Speculations of looting made some residents of an Oregon county to illegally stop unfamiliar drivers at gunpoint, all while much of the county is under an evacuation order as wildfires rage.
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said several people in the county had been conducting armed checkpoints, stopping cars they didn’t recognize as an effort to “protect property.”
“The first thing I’d ask them to do is please stop that,” Sheriff Roberts said during a Sunday news conference. “It is illegal to stop somebody at gunpoint. The last thing I want to see is anything tragically happen because somebody is overreacting to something.”
Roberts said dispatchers received a 400% increase in calls for suspicious people since the wildfire began. Most of them were never found, though a small number of arrests have been made. He didn’t elaborate on the number of arrests or the nature of the offenses committed.
As of Friday, there were at least five wildfires burning in Clackamas County, including the major Riverside and Beachie Creek fires. Most of the county is under an evacuation order. However, some residents living in those evacuation zones are not leaving their homes and are instead staying to “defend” their property.
Residents made homemade signs lining wire fences and hazy, yellow-tinged streets, saying “Looters get shot.”
Last week, the FBI’s Portland office said that “reports that extremists are setting wildfires in Oregon are untrue.” Neighboring Oregon sheriff’s offices have debunked reports that Antifa is intentionally setting fires.
“Antifa” was recently invoked by conservative officials, including President Donald Trump, as responsible for fires, looting and mischief after months of protests against police brutality and racism.
Antifa, short for anti-fascists, refers to a broad group of people with far-left beliefs who often protest at far-right events, like 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Members have damaged property in past demonstrations, but accusations that they’ve intentionally caused more damage during crises or natural disasters, like the current wildfires, are unsupported.