In early June, the Columbus, Ohio police posted a picture on Facebook of a rainbow school bus painted with animals and trees.
“This bus was stopped yesterday at Broad St. & 3rd due for obstruction of traffic,” the post reads. “There was a suspicion of supplying riot equipment to rioters.”
It goes on to say that “bats, rocks, meat cleavers, axes, clubs and other projectiles” were found on board, and that charges are pending.
The owners of the bus, however, a group of performers who named the vehicle “Buttercup,” say that they were just there to dispense food and first aid to the protesters.
The trouble started on May 31 when the group of friends, connected by a love of performing circus tricks like juggling rings and spinning plates, had converted the bus into a roving aid station for protesters in Columbus, according to the local outlet Columbus Alive.
As they tried to leave the downtown arena at the end of the night, they were surrounded by police. Kaylee Oiler, one of the people aboard the bus, took a video on Facebook live.
Everyone inside the converted bus, complete with a stove and cluttered with hula hoops, has their hands up, as red and blue lights flash from the cars outside.
“Should I back up? What should I do here?” the driver called out the window. “We’re just trying to leave.”
Over a loudspeaker, the police ordered them off of the bus one at a time.
Mutters of “it’s not curfew yet” rebounded around the bus.
Another officer told them to stay on, provoking quietly derisive reactions from those in the bus at the contradictory orders.
They eventually filed off. “They’re just being confusing, they’re not really being dickish,” Oiler said of the police as she waited to disembark.
“They impounded the bus and all our belongings inside including my money, car keys and ID,” she wrote in a caption alongside the video. “They wouldn’t allow anyone to get their items off. No one was arrested, we are all free, they let us go and told us it was 20 minutes till curfew so we better find somewhere to go.”
She added that they were able to retrieve the bus the next day.
They thought that was the end of the encounter — until the police posted on Facebook and Twitter.
Both posts have thousands of comments and have been shared thousands of times. Many of the respondents expressed vindication that members of antifa, a loosely defined idea of militant anti-fascist protesting that has been aggressively demonized by President Donald Trump, had indeed come to use the protests as an excuse to commit mass destruction.
The baseless fear has been echoed in towns across the country, some of whom have heeded rumors on social media and taken up arms for a threat that never materializes. In many of these cases, the imaginary invasion is predicted to come in the form of “busloads” of antifa antagonizers.
One of the owners of the bus tried to clear up the misinformation in a comment.
“Hey everyone! This is my bus,” Reese Digati posted. “We were at the protest handing out water and washing mace off of people’s faces. If you have any questions, please feel free to talk to me. This bus is my home and I often use it as a supply vehicle. We were peaceful the entire time. The ‘weapons’ that were found are tools. Axes for my wood stove, knives for cooking, etc.”
“They failed to mention that we were all peaceful protesting,” added Oiler. “If we were ‘rioting and looting’ wouldn’t there be a ton of stolen items from store found? Not a single one. Because we weren’t out there causing destruction to anyone, or anything.”
Nevertheless, elected officials got in on the action, seizing the posts as evidence of intent to destroy the city.
“Please note: The limited arrests to this point do not reflect the significant safety concerns we have for the city,” wrote Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther (D) on Twitter, retweeting the Columbus police. “I would point to the recovery of a bus registered in Vermont filled with bats, rocks, meat cleavers and axes on Sunday night.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) snarkily claimed vindication.
“Police in Ohio found a bus near protests filled with bats, rocks & other weapons,” he tweeted. “But I guess still ‘no evidence’ of an organized effort to inject violence & anarchy into the protests right?”
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