Quarter of Americans falsely believe FBI orchestrated January 6, poll finds

A quarter of Americans falsely believe federal law enforcement “probably” or “definitely” orchestrated the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, a claim at the centre of a persistent conspiracy theory promoted by right-wing media, Republican officials and former president Donald Trump.

The results of a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll also found that 34 per cent of Republicans and 44 per cent of Americans who voted for Mr Trump continue to believe that FBI operatives organised and encouraged the attack.

Hundreds of people have been tried and convicted or pleaded guilty to charges surrounding the attack, and lengthy congressional investigations and criminal prosecutions have not found any evidence that law enforcement incited the riots in the halls of Congress. Prosecutors and FBI officials have repeatedly rejected such claims in court documents and in sworn congressional testimony.

Yet misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the attack remain widespread as the US approaches the third anniversary of the attack, fuelled by Mr Trump’s persistent lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, in an attempt to block members of Congress from certifying the results.

The man at the centre of many of those false claims, Ray Epps, is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court next week after pleading guilty to charges connected to the riots. He is also suing Tucker Carlson and Fox News for defamation after the now-former network host suggested that he was a government agent who provoked rioters in an attempt to entrap Mr Trump’s supporters.

“I will say this notion that somehow the violence at the Capitol on January 6 was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources and agents is ludicrous and is a disservice to our brave, hardworking dedicated men and women,” FBI director Christopher Wray told the House Judiciary Committee last year.

January 6 defendants and their attorneys have repeatedly blamed the former president’s “fight like hell” rhetoric and calls to march to the Capitol and expressed remorse and regret for their actions.

False claims surrounding the attack have also animated Republican plans to release surveillance footage from the Capitol that day, an apparent attempt to undermine the violence that was live-streamed and viewed by millions of Americans.

More than 140 police officers were assaulted during the attack, including roughly 80 members of the US Capitol Police and 60 officers from Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, according to the US Department of Justice

More than 700 people have pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the attack, including more than 200 felonies and more than 500 misdemeanours.

More than a dozen members of two far-right groups were convicted at trial or have pleaded guilty to treason-related charges in connection with January 6.

Enrique Tarrio, the now-former leader of the neo-fascist Proud Boys gang, received the longest prison sentence yet for his role in the attack, after a jury found him guilty of seditious conspiracy and a judge sentenced him to 22 years in prison. Four other members of the group were also sentenced for their roles in the attack.

Proud Boys member Ethan Nordean and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes each received 18 years in prison on charges of seditious conspiracy, both holding the second-longest sentences to date among January 6 defendants.

In his plea for leniency, Tarrio apologised to law enforcement, lawmakers, the jurors and Washington DC residents for the “national embarrassment” of January 6.

Yet the Washington Post-UMD poll also found that Republican voters are more likely to support January 6 defendants and less likely to blame Mr Trump for January 6 than they were two years ago.

The results found that Republican voters are less likely to think that the rioters were “mostly violent” and similarly less likely to think that Mr Trump was in any way responsible for the insurrection.

Fifty-five per cent of Americans believe the Capitol assault was “an attack on democracy that should never be forgotten” but fewer than a quarter of Republicans believe that statement. Only 17 per cent of Trump voters agree.

Meanwhile, 72 per cent of Republicans believe “too much is being made” of the attack and that it is “time to move on”.

Mr Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president, has promised mass pardons for January 6 defendants, if elected.

In New Hampshire last month, he called defendants “hostages” days after federal prosecutors warned that they intend to use his endorsement of their alleged actions in the election conspiracy case against him.

He has embraced the “J6 Prison Choir”, a group of defendants who remain in a Washington DC jail for crimes that, according to federal prosecutors, “were so violent that their pretrial release would pose a danger to the public”. He plays their songs at his rallies.

Mr Trump also faces federal criminal charges for allegedly leading a multi-state conspiracy to overturn 2020 results, culminating in the mob’s assault on Congress and his apparent refusal to stop them. He also is charged in a parallel investigation in Atlanta alongside more than a dozen co-defendants accused of a “criminal enterprise” to unlawfully reverse his loss in the state.

He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Joe Biden intends to use the attack and Mr Trump’s antidemocratic campaign as a centerpiece of his re-election bid.