As much of the world recoiled after a pro-Trump mob, incited by the president, attacked the U.S. Capitol, it seemed inevitable that some on the right would claim it only appeared to be a pro-Trump mob.
Radical conservative activists and allies of President Donald Trump quickly began to spread disinformation about the Capitol riots Wednesday, claiming with no evidence that pro-Trump protesters photographed breaking into congressional chambers were anti-fascist activists.
Among the first hints of this that crossed my radar was a tweet from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), one of Congress' most right-wing members, who suggested that the riot incited by the president was an example of "leftist violence." Soon after, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said on the House floor that he believes there were "antifa" members "masquerading as Trump supporters" committing acts of violence at the Capitol.
The idiocy spread quickly.
Lou Dobbs and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., discussed the possibility of antifa instigators' infiltrating the pro-Trump mob. And former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made the same claim, telling Fox News host Martha MacCallum that it was unclear who was instigating the riots. "A lot of it is the antifa folks," Palin said, citing "pictures" she had seen. Laura Ingraham, one of the channel's primetime hosts, spent much of the hour of her show suggesting without evidence that the Trump protesters had been infiltrated by antifa.
There are plenty of additional examples. You can expect an email along these lines from your weird relatives who consume far-right media all day.
There are, of course, some glaring problems with this. First, it's stark raving mad.
Second, we can say with confidence that it's stark raving mad because many of the far-right rioters made little effort to hide the fact that they were far-right rioters. They took selfies. They tweeted their attack. Some quite literally livestreamed the riot in real time.
To see this as some kind of "masquerade" is to think antifa ne'er-do-wells had reconstructive plastic surgery to make themselves look like people we already know to be right-wing activists.
But even if we put all of that aside, what I find especially amazing is the cognitive dissonance. Donald Trump spent months lying to these right-wing rioters, before practically begging them to come to D.C. for a gathering designed to coincide with the certification of Joe Biden's victory. The president then rallied them, dispatched them to the Capitol, and directed them not to show any "weakness."
After he incited the violent attack on the Capitol, Trump praised the rioters, offered a justification for their crimes. In a missive that Twitter soon after removed, the president referred to his supporters as "great patriots," before adding, "Remember this day forever!"
These were not the words of a man who was disappointed with an attack on his own country's Capitol; these were the words of a man who approved of what he saw and was sympathetic to those who acted at his behest.
Which makes the "antifa" talk that much more bewildering. The rioters are simultaneously patriots who did the right thing and secret leftists to be condemned? The mob is both a source of pride and an embarrassment?
Update: Much of the right-wing chatter about this is based on an article in the conservative Washington Times. With this in mind, Buzzfeed reported today, "A facial recognition company says a viral Washington Times story claiming it identified antifa members among the mob that stormed the Capitol on Wednesday is completely false."