No evidence that Antifa activists stormed the US Capitol, says NYTimes social media analysis

In a photo from Dec 12, 2020, members of Antifa walk with an Anarchy flag and a Black Lives Matter flag during a protest in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - In thousands of posts on Twitter and Facebook, members of the far-right pushed the unfounded claim that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on Wednesday (Jan 6), carrying Trump flags and halting Congress' counting of electoral votes, was made up of liberal activists posing as a pro-Trump community to give it a bad name.

Several posts shared by thousands of people held up photographs as evidence that supporters were behind the unrest. But those images did not, in fact, show Antifa involvement. Instead, some of the photographs, and the information contained in them, suggested ties to far-right movements.

Even President Donald Trump acknowledged that the people who supported him - not liberal activists - had invaded the Capitol. At one point on Wednesday he told the mob that "we love you".

Among the most popular figures pushing the conspiracy theory were commentator Candace Owens, Georgia lawyer L. Lin Wood and Ms Juanita Broaddrick, a nursing home administrator who in 1999 publicly accused president Bill Clinton of raping her in 1978. Other prominent figures spreading the rumour included Mr Ken Paxton, the attorney-general of Texas; Ms Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate; and Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama.

The rumour that supporters of the Antifa movement - a loosely organised collective of anti-fascist activists - had posed as members of the far-right Wednesday was shared more than 150,000 times on Twitter and thousands of times more on Facebook, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Altogether, the accounts pushing the rumour had tens of millions of followers.

"Indisputable photographic evidence that antifa violently broke into Congress today to inflict harm & do damage," Mr Wood, the Georgia lawyer, posted on Twitter. "NOT @realDonaldTrump supporters."

The "photographic evidence" that he pointed to in his post included a link to phillyantifa.org, where the photo of a bearded man involved in the mob was hosted. But that particular page exposed photos of known individuals in the neo-Nazi movement.

Another popular post, shared at least 39,000 times on Twitter, claimed without evidence that a "former FBI agent on the ground at US Capitol just texted me and confirmed at least 1 'bus load' of Antifa thugs infiltrated the peaceful Trump demonstrators".

Untrue claims that "busloads" or "planeloads" of anti-fascist activists infiltrated protests are a common refrain from the far right.

In response to the baseless assertion, a Twitter user said: "Of course they did."

The user attached photos of a man wearing a horned helmet with his face painted in an American flag design as an apparent example of an Antifa supporter.

The man was not an Antifa supporter. Instead, he is a longtime QAnon supporter who has been a fixture at Arizona right-wing political rallies in recent months, according to The Arizona Republic.

SPH Brightcove Video
Hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday in a bid to overturn his election defeat, forcing Congress to postpone a session that would have certified President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
SPH Brightcove Video
Trump supporters swarmed the US Capitol on Wednesday, as Vice President Mike Pence rebuffed the president's demand to overturn his loss to Joe Biden and the Senate's Republican leader denounced a bid to undo the election outcome.

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