Daily Distraction: The Guardian reveals how CA police chased a nonexistent ‘antifa bus'

Sam Levin's story has echoes of Columbus Division of Police's own debacle involving a bus of circus performers

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
A protester holds up a Black Lives Matter sign during a protest for racial justice Downtown on Thursday, June 4, 2020.

It may seem like a different lifetime now, but it was just over a year ago, during the nationwide racial justice uprisings following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, that false rumors began circulating online about busloads of antifa fighters planning to infiltrate towns. One version involving Chillicothe, Ohio, showed up on Facebook: 

"Warning to those in Chillicothe, Ohio. Antifa has brought 2 busloads of protestors to Chillicothe. They are already here staying at a local hotel. ... Businesses have already begun boarding up their businesses. We have word that people are already spreading bricks around town for the mayheim [sic]. It's also being reported that they are planning on hitting more rural areas and will kill farmers and livestock along the way."

It was all a baseless, since-debunked misinformation campaign that can be traced, at least in part, to a tweet by a fake antifa Twitter account that some claim was created by a white nationalist group.

On June 1, 2020, when all of that was swirling in the air, the Columbus Division of Police posted a photo of a colorful school bus on social media, saying it was suspected of supplying rioting equipment and was full of rocks, cleavers, hatchets and other dangerous equipment. 

As Alive reported, the bus was actually home to a local couple, who, along with their friends, were involved in the circus arts. The rocks were healing crystals. The hatchet was for the wood stove.

More:'We were terrified and confused': The curious case of the colorful school bus

As it turns out, a police department hundreds of miles west of Columbus made a similar mistake, as reported by writer Sam Levin in a new story for The Guardian: "Revealed: how California police chased a nonexistent ‘antifa bus.'"

On June 1, 2020, the same day as CPD's social media post, Levin reports that a law enforcement official in the small town of Redding, California, sent screenshots of social media posts about antifa buses to her staff and asked them to investigate. 

From there, other law enforcement officials passed the notes along, duped by the hoax. Levin reports that as disinformation experts were debunking the claim, law enforcement agencies were using aircraft surveillance to look for the imaginary buses. 

"Officers in these rural counties, known for weed farms and hiking and overwhelmingly white, were swiftly duped by unfounded allegations about 'Antifa buses' threatening to 'infiltrate' the community as the United States wrestled with the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that sprung up in the aftermath," Levin writes.

Read the whole story here.