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Debunking the Conspiracy Theories Claiming That Antifa Led the Attack on the Capitol
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Debunking the Conspiracy Theories Claiming That Antifa Led the Attack on the Capitol

Right-wing groups were planning online for weeks to protest the electoral vote count.

Following the storming of Capitol Hill by Trump supporters on Wednesday, many on the pro-Trump right attempted to shift blame for the attack to Antifa instead. Two connected conspiracy theories started to spread: one claiming that two men at the riot had been identified as leftists and Antifa members, the other claiming that a facial recognition software company had identified two Antifa members at the siege. Both conspiracies appear to be referring to the same two men, neither of whom have actually been identified as Antifa members—one is, in fact, a rather prominent QAnon believer—and the facial recognition software company claims it actually identified two neo-Nazis at the attack, not two Antifa members.

The New York Post shared a variant of these conspiracies in an article that claimed two rioters had been recognized as Antifa members, citing an anonymous law enforcement source. The article attempts to differentiate this conspiracy from others by noting that the two supposed Antifa members were from New York, unlike the other conspiracy theories that claimed the two Antifa members were from Philadelphia. The article does not provide information about who the two Antifa members are or how they were recognized, and does not include images or anything of substance to back up the claim. Regardless, the article went viral on social media.

These conspiracies gained incredible traction quickly, thanks to being shared by prominent figures such as Lin Wood, Sarah Palin, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, who made the claim both on social media and during a speech on the House floor. The idea that the attack was a false flag operation by Antifa has now taken on a life of its own, and many are making the claim without offering evidence based solely on the view that such behavior didn’t seem typical for Republicans. Rush Limbaugh, for example, stated on his January 7 show that “Republicans do not join protest mobs. They do not loot and they don’t riot. To the grand disappointment of many people. But a tiny minority of these protesters, and undoubtedly including some antifa Democrat sponsored instigators, did decide to go to the Capitol to protest the people’s House.” Laura Ingraham suggested on her January 6 show that the rioters might not be Trump supporters because of “those knee pads and all the pads on their elbows” which she said she’d never seen at a Trump rally before. 

Others didn’t outright claim Antifa was definitely behind the attack, but attempted to cast doubt on the idea that Trump supporters were behind the chaos by “just asking questions” and encouraging people not to rush to judgement.

A rumor has also started that Antifa members were bused into D.C. The rumor appears to have originated with Twitter user Paul Sperry, a journalist who falsely accused National Security Council official Victoria Coates of being the author of the New York Times “Anonymous” op-ed. Sperry cited a “former FBI agent” serving as the source of information for this claim. Ken Kohl, a current official at the Department of Justice, told reporters on Friday: “We have no indication of [Antifa presence at the riot] at this time.” Steven D’Antuono, an assistant director at the FBI, echoed Kohl, telling reporters on a call that there is “no indication” Antifa participated in the riot.

Some also claimed that the D.C. police escorted Antifa buses into the rally. The police department denies having escorted any group, and the video used as proof has been circulating since at least December of last year. It appears to show a protest outside of the Minnesota governor’s home.

While it is, of course, possible that a crowd of tens of thousands of individuals included troublemakers with ties to Antifa or other left-wing groups, there is no evidence to suggest that Antifa members were among those who stormed the Capitol. There is, however, an abundance of evidence demonstrating that Trump-supporting radicals participated in the siege. A number of pro-Trump accounts livestreamed the attack on Congress on social media platforms, including prominent far-right figures Nick Fuentes and Tim Gionet (better known as “Baked Alaska”) who livestreamed themselves breaking into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Derrick Evans, a Republican member of West Virginia’s legislature, broadcast himself breaching the Capitol. A Proud Boy “elder” was among many who shared a selfie from Congress on social media. 

Other people who participated in the attack on Congress have been identified as well. Noted QAnon and Trump supporter Jake Angeli drew lots of attention with his face paint and horned hat. Kristina Malimon, a Turning Point USA ambassador who gained notoriety for organizing a Trump boat parade that sank a non-participating boat, was arrested along with her mother for unlawful entry due to her alleged participation in the storming of the Capitol. Ashli Babbitt, who died after being shot while breaking through a window in the Capitol, was an ardent QAnon believer and Trump supporter. Many others openly identified themselves to reporters, such as Richard Barnett, who bragged about a letter from Nancy Pelosi’s office. Barnett is a member of the pro-Trump group 2A NWA Stand and has posted white nationalist comments on social media. A number of participants were identified after sharing videos and pictures of themselves from the storming of the Capitol. After the names of those arrested for their participation in the siege were made public, news outlets looked through social media platforms and interviewed those who knew them, identifying them as Trump supporters. 

Even if there were Antifa members present—again, a claim lacking proof—all evidence still points to Trump supporters as the ringleaders of the attack. After Trump encouraged his supporters to come to D.C. on January 6—and after he had spent weeks making the false claim that the election had been stolen—plans were crafted on fringe right-wing media platforms and discussion boards in the weeks leading up to the siege, with plans for sneaking weapons into the rally openly discussed.

All available evidence indicates that Trump supporters, not Antifa members or liberals in disguise, were responsible for the violence and destruction that took place on Capitol Hill Wednesday. There is no current evidence to support claims to the contrary. 

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Alec Dent is a former culture editor and staff writer for The Dispatch.