False claims of antifa protesters plague small U.S. cities

A demonstrator raises a fist in the air during a peaceful march in downtown New Orleans, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. They were protesting over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A demonstrator raises a fist in the air during a peaceful march in downtown New Orleans, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. They were protesting over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

CHICAGO – In the days since President Donald Trump blamed antifa activists for an eruption of violence at protests over police killings of black people, social media has lit up with false rumors that the far-left-leaning group is transporting people to wreak havoc on small cities across America.

The speculation was being raised by conservative news outlets and pro-Trump social media accounts, as well as impostor Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Twitter and Facebook busted some of the instigators behind the unsubstantiated social media chatter. Twitter determined Monday that a tweet promising antifa would “move into residential areas” and “white” neighborhoods was sent by the white supremacy group Identity Evropa. The tweet was shared hundreds of times and cited in online news articles before Twitter removed it Monday, a company spokesperson said.

Yet the tweet continued to circulate Tuesday on Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook, using information shared by Twitter, announced Tuesday night it also took down a handful of accounts on its platform that were created by white supremacy groups like Identity Evropa and American Guard, some of them posing as part of the antifa movement.

For years, some social media users have tried to delegitimize controversial or political protests with baseless theories that they were organized by wealthy financiers or extremists organizations. Over the weekend, Trump singled out antifa as being responsible for the violent protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd, saying in a tweet: “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left.”

“Usually you see this when there’s an interest to deflect conversations from protests to just accusing the protests of being violent, organized or having backers that are evil,”said Filippo Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana University. “The president mentioning it, of course, has generated a huge spike.”

The theories about antifa — short for “anti-fascists” and an umbrella term for lefitst militant groups that confront or resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations — have trickled through cities across the country in recent days.