The Federal Emergency Management Agency operates a Disaster Recovery Center on Maui and has approved $7 million in assistance to thousands of wildfire survivors. Online videos, however, are sharing a fabricated tale about FEMA’s operations, including a “shootout” with U.S. Marines. The bogus story originated on a satirical website.
Following the deadly wildfires on the island of Maui that began on Aug. 8, President Joe Biden declared the fires a major disaster and enlisted federal agencies and the military in recovery efforts, as we’ve written. The number of deaths had reached 115 by Aug. 25 and hundreds of people remained missing.
On Aug. 16, the Federal Emergency Management Agency opened a Disaster Recovery Center at the University of Hawaii Maui College, where residents affected by the fires could apply for federal disaster assistance, contact volunteer organizations and get access to other government resources.
The Biden administration said that nearly 1,000 federal responders were in Hawaii as of Aug. 18 to help the fire victims. FEMA had given $7 million in assistance to more than 2,000 households by Aug. 21.
“Search and rescue teams remain on the ground to assist with efforts and are working diligently to ensure all properties are meticulously searched and any victims and personal property are handled with the utmost reverence and respect,” an Aug. 18 FEMA release also said.
But videos on social media are sharing a fabricated, bizarre story about FEMA’s activities on Maui.
“United States Marines on Friday ‘neutralized’ a FEMA convoy that fled fire-stricken Lahaina for Haleakalā National Park, a 33,000-acre wilderness and home to the state’s highest peak, Mount Haleakalā, from where FEMA might have escaped had the Marines not downed a helicopter sent to rescue the federal brigands,” the narrator reads.
“The chase began early Friday morning when a Marine platoon and FEMA had a shootout in the Maui Forest Reserve east of Lahaina Beach,” she goes on to say. “Responding to intelligence reports, the Marines caught FEMA red-handed burying corpses in an earthen grave the feds had excavated with a backhoe.”
In an Aug. 21 TikTok video shared on Instagram, headlined “US Marines VS FEMA, a man in a dark uniform reads a few lines from the same article. After reciting or summarizing parts of the article, the man adds, “So I’m not personally sure how true all of that really is.”
None of it is true.
The article originated Aug. 20 on the website Real Raw News — a site that presents itself as a news source but includes a disclaimer that says, “Information on this website is for informational and educational and entertainment purposes. This website contains humor, parody, and satire. We have included this disclaimer for our protection, on the advice on legal counsel.”
Despite the website’s disclaimer, social media users often share its stories as if they are accurate reports.
We’ve written about other fabricated stories that have appeared on Real Raw News — and later shared as fact on social media — including misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines in Russia and in the U.S. military.
Responding to the recent posts about FEMA, agency spokesperson Jeremy Edwards told us in an email, “These claims are absolutely false. The Department of Defense is one of FEMA’s strongest partners during disaster response and recovery efforts. We are currently working closely with service members in the response and recovery efforts for the Maui wildfires.”
Edwards also noted that FEMA has created a webpage to address rumors and questions about the wildfires.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
Edwards, Jeremy M. Press secretary, Federal Emergency Management Agency. Email to FactCheck.org. 24 Aug 2023.
Federal Emergency Management Agency. Press release. “Biden-Harris Administration Sends Nearly 1,000 Federal Responders to Hawaii.” 18 Aug 2023.
Federal Emergency Management Agency. Press release. “FEMA Launches Web Page to Dispel Myths, Address Rumors and Answer Frequently Asked Questions Related to Hawaii Wildfires.” 17 Aug 2023.
Federal Emergency Management Agency. Press release. “FEMA Opens First Disaster Recovery Center on Maui.” 16 Aug 2023.
Hassan, Adeel and Damien Cave. “Latest About the Maui Wildfires: Hundreds Remain Missing.” New York Times. 25 Aug 2023.
Izevbigie, Blossom. “Posts Misrepresent Military’s Response to Maui Wildfires.” FactCheck.org. 17 Aug 2023.
Jones, Brea. “Marine General Supports Vaccinations for Military.” FactCheck.org. 17 Aug 2021.
Real Raw News. About Us. Disclaimer. Accessed 25 Aug 2023.
Spengler, Matt. “Posts Spread Unfounded Claims About Russia’s Use of COVID-19 Vaccines.” FactCheck.org. 14 Mar 2023.
White House. “President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Approves Hawaii Disaster Declaration.” 10 Aug 2023.