that were in southern Oregon and in the Central Valley … . These aren’t unsubstantiated stories. This is the reality, and we have to deal with that.
Except it wasn’t reality, and the stories had not been substantiated.
The Guardian story reveals that the evidence for these claims amounted to a pair of screenshots of social media posts. The unsubstantiated posts were rooted in conspiracy theories, but the images were enough for the Redding office of the California Highway Patrol to launch an aircraft search and notify allied law enforcement agencies, including the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.
Public records obtained by the Guardian show that Honsal emailed his staff on June 2 saying he had “confirmed with CHP that the bus is currently in Redding” and that CHP had a “surveillance team” monitoring.
Online rumors of antifa busses prompted heavily armed militia groups to launch neighborhood patrols and, in one case, terrorize a multi-racial family on vacation in Washington, falsely accusing them of being antifa members.
A CHP spokesperson, however, told the Guardian that the agency had received no evidence beyond the two screenshots.
Ryan Shapiro, the executive director of the government transparency nonprofit Property of the People, tells the Guardian that the NorCal law enforcement agencies lacked “basic news and social media information literacy.”
On 1 September last year, the Humboldt undersheriff, Justin Braud, sent an email to staff, saying, “We are in trying times for sure, and we must prepare accordingly.” He encouraged officers to read an attached document, which he said contained “good material on preparedness for the unknown, mentally and physically”.
The document was a police newsletter called “Nor Cal Sheepdog” about “off-duty safety” in the “era of Anonymous, Antifa, and BLM”. Written by law enforcement consultants, the authors said these groups should not be “underestimated” and that their “tactics include attacks on officers”. The letter advised officers to “maintain vigilant watch for threats while off duty”, always be “armed and ready”, “train with your off-duty weapon”, “prepare for the possibility of being a victim” and be “paranoid”.
It warned officers that they could face attacks anywhere, including in their homes, adding, “Indecision is fatal. You must switch to the on-duty mindset.”
You can read the full story here.