Stop parroting crazy claims about the attack on the U.S. Capitol building
By Robert Stevens
The amount of misinformation and conspiracy theory surrounding the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6 has reached ridiculous levels.
Perhaps the most outlandish misinformation going around is that the violence, death and destruction perpetrated that day was done by Antifa and people from the radical left who were supposedly brought in by the “busload.”
The idea has gained traction despite what we all saw with our own eyes on TV and despite being repeatedly debunked by a facial recognition company, the FBI and some of the most visible rioters themselves.
This conspiracy theory took root when a few Republican congressmen and far-right commentators started making claims on radio, TV and in social media that people from the so-called radical left had infiltrated the crowd of Trump supporters.
Pretty soon, this disinformation became one of the most frequented topics circulating the Internet, including here in Sanpete County.
I have a lot of experience with photography, so I recognize photo manipulation when I see it. I also know my way around social media and the Internet as a whole. I have looked into claims that the U.S. Capitol invaders were imposters. I can assure you, the conspiracy theories are false.
Some of the most infamous photos of the Capitol breach showed a shirtless, spear-carrying man with a painted face and a horned Viking helmet.
The man has been identified by authorities as Jacob Anthony Chansley, AKA Jake Angeli, a well-known supporter of the right-wing QAnon conspiracy theory.
Chansley calls himself the “QAnon Shaman.” He travels across the country spreading dillusion, most recently supporting the claims that Biden “stole” the election through rampant fraud.
False information circulating about Chansley claims he supports Antifa philosophies. (Just to clarify, the term antifa stands for “anti-fascist,” something most of us would want to be. Antifa is not an organized group, has no physical locations, no officers, no membership rolls. Rather, it is a philosophical movement that does not organize people to do anything.)
A photo has been posted showing Chansley at a Black Lives Matter rally. But the photo is creatively cropped to hide the fact that he was actually at the rally as a counter-protestor. The uncropped photo clearly shows him holding a QAnon sign.
When Chansley was arrested last week for his role in the riot, he openly rebutted claims he was radical left. According to court documents, he made the statement, “I am not Antifa or BLM, I am QAnon and a digital soldier.” He told authorities that he traveled to the Capitol with a group from Arizona, “at the request of the president that all ‘patriots’ come to D.C.”
Another widely-shared post claimed one of the demonstrators storming the Capitol was obviously a member of the radical left because he had what was claimed to be a “Communist sickle” tattooed on his hand. But inspection of the tattoo reveals it to be a symbol from the video game “Dishonored.”
Some of those involved in the violence expressed pride in the events. Rick Saccone, a Republican and former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, posted a photo of himself right during the Capitol riot, saying, “We are storming the Capitol. Our vanguard has broken thru the barricades. We will save this nation. Are U with me?”
Only two hours after the assault on the Capitol began, a story was published by the Washington Times based on an anonymous source claiming the tech company XRVision had done facial recognition analysis of people in the riot photos and had found people associated with the radical left.
The story was taken down after XRVision came out and publicly denounced the claims as false. They did, in fact, run facial recognition on the photos, but instead of Antifa, the company found confirmed members of neo-Nazi groups and QAnon supporters.
Despite the company’s rebuke of the false claim, it remains a frequently parroted example of claims that it was the left, not the right, involved in the violence.
And in response to a direct question from a reporter at a telephone press conference as to whether any of the demonstrators where left-wing imposters, FBI Assistant Director Steven D’Antuono, said, “We have no indication of that at this time.”
There is no question that Donald Trump encouraged his followers to come to Washington to protest Biden’s win, tweeting, “Big protest in D.C. on Jan. 6. Be there, it will be wild.”
On the day of the riot, he told a crowd gathered near the White House, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the crowd the country needed “trial by combat.”
It was immediately after those entreaties that all hell broke loose, with the mob descending on the Capitol, the citadel of our democracy, breaking through barriers outside the building and crashing through security checkpoints at all entrances.
Offices inside the building were trashed. One woman was shot, apparently by police, when she tried to hurl her body through glass to enter an office area. A U.S. Capitol police officer died from injuries he received while trying to hold back the mob. Three others died from health problems that had to have been exacerbated by being crowded into the mob.
Members of Congress were forced to shelter in place inside the House chamber or gallery while authorities tried to bring the situation under control. One congresswoman said she called one of her children and said she was afraid there could be a mass shooting with an assault rifle in which she and other representatives would be killed.
Is it possible that people with radical-left views infiltrated the crowd of MAGA ralliers? I’ve actually identified one. A photograph has surfaced showing John Sullivan, who is black and who participated in a Black-Lives-Matter demonstration here in Utah, in the Capitol during the riot. He has said he wanted to document what was happening. And by the way, he states that while he supports civil rights, he is not a member of Black Lives Matter.
With more arrests happening every day, evidence is piling up that the overwhelming majority of culprits were indeed right-wing demonstrators. As the worst of these rioters are brought into court, I’m confident their political stripes will become clear.
Just as the violence and looting during the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this summer were unacceptable, so is the death and destruction that happened at the U.S. Capitol building.
While a sizable portion of the demonstrators present in D.C. were probably there for peaceful protest, that is not how it worked out. It is important that those who were actually responsible are held accountable instead of trying to pass the blame off on the political opposition. Parroting misinformation will only serve to deepen the divisions in our country.