A year later, the right-wing media figures who helped spur the January 6 insurrection continue to spread disinformation
A year after pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, major right-wing media figures responsible for pushing conspiracy theories about election fraud and organizing the events that led to the insurrection continue to push lies surrounding the 2020 presidential election.
Beyond their rhetoric, some of these figures have refused to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the insurrection, filing lawsuits against and refusing to answer questions from the House select committee investigating the violence at the Capitol.
After the Capitol riots, a few mainstream social media platforms responded by banning some of these figures. However, these key players continue to either benefit from loosely moderated platforms like Telegram or maintain platforms of their own, pushing more election propaganda to their audiences -- and sometimes profiting from it.
Alex Jones and Infowars
Infowars is an outlet founded by Alex Jones that regularly pushes conspiracy theories and lies. Leading up to the January 6 insurrection, Jones used his outlet to spread conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election, profiting directly from lies about the election being stolen.
In November 2020, Jones appeared at rallies in Arizona and Georgia where he promoted violence in response to the election results.
Jones provided the majority of the funding for the events surrounding January 6, raising roughly $500,000 to pay for expenses. He likewise used his Infowars platform to widely promote the rally on January 6, 2021, that led to the violence at the Capitol.
The night before the insurrection, Jones spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., where he encouraged the crowd to “resist,” claiming “globalists” were attempting to steal the election and saying he didn’t “know how all of this is going to end, but if they want a fight, they better believe they’ve got one.”
The day of the insurrection, Jones addressed a small crowd, telling them “we need to understand we’re under attack and we need to understand this is 21st century warfare and get on a war-footing.” Jones then told the crowd to “take our rightful country back peacefully” before leading them on a march toward the Capitol. Infowars host Owen Shroyer, who was by his side for the speech, was arrested in August and charged with breaching the Capitol and disorderly conduct.
In the aftermath of the Capitol riot, Jones continued to spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. In 2021:
- Jones pushed lies immediately following the insurrection regarding the Secret Service, antifa, and the FBI’s supposed involvement in the attempted coup and its purported attempt to pin blame on him and other conservative figures.
- Jones used Infowars’ streaming platform banned.video in May and June to continue to push conspiracy theories, claiming Dominion Voting Systems had helped rig the election and Donald Trump had won Arizona in 2020.
- Jones’ false claims about the Secret Service scapegoating conservatives reached Fox later in June, when Tucker Carlson pushed the lies on his show. Jones later said he had “been working with other folks to get the information, obviously, out to the great Tucker Carlson.”
- Jones hosted prolific election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell on his show in July, when Lindell claimed Trump had won the election in California.
- Jones played ads in July and August for Lindell’s “cyber symposium,” an event that Lindell fraudulently claimed would show the 2020 election was stolen, with Jones bringing Lindell on to promote the symposium.
- During an appearance on BlazeTV in September, Jones again claimed it was voter fraud that caused Trump to lose Arizona in 2020.
- Jones was subpoenaed in November by the House select committee investigating January 6. In December, Jones sued the committee, seeking to block the inquiry into his role, adding that he would not cooperate with the committee.
After Trump’s loss, Steve Bannon -- the former executive chairman of pro-Trump website Breitbart and former chief strategist in the Trump administration -- repeatedly pushed the election conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric. Bannon’s podcast, War Room: Pandemic, was spreading a lie about computer systems changing votes while the election was still taking place. He also used his podcast to imply that infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci should be beheaded.
Bannon has hinted that he may have played an integral role fomenting the insurrection on January 6. He repeatedly bragged about his behind-the-scenes role in what would become the Capitol riot. Bannon’s main platform is his War Room podcast where he frequently hosted other top insurrection figures including “coup memo” author John Eastman and former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. On January 5, he repeatedly indicated that something was going to happen at the next day’s rally, saying: “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen, OK. It’s going to be quite extraordinarily different. And all I can say is strap in, the War Room posse. You have made this happen, and tomorrow it’s game day.”
In the aftermath of the riot, Bannon used his podcast to push conspiracy theories about the insurrection and has continued to do so into the new year. In 2021:
- Bannon was banned from YouTube in mid-January 2021, just days after the insurrection, but his podcast still has a video platform on Rumble.
- Bannon claimed in August that the riot was a “failed intelligence operation” and suggested the FBI was involved with militia groups who participated in the riot.
- Bannon continued to push election conspiracy theories alongside downplaying the Capitol riot. The sheer volume of election lies pushed on War Room: Pandemic helped him earn Media Matters Misinformer of the Year for 2021. CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale wrote that Bannon’s podcast is an “alternate reality,” which “goes into elaborate, incorrect detail about how the election was supposedly stolen.”
- Bannon hosted MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell over 80 times on his podcast in 2021. He also essentially co-hosted Lindell’s cyber symposium broadcasting his show on location from the event dedicated to trying to spread election conspiracy theories, including that China hacked the election in favor of President Joe Biden.
- Bannon was charged with contempt of Congress in December for refusing to cooperate with the House committee’s probe into January 6. His trial date is set for July 2022.
Ali Alexander, formerly Ali Akbar, is a right-wing grifter and a Trump ally who was one of the primary organizers of the “Stop the Steal” movement in the months preceding January 6. Alexander operated alongside other right-wing influencers to promote the #StopTheSteal digital campaign, and there were dozens of rallies held across the country.
Alexander frequently promoted “Stop the Steal” events, including the January 6 event, through far-right media broadcasters. He used some of the media platforms in the run-up to the January 6 rallies to call for violent responses, saying that “we've got to punch the left in the nose,” that “you must fight,” and that “they will kill us.” On January 5, he led a crowd in a “victory or death” chant.
Alexander’s “Stop the Steal” coalition was also responsible for operating numerous websites to promote the January 6 rally. Event websites included StopTheSteal.us, WildProtest.com, FightForTrump.com, and MarchToSaveAmerica.com. These websites provided prospective attendees with event schedules and hotel accommodation suggestions.
Alexander was with Alex Jones when Jones directed crowds on January 6 to march to the Capitol, and following the initial entry of insurrectionists into the Capitol, he expressed in a video that he “do[es] not disavow this, I do not denounce this,” when speaking in reference to the day’s protests.
In the aftermath of the riot Alexander has pushed misinformation about the events of the day. In 2021:
- Alexander claimed in March he would not return to political activities until certain “legal liabilities” expire.
- In an online stream put out in July, Alexander claimed that “several members of Congress” were asking for information that he claimed he was publishing in an “election integrity memo.” The memo was supposed to include a “full frontal offense” over the January 6 riot.
- Alexander called January 6 a “beautiful day” and claimed that “the parts that were not beautiful were not ours.”
- He claimed in October, “We, the people, are probably “too peaceful.”
- Alexander has been subpoenaed by the January 6 committee and claimed he will only cooperate as much as is legally required. However, when it sought Alexander’s phone records, he sued the committee.
Ron Watkins is a former administrator for the message board 8kun (previously 8chan), which is owned by his father Jim Watkins. 8kun is where “Q” posts “Q drops,” the original fuel for the QAnon conspiracy theory. Some evidence points to Ron Watkins as someone who could have been in control of the Q posts.
Watkins helped organize transportation of people to Washington for the rally. In the aftermath, Watkins has attempted to cash in on his involvement with the insurrection, including auctioning off some of his tweets as NFTs.
Watkins repeatedly spread voter fraud conspiracy theories following the 2020 election, including fearmongering about Dominion voting machines, and was retweeted by then-President Donald Trump. Before Twitter permanently suspended his account in early January, Watkins was a top promoter of voter fraud misinformation.
In the immediate aftermath of the riot, Watkins began spreading conspiracy theories calling for the arrest of Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence. In 2021:
- Watkins, posting under his online alias CodeMonkeyZ, said after Biden’s inauguration, “We have a new president sworn in and it is our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution.” This sentiment did not last. He returned to posting voter fraud misinformation on Telegram in April.
- Watkins was doxxing election officials in June who had supposedly previously worked for voting machine manufacturers.
- Watkins has used his notoriety to attempt to start a political career and is currently running for Congress in Arizona and promoting his candidacy at QAnon-associated events.
Roger Stone, a longtime friend and political adviser to Trump, spoke in Washington, D.C., on January 5 at the “Stop the Steal” rally where he told the crowd they were facing “nothing less than an epic struggle for the future of this country between dark and light” and claimed he would be with protesters the next day “shoulder to shoulder,” although he continues to assert he was not present at any January 6 events.
Stone is closely linked to multiple pro-Trump figures behind the January 6 events, including right-wing activist Ali Alexander and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Stone also originally coined the phrase “Stop the Steal” in reference to the 2016 election.
Prior to the Capitol breach, Stone promoted the events and solicited donations for “professional security” as part of the “Stop the Steal Security Project.” Members of the far-right militia the Oath Keepers were photographed serving as Stone’s security on January 6, one of whom was later arrested in connection with the insurrection.
Despite attempting to distance himself from the violence perpetrated on January 6, Stone continued to push the same sort of rhetoric that inspired the rioters while attempting to obstruct the investigation into his involvement. In 2021:
- Stone promoted false claims following the insurrection that anti-fascists acted as instigators in the Capitol breach. He later wrote an article for the Gateway Pundit in which he called for Trump to pardon those arrested for breaching the Capitol. Stone also promised people to “answer your questions about what really happened in DC” on the paid service Cameo, potentially profiting off of the remarks.
- Stone continued to push election fraud conspiracy theories on social media site Telegram. He also made numerous appearances on Infowars where he promoted the same lies.
- Stone appeared on Newsmax in June where he promoted conspiracy theories suggesting the Secret Service helped to organize the insurrection. He again pushed this falsehood when he appeared on Infowars in November, where he also applauded Tucker Carlson’s January 6 series that promoted further conspiracy theories around the insurrection.
- Stone vowed in October to primary Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis if he did not conduct an audit of the ballots cast in the state, later promoting the claim that members of DeSantis’ administration were involved in vote manipulation.
- In November, Stone was subpoenaed by the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection for his role in the Capitol breach. When he appeared before the committee, Stone invoked the Fifth Amendment, which gives protection against self-incrimination, to every question. Stone also attempted to profit from his subpoena, soliciting donations on Telegram he claimed would go to “pay lawyers to fight this entire fraud.”
Charlie Kirk and Turning Point USA
Charlie Kirk, a pro-Trump troll and founder of the conservative student-focused group Turning Point USA, used his organization to promote and directly facilitate the January 6 insurrection.
Leading up to January 6, 2021, Kirk prominently promoted election fraud conspiracy theories on social media and on his podcast. Turning Point Action, the political action committee of TPUSA, encouraged people to attend the January 6 rally, even promising to provide transportation by bus and a “complimentary hotel” stay. Kirk claimed that Turning Point Action and an affiliated group, Students for Trump, were sending 80 buses full of protesters to Washington, D.C., for January 6, although it was later reported the number was an exaggeration. One individual the organization provided transportation to was later convicted of assaulting police officers at the Capitol.
Kirk continued throughout the year to push lies claiming election fraud was responsible for Donald Trump’s loss. In 2021:
- Donations to Turning Point USA’s website increased immediately after the attempted coup.
- Kirk continued to promote election fraud conspiracy theories on Telegram.
- On his podcast, Kirk used false claims of voter fraud to push for voting restrictions.
- Following the sham “audit” in Arizona, Kirk falsely claimed in September that the results showed election fraud had taken place, contradicting the actual findings of the final report. Kirk then called for additional audits to take place.
Nick Fuentes and Tim Gionet
Nick Fuentes is a Holocaust-denier, attendee of the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and leader of the Groyper movement.
Leading up to January 6, Fuentes appeared at “Stop the Steal” rallies in D.C. and Michigan and at another alongside Ali Alexander and Alex Jones in Georgia. Just days before the insurrection, Fuentes seemed to encourage his audience to kill state legislators in order to overturn the election. Fuentes’ close associate and far-right troll, Tim Gionet (known online as Baked Alaska) himself stormed the Capitol, hosting a livestream from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, while Fuentes encouraged the crowd near the Capitol to “break down the barriers and disregard the police.”
Although Gionet was later charged for breaching the Capitol and Fuentes became the subject of an FBI investigation, Fuentes managed to maintain a platform from which he spread lies about election fraud. In 2021:
- Fuentes voiced his support for the rioters immediately following January 6, saying he thought “the 6th … was fucking awesome.”
- Within days of the insurrection, both Fuentes and Gionet were banned from DLive, the livestreaming site they used to spread their content, but Fuentes subsequently joined the streaming platform Trovo alongside other controversial figures.
- A month after the Capitol insurrection, Fuentes organized the second annual conference of the America First Political Action Committee where he hosted speakers also connected to the Capitol breach and “Stop the Steal” movement, including white nationalist Vincent James Foxx and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ). At the conference, Fuentes again cheered on the actions of the rioters, saying, “I saw hundreds of thousands of patriots surrounding the U.S. Capitol building, and I saw the police retreating, and we heard that the politicians voting on the fraudulent election had scurried in their underground tunnels away from the Capitol. I said to myself, ‘This is awesome.’”
- Fuentes continued to praise those involved in the Capitol insurrection in June, calling the arrested insurrectionists “American patriots.”
- Twitter banned Fuentes from the platform in July. However, Fuentes continues to use fringe platform Telegram to spread conspiracy theories about supposed voter fraud.
- In October, Fuentes launched his own streaming platform, Cozy.tv, where he continues to host a livestream of his podcast along with promoting his paid subscription service and merchandise store. Gionet, who is still awaiting trial, also joined Fuentes’ platform. Gionet continues to profit from this new platform, with a link to donate to his legal fund featured on his page.
- Fuentes’ content also continues to be hosted on Gab, and the platform has actively promoted him.