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Joe Rogan repeats debunked claim that ‘left-wing people’ are starting Oregon wildfires

Podcast host Joe Rogan repeated false claims on his show that left-wing extremists have been arrested for starting forest fires in Oregon. (YouTube)
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On his latest podcast episode on Thursday, Joe Rogan took aim at protesters in Portland, Ore., calling their clashes with police “madness.” For further evidence, he pointed to the massive forest fires tearing through Oregon this month.

“They’ve arrested left-wing people for lighting these forest fires,” he said on “The Joe Rogan Experience” to his millions of listeners. “You know, air-quote, ‘activists.’ This is also something that’s not widely being reported.”

That’s not true, according to both the FBI and local law enforcement in Oregon. In fact, those agencies have urged people to stop spreading claims that antifa members are starting fires, warning that the misinformation is hampering efforts to battle the wildfires and fueling a dangerous surge of vigilantism.

“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 last week in a statement. “Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources.”

The backlash over Rogan’s false claim has heaped more pressure on Spotify, which recently signed the massively popular podcaster to a deal reportedly worth up to $100 million. Spotify also met with employees this week angry that the service is streaming Rogan episodes that critics have called transphobic, Vice reported.

Spotify didn’t immediately return a message from The Washington Post early Friday.

False claims about left-wing arsonists have proliferated as the fires have killed eight people and burned roughly 1 million acres in Oregon. While there have been a handful of arrests tied to the fires, law enforcement has emphatically denied any ties to extremist groups.

“There’s no reason to believe that this is politically motivated,” Tighe O’Meara, the police chief in Ashland, Ore., told NPR on Sunday of his department’s criminal probe into the Almeda Fire. “Anybody that is speculating in that direction is being reckless. … It’s irresponsible.”

The misinformation has led to real problems. When a meme went viral claiming that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office had arrested “six antifa members” last week, the sheriff’s office was flooded with calls that tied up officers and operators. Unfounded fears of extremist fire-starters and false reports of looting have also led vigilantes to set up illegal roadblocks and hold a photojournalist at gunpoint.

With his millions of followers, Rogan is among the most visible figures to repeat the debunked claim, which has also been parroted by Fox News host Laura Ingraham. QAnon-affiliated accounts have also pushed the conspiracy theory, according to the Oregonian. On Saturday, a sheriff’s deputy in Clackamas County was suspended for making similar claims.

Rogan repeated those false allegations on Thursday during a longer discussion of the unrest in Portland with Douglas Murray, a conservative British author.

“There’s a madness going on there,” Rogan said, referring to the protests. “You want to talk about madness of crowds. … That exemplifies that right now.”

An estimated 500,000 people in Oregon were facing the threat of wildfires that had engulfed over a million acres by Sept. 12. (Video: The Washington Post)

After claiming that “left-wing” people had been arrested for setting fires, he suggested that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) should be grilled over how to stop them.

“I would love to talk to the mayor and say, ‘What is your strategy for ending this? Are you hoping this is just going to die down?’” Rogan said.

Rogan’s show began streaming on Sept. 1 on Spotify, which also uploaded 11 years of his archives. But the service didn’t include some of his more controversial past interviews, including episodes with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Entertainment Weekly reported.

Rogan made headlines earlier this week after suggesting that President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden come onto his podcast for a debate — an idea Trump quickly endorsed on Twitter. Critics on Thursday pointed to Rogan’s misinformation about the forest fires as a prime reason for Biden to decline.

“I can’t imagine why Joe Biden wouldn’t trust Joe Rogan to be a debate moderator,” tweeted Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.