A mob of Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, seeking to stop the counting of the Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden and overturn the results of the election following weeks of incitement by President Donald Trump. The Washington Times soon published a thinly sourced article claiming that a facial recognition technology company had identified “antifa” members among the insurrection; the firm has since called the article “completely false,” but the lie quickly spread among right-wing media figures and even Republican members of Congress before being debunked.
In the aftermath of the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol, many in right-wing media have attempted to grapple with the images and videos of the insurrection. Some have responded by baselessly arguing that members of “antifa,” loosely organized anti-fascist protesters demonized by the right, were supposedly behind much of the violence and chaos. The conservative Washington Times contributed to this narrative, publishing an article circulated widely in right-wing media circles claiming that “a retired military officer” reported facial recognition firm XRVision “used its software to do facial recognition of protesters and matched two Philadelphia antifa members to two men inside the Senate.”
The following day, XRVision told BuzzFeed News that the story is “completely false.” The firm said that it has sent a cease and desist request to The Washington Times demanding a retraction and public apology for the article. (The article has since been deleted.) XRVision’s statement also revealed that while it didn’t identify any “antifa” members, the firm did identify two neo-Nazis and one QAnon supporter among the pro-Trump mob at the Capitol.
The false article spread across pro-Trump social media circles, earning over 250,000 engagements on Facebook. On her Fox News prime-time show, host Laura Ingraham claimed that “The Washington Times is reporting that at least two antifa were spotted in the crowd.” Right-wing commentator Kyle Becker tweeted that the article is “more evidence of antifa involvement,” and discredited pro-gun researcher John Lott, who was recently hired by Trump’s Department of Justice, shared the article on Facebook. Conservative personality Tito Ortiz tweeted the article, claiming, “I was right,” and BlazeTV’s Andrew Wilkow shared the article with the caption “BOOM!” Others, including the Trump campaign’s Madison Gesiotto, Newsmax’s James Hirsen, Women For Trump co-founder Amy Kremer, and Trump adviser Bruce LeVell shared the article on Twitter as well.
The false claim ultimately made it to the House floor when Congress reconvened to continue certifying the Electoral College votes after the rioters had left the building. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) claimed: “I don’t know if the reports are true, but The Washington Times has just reported some pretty compelling evidence from a facial recognition company that some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters, they were masquerading as Trump supporters, and in fact were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) also shared the article on Twitter, claiming, “Evidence mounts that fascist ANTIFA infiltrated Trump rally & stormed Capitol.”