Citing a widely contested article published by the Washington Times, Gaetz admitted he does not know “if the reports are true.” But, he said to audible boos, “some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters and in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”
Yet Gaetz wasn’t alone. Across social media and conservative-leaning TV stations, some right-wing figures peddled the similar claim that the loose collective of far-left activists were responsible for the riots, as The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr reported.
There is no verifiable evidence that these activists, who broadly identify as anti-fascist, formed part of the insurrectionist mob that abruptly halted Congress in the midst of certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Earlier that morning, President Trump incited his supporters during a speech outside the White House, telling them they should never accept defeat.
But Trump and his allies have long sought to blame antifa — an ideology, not an organized group, according to the FBI — for any violence tied to protests, though there’s been no evidence to back up those claims.
As conspiracy theories quickly spread online about the Capitol breach as a “false flag operation,” conducted by left-wing activists to cast blame on Trump supporters, Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) took to Twitter to point fingers.
“This has all the hallmarks of Antifa provocation,” he wrote, about three hours after the incident went down.
Plenty of other GOP lawmakers followed. Speaking to Fox Business’s Lou Dobbs on Wednesday night, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said “there is some indication that fascist antifa elements were involved, that they embedded themselves in the Trump protests.”
Offering no evidence to back his claims, Brooks said the rioters “could be any other number of groups, anarchists or what have you, that could have taken advantage of this opportunity to vandalize the United States Capitol.”
Shannon Grove, the Republican leader in the California state Senate, tweeted and then deleted a post putting the blame on antifa. “Patriots don’t act like this!!” she wrote, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “This was antifa.”
The Washington Times report cited by Gaetz and others claimed that a “retired military officer” had sent the newspaper a facial recognition analysis of rioters by a technology firm called XRVision. That company, whose website is nearly nonexistent, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post.
Those claims were echoed by an unsupported story by the conspiracy-hawking, right-wing site Gateway Pundit, claiming “at least 1 ‘bus load’ of antifa thugs infiltrated peaceful Trump demonstrators as part of a false Trump flag ops.”
On Trump-friendly networks, too, several hosts gave airtime to that unsubstantiated theory.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham said Wednesday that the rioters “were likely not all Trump supporters.” She alluded to unspecified “reports” of involvement by antifa and claimed the insurrectionists’ wardrobe choices were suspicious.
On Newsmax, a cable channel that has won favor with the president for endorsing his baseless claims of a stolen election, Trump supporter and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell claimed “there were probably some undercover antifa people that dressed as Trump people.”
Barr and Paul Farhi contributed to this report.