Fact check roundup: Debunking false narratives about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot – USA TODAY

Share Article

It has been almost one year since a mob supporting now-former President Donald Trump – fueled by baseless voter fraud claims – stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
The attack led to deaths, injuries and more than 700 arrests, and it temporarily halted Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win. In the following months, a flurry of falsehoods and conspiracy theories about the riot were promoted online, where debunked claims continue to circulate.
Special access for subscribers! Click here to sign up for our fact-check text chat
With the first anniversary of the Capitol riot approaching, here’s a roundup of USA TODAY’s fact checks relating to theinsurrection that touch on election misinformation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s role in the attack, misleading images and videos, claims about politicians, comparisons to past demonstrations and even false claims that reports predicted the attack.
Capitol rioters charged in the Jan. 6 attack have cited the baseless narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Democrats. The myth was promoted by Trump, his closest allies and conservative media personalities, all of whom relied on false claims about election technology, vote counting, mail-in ballots and voter turnout.
Biden legally won the presidential race by more than 7 million votes, and his victory was certified by the Electoral College. Hand recounts and independent audits across the country did not change the election’s outcome and failed to turn up any evidence of widespread wrongdoing by poll workers or voters. But that still didn’t stop people from claiming otherwise.
The claim: Joe Biden did not legally win the presidential election
Our rating: False
Biden received 81 million votes and Trump received 74 million votes. A candidate must secure 270 electoral votes to be elected, and Biden won 306 votes to Trump’s 232. There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Biden’s favor, and courts have dismissed dozens of lawsuits in battleground states challenging the election results. Read more
The claim: Dominion Voting Systems deleted votes for Trump, switched votes to Biden
Our rating: False
There is no evidence Dominion, a private company supplying voting systems in 28 states, deleted or changed votes in the 2020 election, according to a national coalition and election law experts. A few counties experienced minor technology issues on Election Day, but the errors did not affect the vote counts. Read more
The claim: Several key states had more ballots cast than registered voters
Our rating: False
Data and individual state reporting reviewed by USA TODAY shows no state in the U.S. had more than 100% voter turnout in the 2020 election. Posts claiming differently are using improper data sets or flawed data analysis techniques. Read more 
The claim: Nevada’s presidential election included duplicate voting, dead voters, fake addresses, noncitizens voting and out of state voters
Our rating: False
Claims about widespread voter fraud in Nevada’s 2020 election stem from a failed lawsuit, and a district court concluded that no illegal votes were cast and counted. Biden won Nevada’s six electoral votes. Read more
The claim: An audit ‘conclusively shows’ voter fraud affected Arizona’s election outcome
Our rating: False
An audit of Arizona’s 2020 election results conducted by cybersecurity firm Cyber Ninjas did not surface any evidence of widespread voter fraud that changed the election’s outcome. The review, along with other hand recounts, confirmed Biden won Maricopa County. Read more.
The claim: An investigation found more ‘illegal votes’ cast in Wisconsin in 2020 than Joe Biden’s margin of victory
Our rating: False
A report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty investigating the integrity of the 2020 election found no evidence of widespread fraud, and the group’s findings were misstated online. A hand recount, audit and lawsuits confirmed Biden’s victory in Wisconsin. Read more.
Here are more fact-checks analyzing what’s true and false about the 2020 election and voting by mail.
Just hours after rioters breached the Capitol, misinformation about what happened spread rapidly on social media, and a false narrative blaming anti-fascist activists for inciting the violence made its way to the House floor that same evening. Many such claims circulated throughout 2021.
The claim: A facial recognition firm claimed Antifa infiltrated pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol
Our rating: False
Claims that members of Antifa disguised as Trump supporters orchestrated the insurrection are baseless and stem from a rumor that a facial recognition company identified left-wing activists among the rioters. The technology firm mentioned in the claims refuted the story, and there is no evidence Antifa was responsible for the attack. Read more
The claim: The shirtless man pictured in the Capitol breach is with Antifa and Black Lives Matter
Our rating: False 
Jake Angeli, a man who was pictured at the Capitol shirtless wearing a fur hat with horns, is a well-known Trump and QAnon supporter – he is not tied to Black Lives Matter or Antifa. The claim is part of the false larger conspiracy theory that Trump’s supporters were not actually behind the riot. Read more
The claim: A “known Antifa member” was paid $70,000 for his video of the riot
Our rating: Partly false
News outlets paid Utah activist John Sullivan roughly $90,000 for video footage he captured during the Capitol riot, but he is not linked to any anti-fascist groups and has denied being associated with the movement. Read more 
The claim: FBI operatives organized the attack on the U.S. Capitol 
Our rating: False
There’s no evidence “unindicted co-conspirators” listed in federal charging documents related to the Jan. 6 attack are undercover FBI agents or federal informants. Legal experts say the term can’t be used to describe undercover government operatives. Rioters have been identified by authorities as Trump supporters, conspiracy theorists and members of far-right groups. Read more
The claim: CNN employees took part in the riot
Our rating: False
Posts claiming CNN employees were among the Capitol rioters are unfounded. Jade Sacker, mentioned in the claims, is a freelance journalist and has never worked for the cable news outlet. Read more
The claim: A man died from a heart attack after accidentally using a stun gun on himself at the Capitol riot
Our rating: False 
Kevin Greeson of Alabama died on the Capitol grounds after a heart attack, and his wife told USA TODAY he had a history of high blood pressure. He did not accidentally stun himself. Read more  
The claim: The FBI told a Senate committee that the FBI did not recover any guns at the riot
Our rating: Missing context
Jill Sanborn, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, said the FBI did not recover any firearms at the Capitol riot. But she also noted that she cannot speak for other law enforcement agencies. The Department of Justice charged rioters with bringing firearms to the Capitol grounds. Read more
Social media users have tried to shift blame by spreading false claims about Pelosi in the wake of the Capitol attack.
The claim: Pelosi rejected Trump’s request for 10,000 National Guard troops to be deployed before Jan. 6
Our rating: False
Trump’s claim that Pelosi blocked his formal request for 10,000 National Guard troops ahead of the “Stop the Steal” rally is false. The Pentagon said there is no record of the request, and Pelosi’s office said she was not contacted about deploying the National Guard. Testimony and a Department of Defense memo about Jan. 6 also confirms that. Read more 
The claim: Nancy Pelosi was in charge of Capitol Police on Jan. 6
Our rating: False
Pelosi was not in charge of the Capitol Police at the time of the riot. The agency is overseen by the Capitol Police Board, which is made up of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the Capitol architect. Read more.
The claim: Nancy Pelosi refuses to take responsibility for causing the insurrection
Our rating: False
In short, Pelosi wasn’t responsible. Capitol Police told USA TODAY that committees from the House and Senate and a Capitol Police Board are responsible for overseeing operations, not Pelosi. Read more
The claim: Pelosi won’t let Capitol Police testify about what happened on Jan. 6
Our rating: False
The claim that Pelosi is blocking testimony is a reversal of what actually happened. Republican lawmakers tried to stop a hearing from taking place, while Democrats pushed for one. Read more
The claim: Special forces took Nancy Pelosi’s laptop during the riot
Our rating: False
A laptop belonging to the House speaker’s office was stolen by pro-Trump rioters, not special forces. Read more
Photos and videos of the Capitol riot  went viral online. But in many cases, the footage was doctored, outdated or unrelated to Jan. 6.
The claim: Police officer is the man who carried a Confederate flag during the Capitol riot
Our rating: False
An image purporting to show a police officer carrying a Confederate flag during the attack is false. The man in the photo was identified by the FBI as Kevin Seefried, who was charged in connection with the riot. He is not a police officer. 
The claim: Capitol workers threw away an American flag as they prepared for the transition of power
Our rating: Missing context
Capitol employees did not throw out an American flag in preparation for Biden’s inauguration. The photo was captured in the aftermath of the riot. Read more
The claim: Video shows Trump family celebrating the riot from a nearby tent
Our rating: False
Days after the riot, a video went viral purporting to show the Trump family celebrating amid the attack. But monitors seen in the clip as well as a timeline of the events on Jan. 6 prove the video was captured before Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol. Read more
The claim: Chuck Norris was at the Capitol riot
Our rating: False
Martial artist and actor Chuck Norris did not take part in the riot. His manager told USA TODAY he was on his ranch in Texas on Jan. 6 and confirmed that a photo on social media of a man resembling Norris is not actually him. Read more
The claim: Images show pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., in January
Our rating: False
Photos of crowds at the 2018 March for Our Lives rally and 2017 Women’s March were passed off on social media as pro-Trump demonstrations on Jan. 6. Read more
The claim: Image shows a caravan of Trump supporters traveling to Washington
Our rating: False
A photo purporting to show dozens of vehicles heading to Washington to protest the presidential election results on Jan. 6 was actually taken in San Francisco at a pro-Trump truck rally in October 2020. Read more
The claim: A viral video shows a man screaming about being placed on the no-fly list because of the riot at the Capitol
Our rating: False
A video shows a man being asked to leave an American Airlines flight for a mask violation, not for being placed on the no-fly list because of the Capitol riot. Read more
The claim: Demonstrators erected a cross in front of the Capitol
Our rating: Missing context
A photo shows pro-Trump demonstrators erected a cross in front of the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, not in Washington. Read more
The claim: The insurrection was an event hosted by the Stanford Federalist Society 
Our rating: Satire
An image of an event flyer claiming the Capitol riot took place during a student-run Stanford Federalist Society meeting with guest speakers Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is fake. Read more 
A number of hoaxes concerning the whereabouts of politicians during the Capitol riot and their responses circulated online after the insurrection.   
The claim: Acting Pardon Attorney Rosalind Sargent-Burns said Trump was “strongly considering” pardoning Capitol rioters
Our rating: False
Trump didn’t pardon Capitol rioters during his final days in office. At the time, the Justice Department issued a statement saying it was not involved in efforts to pardon people involved with “the heinous acts” that took place at the Capitol. Read more
The claim: Rep. Lauren Boebert took a photo with rioters before a tour of Capitol on Jan. 5
Our rating: False
An image claiming to show Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., with rioters at the Capitol a day before the attack was actually captured in December 2019 at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. She was posing with members of several pro-Trump groups. Read more
The claim:  Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that Capitol rioters stole her shoes
Our rating: False
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., never said Capitol rioters stole her shoes. The congresswoman’s office told USA TODAY the tweet is fake, and no shoes were taken during the attack. Read more
The claim: Mitch McConnell said Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol riot after voting to acquit him after Trump’s impeachment 
Our rating: True
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voted to acquit Trump of inciting the Capitol riot during an impeachment trial but said during a speech on the Senate floor that the former president was “practically and morally responsible.” He said he believed it was unconstitutional to convict Trump during an impeachment proceeding after he had already left office. Read more
The claim: Vice President Mike Pence was arrested on Jan. 6
Our rating: False
Then-Vice President Mike Pence was not arrested on Jan. 6. He and other officials were taken to a secure location, and his spokesperson said Pence never left the Capitol during the riot. Read more
The claim: Lauren Boebert disclosed Nancy Pelosi’s location during insurrection, led tour beforehand, referenced 1776
Our rating: Partly false
During the Capitol riot, Boebert tweeted that Pelosi left the House chamber, but she did not say where Pelosi went. It’s true Boebert was seen giving a tour of the Capitol before the insurrection and compared it to 1776. Read more
The claim: Democratic leaders in the House and Senate called for violence during BLM protests
Our rating: Missing context
Posts accusing several Democratic leaders of hypocrisy for supporting violent Black Lives Matter demonstrations but condemning the Capitol riot are misleading. The quotes included in the meme were taken out of context and made before the summer 2020 protests against racial injustice. Read more 
The claim: The Insurrection Act has been signed and arrests have been made
Our rating: False
Trump did not invoke the Insurrection Act on Jan. 6. The day after the riot, he publicly acknowledged the transition of power to Biden that would happen on Jan. 20. Read more
Social media posts comparing previous demonstrations in Washington  to the Capitol attack are misleading and leave out significant details.
The claim: In 2018, liberals and Democrats protesting against Brett Kavanaugh stormed the Capitol and Supreme Court
Our rating: Missing context
Posts comparing the insurrection and 2018 protests against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court leave out key details. The Capitol was open to the public during the Kavanaugh demonstrations, unlike on Jan. 6, when rioters forced their way in. And protesters did not enter the Supreme Court as was claimed. Read more
The claim: Images show police presence during Black Lives Matter demonstrations compared to Capitol riot
Our rating: Missing context
Comparisons between law enforcement’s handling of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and the Jan. 6 riot lack context. An image used in the claim shows National Guard members at the Lincoln Memorial after it was vandalized, not at the Capito. Read more
The claim: Police helped a pro-Trump Capitol demonstrator and kicked a BLM bystander in the head
Our rating: Partly false
A police officer was recorded helping a pro-Trump protester down the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 6, but a Black Lives Matter demonstrator did not have “his head kicked in by police.” The man was shoved by officers in New York, who were later charged with assault. Read more
The claim: Joe Biden condemned violence Jan. 6 but didn’t condemn violent protests by BLM or Antifa  in the summer of 2020
Our rating: False
Biden repeatedly condemned violence linked to Black Lives Matter gatherings in 2020 and rioters on Jan. 6. Read more
Like many other major news events, people were quick to falsely claim that news outlets or TV shows predicted the events that took place on Jan. 6, implying the event was staged or planned.
Fact check: COVID-19, election misinformation dominated social media in 2021
The claim: An episode of “The Simpsons” predicted the Capitol riot
Our rating: False
A doctored photo showed Groundskeeper Willie, a character from “The Simpsons,” wearing the same outfit as the pro-Trump rioter in a furry horned hat. It was misused online to claim the TV show predicted the Jan. 6 attack. Read more
The claim: NPR posted a story about rioters in the U.S. Capitol at 9:33 a.m., hours before the attack took place
Our rating: Missing context
This was a misunderstanding of how breaking news is reported. National Public Radio did not post a story about rioters taking over the Capitol hours before it happened. The story was originally published on the morning of Jan. 6, and it was updated throughout the day with new developments. Read more
Contributing: Camille Caldera, Devon Link, Ella Lee, Daniel Funke, Chelsey Cox, Rick Rouan, Nayeli Lomeli, Madeleine Ngo
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app, or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.


You might also like

Surviving 2nd wave of corona

Surviving The 2nd Wave of Corona

‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort