U.S. President Donald Trump is reportedly blaming the far-right attack on the U.S. Capitol on imaginary far-left agitators, in a demonstrably false claim that he made after stirring up the violence with falsehoods about an election he lost.
Trump reportedly suggested that “Antifa people” were behind the effort to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, during a private call with Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday morning. Axios reported the details of the call, citing a White House official and one other source familiar with the conversation.
“It’s not Antifa, it’s MAGA. I know, I was there,” McCarthy told Trump, according to the Axios report.
McCarthy also urged Republican lawmakers on a separate call to stop falsely accusing Antifa of orchestrating the riot, The Hill reports.
All videos, photos, arrest records and social media evidence available shows the riot was perpetrated by a wide range of far-right, pro-Trump groups, including the Proud Boys, white supremacists and believers of QAnon, the fantastical conspiracy-theory movement. Many of them wore Trump’s signature red “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hats, and marched from his rally on one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to storm the Capitol at the other end.
Nevertheless, Trump has joined his allies in spinning new conspiracy theories about the riot, effectively painting some of his most ardent backers as Antifa members in disguise. Several high-profile conservative figures have also amplified the conspiracy theory, including Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who has had Trump’s ear throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and longtime supporter of Trump, echoed the conspiracy theory on the House floor late Wednesday, hours after the attack.
“If the reports are true,” Gaetz said, “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.”
In fact, they were not, federal investigators say. Steven D’Antuono, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, told reporters that investigators had seen “no indication” Antifa activists were disguised as Trump supporters in the riot.
The MAGA attack happened immediately after Trump egged on his supporters with conspiracy theories about the election, amid his ongoing struggle with the reality of his loss to Joe Biden.
“We’re going to have to fight much harder,” he said at the rally, while falsely claiming that Vice President Mike Pence could unilaterally overturn the election.
“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness,” he told the crowd. “You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
The mob breached the Capitol an hour later in an attack that left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
Trump called the rioters “very special” in the immediate aftermath of the attack. “We love you,” he said.
He later condemned the incident in a scripted statement, amid bipartisan calls to do so.
Trump on Tuesday described his pre-riot speech as “totally appropriate,” then pivoted to complaining about the far left again.
Antifa is a loosely organized movement of far-left activists with no leader and little coordination, but it has become a popular target for far-right conspiracy theories, with many false claims revolving around the idea that professional Antifa agitators are being deployed to stir up trouble within crowds.
Several small-town militias were duped into standing guard against the phantom menace of Antifa last summer.
Trump echoed a months-old “Antifa thugs on planes” conspiracy theory in late August, without evidence.
He also infamously avoided condemning white supremacist violence from the Proud Boys last September, after Joe Biden explicitly urged him to do so during a presidential debate.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” he said at the time. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.”
A new round of Antifa falsehoods started almost immediately after last week’s riot, with several far-right Twitter figures painting Jake Angeli, the “Q Shaman” in the horns and furs, as an Antifa plant. The president’s son, Eric Trump, liked a tweet touting the theory, adding more fuel to the fire.
Videos, photos and years of reporting show that Angeli is a devout QAnon believer who has preached the conspiracy theory at various Trump rallies.
Trump in the past has used Twitter to proliferate his conspiracy theories and attacks on Antifa, but the president was permanently banned from the platform last week amid a broader decision by the social media company to de-platform him over his potentially incendiary comments.
Trump now faces impeachment for inciting the riot.
Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the next president on Jan. 20.