FactChecking Claims About the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot


The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was the culmination of months of false claims about election fraud, including a litany recited by then-President Donald Trump in a speech shortly before a mob stormed the building, temporarily halting the counting of electoral votes in a joint session of Congress. 

On that day — and afterward — we debunked false, misleading and unfounded claims related to the events that day. Here is a summary of our coverage.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images.

Trump’s Speech. In a rally near the White House, one year ago, Trump served his supporters a laundry list of bogus claims about election fraud in swing states. Then-President-elect Joe Biden had won the states of Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, but Trump, as he had for weeks, made false statements about illegal votes being counted. We wrote about a dozen claims, including Trump’s falsehood that “66,000 votes in Georgia were cast by individuals under the legal voting age.” The Republican official who oversees Georgia’s voting system said, “The actual number is zero.”

Trump also claimed that somehow then-Vice President Mike Pence could initiate a process to overturn the election results and declare Trump the winner. While Trump was speaking, Pence released a letter to Congress saying he doesn’t have the right to do that.

“It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Pence, who served as president of the Senate that day, said.

Many hours after Trump’s speech, at about 3:40 a.m. on Jan. 7, the electoral vote count ended, with Pence announcing that Biden would become the 46th president.

For more, see “Trump’s Falsehood-Filled ‘Save America’ Rally.”

The Lead-up to Jan. 6. Five days after the riot, House Democrats introduced legislation to impeach Trump, charging him with “inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” The resolution, approved by the House in a 232-197 vote with the support of 10 Republicans, accused Trump of repeatedly issuing “false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials.”

We had been writing about such claims for months, and we compiled a sampling of Trump’s comments and actions leading up to the impeachment vote, starting with his April 7, 2020, comments that “mail ballots” were “very dangerous” and “fraudulent in many cases.”

For more, see “Road to a Second Impeachment.”

National Guard Deployment. National Guard members didn’t arrive at the Capitol on Jan. 6 until about 5:40 p.m., when most of the violence had already subsided. In a recorded video the following day, Trump claimed that he “immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building and expel the intruders.” But that was contradicted by news reports citing unnamed sources who say Trump resisted efforts to bring in the Guard at the outset of the riot. In a Jan. 13 article, we chronicled what was known at the time about the Guard’s deployment. 

For more, see “Timeline of National Guard Deployment to Capitol.”

Blaming Pelosi. Over the summer, House Republicans tried to shift blame for the breach of the Capitol to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying she was “ultimately responsible for the breakdown of security.” But we found their arguments overstated the role of the House speaker in overseeing security of the Capitol and relied on speculation.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested, without evidence, that prior to Jan. 6, 2021, Pelosi played a role in denying a request to use National Guard members at the Capitol that day. (Trump also pushed this idea in a Jan. 4 statement this year.) Rep. Rodney Davis pointed to the fact that on the afternoon of Jan. 6, the House sergeant at arms sought Pelosi’s permission to bring in the National Guard as evidence that Pelosi was “calling the shots on all of their actions.” A Pelosi aide confirmed the request was made but said the speaker “expects security professionals to make security decisions” and that she only expects “to be briefed about those decisions.” The request also went to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and while both Pelosi and McConnell OK’d bringing in the Guard, the Department of Defense still needed to approve the move.

For more, see “Republicans’ Shaky, No Evidence Attempt to Cast Blame on Pelosi for Jan. 6.”

How Many Died? In October, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that the Capitol riot resulted in “almost 10 dead.” There is reasoned debate about the number who died as a result of the riot. Ocasio-Cortez includes four law enforcement officials who responded to the Capitol that day and committed suicide in the days and months afterward and two rally participants who died of heart failure. Another rallygoer was initially believed to have been trampled to death but was later determined to have died of an accidental overdose.

We explained what is publicly known about the deaths of the nine people included in the congresswoman’s tally.

For more, see “How Many Died as a Result of Capitol Riot?

Unfounded Theory on FBI Informants. Another no-evidence claim is the idea that “unindicted co-conspirators” mentioned in federal indictments related to the Capitol riot are undercover FBI agents or informants, as conservative outlets have claimed or suggested. Legal experts and federal case law say that government agents and informants cannot be labeled conspirators to a crime.

During his June 15 Fox News show, for example, host Tucker Carlson, referencing a story from a conservative website, first said “potentially” and “almost certainly” FBI agents were involved, and then definitively declared that “FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.” Republicans in Congress have pushed the unfounded theory as well, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. 

Federal case law from the 1985 case United States v. Rodriguez acknowledged that “government agents and informers cannot be conspirators.”

For more, see “Conservative Outlets Advance Unfounded Theory About Capitol Attack.”

False Claims About Police. One social media meme spread the false claim that a Washington, D.C., police officer who responded to the Capitol breach was really part of the rioting crowd. The side-by-side photos show two different people who bear some resemblance to each other. Another claim that circulated on social media falsely said a video clip proves that “Capitol Police gave protesters OK” to enter the building. And other posts made the unfounded claim that Pelosi “won’t let Capitol Police testify about what happened Jan. 6.” In fact, on July 27, four members of the Capitol Police testified at the first hearing of the Jan. 6 House select committee.

For more, see “Memes Misidentify D.C. Police Officer as Jan. 6 Protester,” “Video Doesn’t Prove Capitol Police Allowed Jan. 6 Protesters to Enter Capitol” and “Capitol Police Expected to Testify During House Committee’s Probe of Jan. 6 Riot.”

Impeachment Vote Sparks Misleading Democratic Ads. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used Republican lawmakers’ votes against impeaching Trump to claim eight lawmakers “stood with Q, not you,” a reference to QAnon, whose acolytes baselessly think a group of elite pedophiles runs the government and the entertainment industry. None of the targeted Republicans is known to be an actual supporter of QAnon, and three of them supported a resolution to censure Trump for the role he played in the attack on the Capitol.

For more, see “Misleading DCCC Ads Link Republicans to QAnon.”

Bipartisan Report Didn’t ‘Single Out’ Trump. In the summer, a bipartisan group of four senators released a report on the security and intelligence failures related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. All four — Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Gary Peters, and Republican Sens. Roy Blunt and Rob Portman — have previously said that Trump was at least partly responsible for the attack, but their report did not “single out” Trump “for inciting … the riots,” as a Facebook post from a liberal advocacy group suggested.

The report did not examine Trump’s role in, or fault him for, the attack. It was “limited in scope” and did not address “what motivated people,” Peters said.

For more, see “Facebook Post Misleads on Bipartisan Capitol Attack Report and Interview.”

Some Protesters Were ‘Armed.’ Social media posts also misleadingly claimed the attack on the Capitol was not an “armed” insurrection, citing FBI testimony that no guns were seized from suspects that day. But 23 people were charged with having deadly or dangerous weapons during the assault — including a loaded handgun found on a man arrested on Capitol grounds. Other weapons included baseball bats, chemical sprays, a captured police officer’s riot shield, a crowbar, fire extinguishers and a metal flagpole. In legal terms, “armed” means being in possession of any weapon, not just a gun. 

For more, see “Capitol Protesters Were Armed With Variety of Weapons.”

Capitol Police’s Tampa Office. In July, the U.S. Capitol Police announced it would add field offices in Tampa and San Francisco to investigate threats against members of Congress, part of changes the agency was making in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz criticized the move, saying he was “increasingly concerned that our federal government and many elements within it are using these exquisite national security authorities to turn against our own people.”

An online Change.org petition, now with nearly 3,000 signatures, demanded the removal of the field office in Tampa, claiming it was created “in order to further investigate the events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.” But a Capitol Police spokesperson told us that while many plans announced in the July press release were related to reviews of the events of Jan. 6, the plan for field offices long predated the Capitol riot. “The false narrative that this was created after the 6th to go after people who breached the Capitol, that is not accurate,” the spokesperson told us in a phone interview.

For more, see “The Facts on Capitol Police’s Tampa Office.”

All of our articles related to the Jan. 6 attack can be found here.

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