SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Almost as soon as the tear gas cleared from the U.S. Capitol on January 6, a conspiracy theory began to pick up steam. It held that the attackers were not actually Trump supporters but antifa, that decentralized collection of far-left groups. That is false. And as NPR's Meg Anderson reports, one population where the conspiracy theory seems not to be taking hold is among insurrectionists themselves.
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LAURA INGRAHAM: I'm Laura Ingraham, and this is "Ingraham Angle" from a chaotic Washington tonight. Earlier today, the...
MEG ANDERSON, BYLINE: The day that rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, a conspiracy theory made its way from the online forum 4chan to Parler, Twitter and Reddit and then to Fox News.
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INGRAHAM: Now, they were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd.
ANDERSON: The claim was mentioned more than 400,000 times online in the first 24 hours. Rush Limbaugh raised similar doubts. And then it moved from the Internet and TV to the halls of Congress. Here's Representative Matt Gaetz.
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MATT GAETZ: ...Showing 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.
ANDERSON: There was no evidence for these claims. Still, recent data shows that nearly 60% of Trump supporters believe it. But NPR analyzed the court documents of more than 280 people charged in the Capitol riot. And we found that many of the rioters themselves are fighting against the claim. In fact, some rioters seemed annoyed that antifa was getting the credit. One man wrote on Facebook, quote, "Don't you dare try to tell me that people are blaming this on antifa. We proudly take responsibility for storming the castle."
Many clearly viewed antifa as a key enemy. Some said they brought weapons to the Capitol to fight antifa. Randy Blazak, the chair of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes, says the chatter on 4chan ahead of the riot wasn't just about stopping the steal.
RANDY BLAZAK: There was also this notion that if you come to Washington, not only do you have a chance to stop the steal, you'll get so bulldoze your way through the antifa folks who are there hand in hand with Congress. So it was kind of a bonus.
ANDERSON: Blazak says this recent focus on antifa largely came out of last summer's protests against police brutality in cities across the country.
BLAZAK: They point to places like Portland as being hotbeds of left-wing activism and the way Portland went over the summer as sort of a future vision of what's going to happen to America in their mind.
ANDERSON: Antifa became a simplification of all the different perceived enemies on the left.
BLAZAK: And so they have been used sort of as a boogeyman, and it serves them well because it rallies people.
ANDERSON: Rumors spread, even before January 6, that antifa would be in D.C., too. One man charged in the riot told others to dress in black like antifa, presumably to confuse members of the far-left group. Another man claimed they had infiltrated antifa's ranks ahead of the event. But experts say this warlike rhetoric is not how antifa works.
MARK BRAY: Antifa is not one specific group. I often liken it to feminism. There are feminist groups, but feminism itself is not a group.
ANDERSON: That's Mark Bray, a historian who wrote a book on antifa.
BRAY: It's a kind of ideology or political tendency that any group of people can put into action. There's no chain of command.
ANDERSON: Data shows attacks by far-left groups like antifa make up a small percentage of all domestic terror attacks. Bray says media coverage of antifa has framed it as the exact opposite in terms of severity of far-right extremist groups, which just isn't true.
BRAY: I see that notion coming primarily from the political center and from liberal media, which seeks to demonize what they consider to be the extreme left and the extreme right.
ANDERSON: In the January 6 court documents, rioters talked not only about antifa as an enemy, but also communists, Democrats, the quote, "deep state" and in particular, Black Lives Matter protesters. Shirley Jackson, a professor of sociology at Portland State University, says that also has its roots in last summer's protests.
SHIRLEY JACKSON: The media was not always making it clear that the things that were occurring were not always about Black Lives Matter.
ANDERSON: She says that served to demonize the Black Lives Matter movement, and far-right groups capitalized on that.
JACKSON: They were aware that this would also turn the tables, if you will, on support for Black Lives Matter. It means that they can have a clear sense of the enemy.
ANDERSON: And once the enemy is clear, it becomes easier to deflect responsibility away from who is really to blame.
Meg Anderson, NPR News.
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