January 6 and the Consequences of Disinformation

Exactly a year ago, a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. The rioters overwhelmed the police who were guarding the building, with many calling for the results of the 2020 presidential election to be overturned. As the nation watched the news that day, we all saw the crowd attacking police, rioters calling for then-Vice President Mike Pence to be executed for his refusal to throw out electoral votes, and those participating in the violence making one thing abundantly clear: They were there because they believed the lies pushed by Donald Trump and his allies that the election had been stolen. But, almost immediately attempts were made to obfuscate what happened that day and remove any blame from fringe Trump supporters. 

Figures like Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Candace Owens pushed conspiracy theories about the events of January 6. Rather than an attack on American democracy in the name of Trump, they claim that the violence was either justified because the election was stolen or a false flag operation carried out to make Trump supporters look bad and to give the government cover to declare war on them.

A year later, the influence of the conspiracy theorists is clear: Large swaths of the country are convinced the storming of the Capitol was not all that it seemed. In fact, a recent poll from the Washington Post and the University of Maryland found that 19 percent of Americans view the January 6 rioters who entered the Capitol as “mostly peaceful” and 27 percent view them as “equally peaceful and violent.” And so it is important to once again make clear  exactly what happened: A mountain of evidence shows that misinformed Trump supporters stormed the Capitol because of the lies they’d been told by the president and his top supporters about the election results.

We won’t get into the election conspiracy theories that led up to January 6—there simply isn’t enough space in one article to cover them, and The Dispatch Fact Check has examined them extensively over the past year. (For more information, see some of our election fact checks here, here, here, and here.) But the conspiracy theories about deleted and changed votes and suspicious vote dumps caused one-third of Americans to question the result of the 2020 presidential election, leading some of them to act on the belief that the election was stolen. At the center of it all was Donald Trump, who spent significant time and energy sowing distrust about  the validity of the election and riling up his supporters, including just before violence broke out on January 6. Trump delivered a speech in front of the Save America march, once again promoting a series of debunked voter fraud claims. (The usual suspects: questioning how Joe Biden received a record 80 million votes, railing againstsuitcases of ballots” in Georgia that were widely misinterpreted, and falsely claiming that there were more votes cast in Pennsylvania than registered voters.)

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