OPINION: Disproving Misinformation Surrounding Jan. 6, 2021

US Capitol Building
Photo by Jose Fontano from Unsplash

It has been just over a year since the events of Jan. 6, 2021, when a violent mob of angry Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in an attempt to stop the 2020 election from being certified. We know all of that already, but in the year that has followed, more than a few conspiracy theories have gained traction. And with its first anniversary having recently passed, more than a bit of misinformation seems to be crawling its way out of the woodwork. I wonder if the same thing happened during the year that followed 9/11. Regardless, it is worth looking at the conspiracy theories that have been gracing the internet with their presence for the last year and comparing them to what we know actually happened.

Let’s start off with Ashli Babbitt, one of the people who stormed the Capitol building, who was killed by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through a broken glass door and over a barricade that kept the angry mob from being able to reach members of Congress as they were being evacuated. The Department of Justice closed its investigation into Babbitt’s death in April 2021. Their investigation found that the officer had not violated her constitutional rights or disregarded the law. Her death in no way makes her a martyr as many people, including former President Trump, have claimed. She was also not a peaceful protestor, which is what many people, including former President Trump, have continued to claim. All of this may seem like a small drop in a never-ending ocean of misinformation, but misinformation about Babbitt’s death has real consequences. For example, her death is being used as yet another recruiting tool for right-wing extremists on places such as Telegram, Parler, and other far-right messaging apps and online forums.

Another prevalent bit of misinformation is that the mayor of Washington, D.C, or the speaker of the house had prevented the deployment of and/or delayed the National Guard’s response to the Capitol on Jan. 6. That particular bit of misinformation has been the subject of many grammatically-incorrect social media posts that push the blame for the violence at the Capitol onto the left, so it’s worth bringing up. To start things off in that direction, it’s important to understand how the National Guard goes from being activated to actually carrying out their orders since the National Guard cannot do anything without actually being greenlit by whoever is in charge. In all states, the National Guard can only act under orders from that state’s governor, but in Washington, D.C, it is very different. There, the National Guard only follows the orders of the President. Not the speaker of the house, and definitely not D.C.’s mayor. That means that there is only one person at fault for the nearly three-hour delay of the National Guard, and that person is President Trump. It was the former president who purged senior Pentagon leadership, which contributed to that delay.

Finally, a conspiracy theory that was only just disproved but continues to spread is the idea that Ray Epps, who was seen assaulting police officers and storming the Capitol Building with the Oath Keepers, one of the groups of extremists who allegedly planned and carried a coordinated attack on the Capitol. Epps was accused by conspiracy theorists of being an informant for the FBI who was planted there in order to rile up the angry mob outside of the Capitol building and incite the attack on the Capitol. Even Tucker Carlson, a well-known source of entertainment, has been spreading this particular conspiracy theory to his viewers on Fox News. It has spread far enough that United States Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) brought it up during a Senate hearing with an official from the FBI. Hours later, the House Select Committee that is investigating Jan. 6 confirmed that they had interviewed Epps and concluded that he has no link to the FBI. Furthermore, a lot of the conspiracy theory rested on the fact that he had connections to the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, who was unindicted at the time. As of Jan. 13, 2022, Rhodes and 10 other people were indicted on charges of seditious conspiracy, which effectively blows a hole in that part of the conspiracy theory. This deduced that the federal government did not incite the attack on the Capitol building. Grown adults made their own choices, and they, unfortunately, made decisions that were considered federal crimes.

At the end of the day, there is a lot of misinformation still floating around the internet. There are still people who believe that Trump won the 2020 election, among other things. The real problem is when those conspiracy theories and misinformation are used to rewrite history. The recent indictment of Rhodes and others shows that the investigations and indictments are still coming, and an integral part of understanding the recent indictments is understanding the severity of what happened on Jan. 6.