Within two hours of protesters breaking the first barricades at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, right-wing politicians and media figures were already texting President Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to lay blame on far-left “antifa” agitators. The first message to mention the group came from Fox New host Laura Ingraham.
“He is destroying his legacy and playing into every stereotype … we lose all credibility against the BLM/Antifa crowd if things go South,” Ingraham wrote.
The text is one of the 2,319 Meadows turned over to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which took place as thousands of Trump supporters converged on Washington, D.C., to protest his loss in the 2020 presidential election. TPM has obtained the log, which contains several exchanges showing the eagerness among Trump allies to blame the violence they helped stoke on their political enemies. A spokesperson for Meadows declined to comment on this story. The committee has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
While CNN has published many of Meadows’ messages from Jan. 5 and the day of the riot, the full log, which stretched from Election Day in 2020 up until Trump’s last day in office, Jan. 20, 2021, reveals that the effort to pin the violence on “antifa” extended well beyond the day the Capitol was stormed. It also shows that members of Congress were key proponents of this conspiracy theory despite the fact they were present at the Capitol as Trump supporters brawled with police and smashed through the building. In the wake of a massive FBI investigation that is the largest in the bureau’s history and has resulted in hundreds of arrests of people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, there has been no credible evidence of any widespread far-left presence.
Ingraham promoted the idea that “antifa” was behind the Jan. 6 attack hours after it took place, telling her audience that the insurgents “were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd.”
Last year, when her texts were first made public, she accused the “regime media” of attacking her, saying they were “somehow trying to twist this message to try to tar me as a liar, a hypocrite who privately sounded the alarm on Jan. 6, but publicly downplayed it.”
“Antifa” is short for anti-fascist. The term is used by a variety of left-wing protesters, some of whom adopt “black bloc” tactics including wearing masks, engaging in vandalism and fighting with far-right groups. “Antifa” activism surged in the U.S. during Trump’s administration.
As the crowds raged through the Capitol, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, wrote Meadows to say his father was not doing “enough” to “condemn this shit.” He followed that denouncement up with a suggestion the violence wasn’t coming from the Trump faithful.
“I’m not convinced these are trump supporters either btw so we should be looking into that,” Don Jr. wrote.
Don Jr. did not return TPM’s request for comment.
Less than an hour later, Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, suggested “antifa” could be held responsible via a tweet from the president.
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Miller did not respond to a request for comment.
Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who were both active supporters of Trump’s efforts to challenge the election results, also piped in as the attack unfolded with suggestions that “antifa” were the real perpetrators.
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Greene continued to point toward “antifa” in a message sent the day after the attack.
“Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the 6 states. I’m sorry nothing worked,” Greene wrote. “I don’t think that President Trump caused the attack on the Capitol. It’s not his fault. Antifa was mixed in the crowed and instigated it, and sadly people followed.”
“Thanks Marjorie,” Meadows replied.
Greene and her office did not respond to requests for comment.
Gohmert urged Meadows to have the DOJ expose the supposed “antifa” role in the Capitol attack in one more message sent on the afternoon of Jan. 8.
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Gohmert released his texts regarding “antifa” on his own in April after they were partially revealed by the select committee. He also issued a statement blasting what he called the “January 6 Inquisition Committee,” defending his texts and pointing to another conspiracy theory that has been somewhat popular among right-wing members of Congress: the idea the FBI was behind the violence at the Capitol.
“The FBI ‘informants’ who were embedded deep into the events the night before and on January 6th have yet to be identified and their provocative actions have not yet been explained,” Gohmert said.
On Jan. 8 and 9, 2021, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who was described in texts as a “ringleader” of the election objections, pointed to right-wing media coverage of the antifa conspiracy theory. One of the items highlighted by Brooks was a television segment that apparently featured Gohmert making the claim Capitol Police warned him of “ANTIFI” plans to infiltrate the pro-Trump protests. Brooks said Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA), who texted Meadows wild conspiracy theories in the weeks after the 2020 election, made a similar claim to him about the Capitol Police. These texts from Brooks are being reported here for the first time.
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In a Monday phone interview with TPM, Brooks said that he now believed that “right-wing militia groups hijacked what was otherwise going to be a lawful assertion of First Amendment rights.”
“Yes, antifa played a role, but it was very minor,” Brooks told TPM, before complaining that the right-wing militias “were dramatically counterproductive and they dramatically hurt our cause for election integrity by hijacking our ability to communicate to the American people about the fraud.”
There remains no evidence to suggest that antifa played any role — even a minor one — in the attack.
Ten days after the attack, Derek Harvey, a staffer for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), a staunch Trump ally, also pushed an antifa conspiracy theory, according to Meadows’ text log. Harvey, who did not respond to a request for comment, sent Meadows a link to an article from a far-right website that was purportedly based on online chats where a man named John Sullivan and two anonymous internet users who indicated they were not Trump supporters claimed to have been among the crowds.
Sullivan, who was charged with breaking into the Capitol building, has been a fixation for many on the right since he participated in anti-Trump protests prior to Jan. 6. Brooks alluded to him during the phone interview with TPM, and his actions during the Capitol attack were extensively detailed in an affidavit given by the FBI on Jan. 13, 2021, in support of his arrest warrant. In that affidavit, investigators did not describe any connection between far-left groups and Sullivan’s role in the storming of the Capitol. No evidence has been found linking Sullivan to antifa.
On Wednesday, Sullivan denied that he was a part of the movement in a phone call with TPM.
“Are they saying I have mind control? And that suddenly antifa controlled all the Trump supporters who were there?” Sullivan told TPM. “They’re trying to find an excuse to liberate themselves from the blame of that day.”
Experts describe “antifa” as a natural bogeyman and scapegoat for the pro-Trump right, particularly in the aftermath of the Capitol attack. In a conversation with TPM, Denver Riggleman, a former Republican congressman and Air Force intelligence officer who helped lead the team of investigators for the House select committee that obtained and parsed Meadows’ text messages, suggested some Trump allies were exploiting the “true believers” by feeding them a “false flag” antifa conspiracy theory.
“First of all, you had a combination of savvy communicators like Jason Miller who saw the antifa false flag as an opportunity, and he knows that Louie Gohmert and Marjorie Taylor Greene are dumb as a bag of rocks,” Riggleman said.
Riggleman, who wrote “The Breach: The Untold Story of the Investigation into January 6th,” also noted that, in the weeks and months after the attack, elements of the far right — including those in Congress — cycled through various conspiracy theories including trying to pin the attack on the FBI or nefarious government agents. (Full disclosure: TPM’s Hunter Walker co-authored “The Breach” with Riggleman.)
“But you also see that they started to morph away from that conspiracy theory when it wasn’t working,” Riggleman said of the “antifa” narrative. “With conspiracy theories, inconsistency is a feature, not a bug. They want to hit people in the amygdala; all this is a quick fix to hit the emotional note that you need for people to react to.”
Anna Merlan, a senior staff writer for Vice who wrote the book “Republic of Lies” on the history of conspiracy theories in the U.S., described how “antifa’s” role had been magnified by Trump supporters who cast the group as “the representatives of a much larger force.”
“Really since the start of the Trump presidency, antifa has been depicted as the shock troops of the Democrat-backed attempt to overthrow the president. Or, you know, commit acts of violence in the name of either discrediting Trump or seeking to overthrow him,” Merlan said.
According to Merlan, part of what makes this strategy effective is the fact that the right has long had “a sort of anxiety over an illegitimate, militarized police state taking over control of U.S. citizens through the use of street violence.”
“This has been an anxiety on the right or the far right since the 1970s. So antifa is the new name for the forces that they believe are going to be part of this,” Merlan said.
And, in the wake of Jan. 6, Merlan also noted “antifa” came to serve a function and deflect blame for the far right.
“When it comes to Jan. 6, the idea is essentially to deny or displace the violence that happened on that day,” Merlan said, adding, “The idea of antifa being a reliable bogeyman is that there won’t be any act of violence that won’t be denied or displaced.”