Misrepresented videos revive conspiracy theories about Antifa at US Capitol

A former US political candidate shared videos purporting to show far-left activists involved in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. This is false; one clip depicts a comedian, not an anti-fascist leader, while another appears to have been manipulated to darken the clothing of the Donald Trump supporters who first breached the building.

"Previously censored video re-emerges showing ANTIFA members dressing up a (sic) Trump supporters in DC," said Chuck Callesto, a Republican from the US state of Florida who ran for Congress in 2018, in a March 10, 2023 tweet.

The one-minute clip, which shows a man donning pro-Trump apparel and fake media credentials, received more than 2.5 million views.

"Previously Censored video re-emerges of people resembling ANTIFA IN BLACK CLAD making the initial breach into the Capitol," said Callesto in another tweet sharing a video with more than 1.3 million views.

Screenshot from Twitter taken March 13, 2023

Screenshot from Twitter taken March 13, 2023



Similar posts circulated across Twitter, Facebook, Truth Social, Rumble and Telegram, rehashing years-old conspiracy theories that the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol was a "setup."

Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently revived such claims about the insurrection, during which Trump supporters stormed the seat of American democracy and disrupted lawmakers' certification of the 2020 election results in a violent attempt to overturn President Joe Biden's victory. Carlson falsely claimed during a March 6 segment that the rioters were "sightseers" -- and that police "helped" them.

But the videos Callesto shared do not show members of Antifa, a loose coalition of anti-fascist activists commonly blamed for unrest in the United States.

"We know of no cases of individuals associated with Antifa charged in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol," said Keven Ruby, research director for the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, which maintains a database of riot-related cases.

AFP has previously debunked claims that Antifa activists instigated the Capitol insurrection.

Comedian's video

The recording of a man putting on a "Blue Lives Matter" hat ahead of the Trump rally that preceded the US Capitol riot is a snippet of a YouTube video from Walter Masterson posted on February 3, 2021.

"Just reiterating how stupid these people are," the US comedian said in one of several March 10 tweets mocking Callesto and Kevin Sorbo, a conservative actor who also shared the footage out of context.

Masterson told AFP in an email that he does "'Daily Show'-style interviews," referencing an American television program from Comedy Central.

"I went to Capitol Hill on January 6 to get funny interviews," he said. "I filmed my entire time at Capitol Hill, I even live-streamed from there. I could not have been more transparent about my presence. Yet MAGA conspiracy theorists are using my presence as proof positive that ANTIFA was behind everything."

The full 25-minute video -- which the House committee that investigated the attack cited in its final report -- shows Masterson speaking with Trump supporters near the former president's rally and outside the Capitol for entertainment purposes.

"Both I and @PeterScattini went to Capitol Hill on January 6th to make comedy videos," the YouTube video's caption says. "We did not expect to be documenting a dark day for our democracy."

Callesto corrected his tweet March 11, saying in a follow-up post that the clip shows Masterson and that "there is NO EVIDENCE he claims to be ANTIFA." The update received a little more than 100 shares -- far fewer than the original tweet's more than 20,500.

Capitol breach footage

A reverse image search reveals the video in Callesto's second tweet, which has since been deleted, pulls from Capitol security footage aired during Trump's second impeachment trial.

But the version circulating online appears to have darkened the clothing of the rioters who first broke into the building through a shattered window. Antifa activists commonly dress in all black.

Screenshot from Twitter taken March 13, 2023

This screenshot taken March 13, 2023 shows US Capitol security footage ( US Department of Justice)



The original footage, which has a much higher resolution, shows rioters sporting a Confederate flag, a T-shirt promoting the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory and pro-Trump apparel.

The first rioter to climb through the broken window was Michael Sparks, who had expressed support for Trump on Facebook, according to court documents.

Others followed -- including Edward Kelley, who kicked open a door for the mob and was photographed the previous night wearing a "Make America Great Again" cap. Dominic Pezzola, a member of the far-right Proud Boys militia group facing seditious conspiracy charges, had smashed the window with a police riot shield.

Also among the rioters in the video: Kevin Seefried, who waved the Confederate flag; Douglas Jensen, who wore the QAnon T-shirt; and Robert Gieswein, a member of the Three Percenters militia movement. Another rioter seen in the Capitol security footage, William Watson, has denied claims of Antifa involvement.

"They wanna call me Antifa because I have a video game tattoo on my hand and I was pleading for peaceful discourse," Watson said on Snapchat, according to court filings. "Let them say what they will. The fake news won't win against the thousands of patriots recorded today."

AFP has fact-checked other misinformation about the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol here.