FBI shoots down wild Capitol riot conspiracy
FBI Director Christopher Wray has told the US Senate there is no evidence that impostors pretending to be supporters of former president Donald Trump were behind the Capitol riot on January 6, debunking a conspiracy theory that has taken root on the right.
Mr Wray, who was appointed by Mr Trump in 2017, testified before the Judicial Committee today, as part of Congress's investigation into the riot and the security failures that led to five people dying.
The committee's chairman, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, began the hearing by describing January 6 as a "tragic and harrowing day". He compared the mob that overran that Capitol to hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
"The hate on display that terrible day is not a new phenomenon in our country. America's first domestic terror organisation, the Ku Klux Klan, was born in the aftermath of the Civil War to terrorise African-Americans," he said.
"The insurrectionists who stormed (the Capitol) on January 6 did not wear white robes and hoods. They might as well have. They are the latest incarnation of violent white supremacist movements that have terrorised fellow Americans on the basis of race and religion and national origin for more than 150 years.
"We need to be clear that the white supremacists and other extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States today."
Under questioning from Mr Durbin, Mr Wray agreed that the mob included some white supremacists, but stopped short of concurring with the Senator's broader generalisation.
"It included a variety of backgrounds. Certainly, we're seeing quite a number, as we're building out the cases on the individuals we've arrested for the violence, quite a number of what we would call militia violent extremists," Mr Wray said.
"So we've got a number who self-identify with the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, things like that.
"We also have a couple of instances where, we've already identified individuals involved in the criminal behaviour who we would put in the racially motivated violent extremists, who advocate for what you would call white supremacy. So there have been some of those individuals as well.
"Certainly as I said, militia violent extremism, some instances of racially motivated violent extremism, specifically advocating for the superiority of the white race."
"Based on your investigation so far, do you have any evidence that the Capitol attack was organised by fake Trump protesters?" Mr Durbin asked.
"We have not seen evidence of that at this stage, certainly," Mr Wray replied.
Under further questioning from another Democrat, Senator Patrick Leahy, Mr Wray added that the FBI had found no proof of Antifa involvement either.
"We have not, to date, seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection to the 6th," he said.
The FBI Director stressed that his organisation would "come after" violent criminals whatever their political views.
He said the FBI had arrested more than 270 individuals so far in connection with the riot, thanks in part to 270,000 digital media tips from the general public.
The idea that leftists posing as Trump supporters were actually responsible for the violence at the Capitol has found traction in right-wing media, on social media, and among a handful of Republican politicians.
During the first public Senate hearing on the riot last week, Senator Ron Johnson read an article espousing that theory into the record as evidence.
The article in question, which was published by The Federalist on January 14, claimed that "a small number of" provocateurs who were "not Trump supporters" used the "cover" of Mr Trump's rally on the morning of January 6 to stage their own attack.
"Apparent agent-provocateurs placed hundreds of unsuspecting supporters of the president in physical danger," it said.
Congressmen Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks and Paul Gosar have also spread the theory, claiming there is "compelling evidence" that Antifa orchestrated the attack.
"Some of the people who breached the Capitol were not Trump supporters," Mr Gaetz said hours after the riot.
"They were masquerading as Trump supporters and, in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group Antifa."
Mr Trump's own legal team alluded to the theory during their defence of the former president during his impeachment trial last month.
"It is apparent that extremists of various different stripes and political persuasions pre-planned and premeditated an attack on the Capitol," said lawyer Michael van der Veen.
Clearly, the FBI does not agree.
Today's Senate hearing came as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, hit back at Mr Trump's claim the he "requested" 10,000 National Guard troops to handle any security risks ahead of January 6.
"I definitely gave the number of 10,000 National Guardsmen, and, 'I think you should have 10,000 of the National Guard ready," Mr Trump told Fox News on Sunday.
"They took that number. From what I understand, they gave it to the people at the Capitol, which is controlled by Pelosi. And I heard they rejected it because they didn't think it would look good. So you know, that was a big mistake."
Ms Pelosi's spokesperson has told The Washington Post Mr Trump's version of events was "completely made up".
The former president's lawyers made no mention of the request during their defence of him during the impeachment trial, even though it would have directly countered the prosecution's argument that he incited an insurrection.
We have, however, heard mention of the 10,000-troop figure before. It featured in a Vanity Fair article published on January 22, which described the scene at the Pentagon both before and during the riot.
The article details a meeting Mr Trump participated in on the evening of January 5, alongside acting defence secretary Chistopher Miller and his chief of staff Kash Patel. The meeting was about Iran policy, but at one point the then-president asked how many troops the Pentagon intended to deploy the next day.
"We're like, 'We're going to provide any National Guard support that the District (of Columbia) requests," Mr Miller told him.
"And (Trump) goes, 'You're going to need 10,000 people.' No, I'm not talking bulls***, he said that. And we're like, 'Maybe. But you know, someone's going to have to ask for it.'"
Vanity Fair asked why Mr Trump came up with such a high number.
"The president's sometimes hyperbolic, as you've noticed. There were going to be a million people in the street, I think was his expectation," Mr Miller said.
The Pentagon has told The Washington Post's fact checker that "no record" of an order from Mr Trump on the matter exists.
So, the truth here seems to be that Mr Trump did mention deploying 10,000 National Guard troops during a conversation with his defence secretary, but never actually made a request, and hence no such request made it to "the people at the Capitol".
When the violence did break out, the first National Guard troops did not arrive to support law enforcement at the Capitol until about 5:40pm, more than four hours after the Capitol Police first requested their support.
Originally published as FBI shoots down Capitol riot myth