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US protests: Dark-clad thugs on planes and other claims fact-checked

Gas-masked protesters in Portland holding Black Lives Matters placards

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Protests against racism in the US city of Portland have passed the 100-day mark

Images of protests in American cities and debates about what is behind the unrest have flooded social media. Misleading information and unfounded rumours are rife too.

Here are some of the claims we’ve been investigating.

Claim: President Trump says thugs in uniforms intent on inciting unrest have been seen travelling around the United States on a plane

Verdict: There have been no reports that this incident took place, and the White House has provided no evidence

President Trump told Fox News earlier this week that someone had seen “thugs… in dark uniforms” on a plane destined for Washington DC intent on doing damage at the Republican National Convention last week.

A day later he told reporters that the witness saw an “entire plane filled up with the looters, the anarchists, rioters, people looking for trouble”.

The president was on his way to Wisconsin where days of protest followed the police shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, in the city of Kenosha.

The president offered to refer journalists to the witness but said he would check with the person first. No information of such an event has come to light.

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President Trump talking to reporters before flying to Kenosha

The White House said: “The president is referring to questions that need answers such as who may be funding travel and lodging for organised rioters.”

When pressed on the president’s claim during an interview on CNN, US Attorney General William Barr said he didn’t know “what the president was referring to”.

He said the government had numerous reports of people flying to protests and was monitoring antifa – a loose affiliation of mostly far-left activists – crossing the country to join “riots”.

Senator Rand Paul told Fox News that the people who confronted him after the Republican National Convention were being flown from city to city and some were staying in “$600 to $1,000” a-night hotels. We contacted Senator Paul’s office for further details.

Similarities have been pointed out between the president’s account and a false rumour that circulated on Facebook in Idaho.

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A false Facebook post

One example posted on 1 June raised the alarm that a dozen men, dressed in black, were spotted getting off a plane in Boise, Idaho, which had come from Seattle.

But the local sheriff’s office rejected the alleged sighting and stated it was “false”.

Claim: A video being shared on Facebook shows antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters chasing a father and daughter because they were Trump supporters

Verdict: This video, first shared in 2019, is among others from previous protests being recirculated

A conservative activist based in Northern Ireland posted this video on Twitter, claiming it shows a Trump-supporting father and his young daughter being chased by “far left” protesters.

The video has been viewed more than 700,000 times since 1 September.

The clip is actually of an incident during protests in the city of Portland in 2019, long before the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the United States began. This is not made clear by the people sharing it.

According to Oregon Live’s reporting in 2019, the man – dressed up in an Ancient Greek warrior costume – being chased by the large group is a well known right-wing figure.

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Joe Biden also spoke in Kenosha, the site of recent Black Lives Matter protests

Claim: Joe Biden praised antifa as a “courageous group of Americans” in a video announcing his candidacy

Verdict: Mr Biden was praising all the counter-protesters who opposed a far-right rally

An article on a conservative blog says Mr Biden endorsed antifa in a video that launched his election campaign in 2019.

In the video, Mr Biden criticised President Trump for comments he made following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

The Democratic Party’s presidential nominee said the far-right group was met by a “courageous group of Americans and a violent clash ensued”.

Anti-fascists, who do routinely clash with the far right, were among the counter protesters. A range of groups turned out that day to oppose the gathering.

Mr Biden does not mention antifa by name. His comments appear to refer to all the counter-protesters, some of whom fought the white nationalists.

Claim: A video taken in Portland, Oregon shows an antifa protester encampment

Verdict: The video is in fact of socially-distanced tents arranged for homeless people

This post, shared more than 7,000 times, claims to have discovered proof of an “antifa encampment” in Portland, a city where widespread protests have been taking place.

We matched the footage in the tweet with photos, videos and reports of the actual location.

The video actually shows an area of the city set up for homeless people during the coronavirus outbreak. Three of these camps are run by a local homeless charity.

Other posts shared by conservative and QAnon supporting accounts, generating tens of thousands of shares, describe the camp as “antifa HQ”.

There have been 100 days of unrest in Portland, where protesters have been involved in clashes with security forces.

With additional reporting from Olga Robinson

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