When Fox News host Laura Ingraham introduced her show "from a chaotic Washington" on the day of the Capitol insurrection, she speculated, "Now, they were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd."
Mitchell Fryer was at home in North Carolina that day monitoring right-wing livestreams and Twitter accounts, and then feeding information to fellow left-wing antifascists on the ground at the Capitol.
"When shit really started, I was calling out what was going on at the Capitol," they said. "As it got worse, I started to tell people to get away from the Capitol as soon as possible because shit was going off the rails."
False claims about "antifa" infiltrators causing mayhem at the Capitol began before the insurrection was even over. Among the first — at 4:44 p.m. — was a tweet by Lin Wood, an Atlanta personal injury lawyer who played a prominent role in amplifying Trump's false claims about election fraud. Twenty minutes later, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who spoke at a Stop the Steal rally in Phoenix and has since addressed[JG2] a conference hosted by white nationalist organizer Nick Fuentes, retweeted footage of insurrectionists busting out a window at the Capitol, writing, "This has all the hallmarks of Antifa provocation."
But invoking "antifa" goes far beyond attempting to deflect blame. Trump supporters, including the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, also exploited the specter of "antifa" as a target for aggression and as justification for showing up armed with weapons and tactical gear, which were then turned against Capitol and Washington DC Metropolitan police. In one case, an insurrectionist even attempted to use "antifa" as an excuse for an alleged assault against a DC police officer.
Trump himself stoked hysteria about antifa on Jan. 5, the eve of the insurrection, before inciting his supporters to march on the Capitol during his speech at the Ellipse. "Antifa is a terrorist organization, stay out of Washington," he tweeted. "Law enforcement is watching you very closely." He then tagged the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, FBI, Justice Department and Department of Interior.
The FBI has noted the Proud Boys' antagonism towards left-wing antifascists in court documents supporting prosecution of members of the violent right-wing street gang for the Capitol insurrection.
Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio announced in a Dec. 29 Parler post that Proud Boys would "turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist…. We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams. And who knows… we might dress in all BLACK for the occasion." Tarrio's announcement is cited in an affidavit filed in support of federal charges against Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs.
The unidentified FBI special agent who drafted the affidavit added, "I believe the statement about dressing in 'all BLACK' is a reference to dressing like the group known as 'Antifa,' who the Proud Boys have identified as an enemy of their movement and are often depicted in the media wearing all black to demonstrations."
Biggs echoed Tarrio in a Parler post on the same day that was clearly intended to antagonize antifa.
"We will not be attending DC in colors," he wrote. "We will be blending in with you. You won't see us. You'll even think we are you…. We are going to smell like you, move like you, and look like you. The only thing we'll do that's us is think like us! Jan 6th is gonna be epic."
The FBI also cites the Proud Boys' antagonism towards antifa as evidence that the group was planning to breach the Capitol.
Far-right sentiment shifted away from the police after the Dec. 12 rally scheduled to coincide with the electoral college vote, when Proud Boys in DC attempted to break through a police line to clash with activists at Black Lives Matter Plaza. Increasingly, posts on Parler and other social media platforms favored by the far right fused longtime antagonism against antifa adversaries with a newfound hostility towards police.
On Dec. 30, a Parler user named "New Revelations" re-shared Biggs' post pledging that Proud Boys "will be blending in with you."
On the same day, New Revelations posted on Parler: "If you're going to be in DC expecting it to be peaceful, I wouldn't bet on it lol. I think for anyone who has the balls to do so, you might want to bring some stuff. Things are already fired up now, just wait until more police thugs arrest non-mask wearers over the next few days. Let alone Antifa/BLM retards."
Even for Trump supporters who have no apparent affiliation with the Proud Boys and other extremist groups, antagonism towards the police was building before Jan. 6.
Foreshadowing the conduct of Trump supporters who bashed police at the Capitol with flagpoles and shields while hurling profanity and calling them traitors, an insurrectionist from Ohio named Justin Stoll addressed law enforcement in a Jan. 3 YouTube video. Stoll was angry about how police in Salem, Ore. declared an unlawful assembly and made arrests during a New Year's Day protest at the state capitol against COVID-19 restrictions.
"This is a message for all law enforcement and military — pretty much everyone on the planet," Stoll said. "Choose the right side, because I can assure you of one thing: When shit hits the fan, that badge ain't gonna protect a damn thing. You better hope you're riding with the patriots and not the people that already hate you."
Later, Stoll joined the insurrectionists in DC, recording himself in a video saying, "You ain't got enough cops, baby! We are at war at the Capitol."
Stoll now faces federal charges for interstate threats and tampering with a witness for allegedly threatening someone who wrote in a comment on his YouTube channel that he should be prosecuted for his involvement in the insurrection.
Court documents filed in the case of Oath Keepers members charged with conspiracy and other federal offenses also reveal a preoccupation with antifascists.
An affidavit in support of the amended criminal complaint against the Oath Keepers Thomas Caldwell, Donovan Crowl and Jessica Watkins cites a Facebook message from Caldwell to Crowl indicating his intention to commit violence against antifa.
"We are doing the WH in the am and early afternoon, rest up at the hotel, then headed back out tomorrow night 'tifa' hunt'in," Caldwell reportedly wrote. "We expect good hunting."
Some of the insurrectionists carried flags on flagpoles with the intention of using the poles as weapons. And they suggested they would use them against antifa.
Recording a Facebook livestream while traveling in an SUV with his girlfriend Rachel Pert, on Interstate 95 from Florida to DC on Jan. 5, Dana Joe Winn said, "'Cause us as American patriots, we're tired of all this shit. It's time to take a stand. I never really knew how deep and corrupt all this crap was and how far back it's gone. But America needs to wake up. We're on the verge of fucking losing it."
He turned the camera to Pert, who was in the passenger seat.
"Got her flags, come with her flagpole," Winn said. "That way I can hit antifa in the head if need be, ha."
On the morning of Jan. 6, dozens of Proud Boys, led by Nordean and Biggs, marched down Constitution Avenue chanting in call and response, "Fuck antifa," before moving in coordinated fashion towards the Capitol.
Many antifascist activists concluded that it wasn't realistic to mobilize opposition to the Proud Boys and other extremists in the streets on Jan. 6, but some discretely joined the crowds outside the Capitol to monitor the situation and use their phones to collect images and video. Any thought towards defensive action was focused, not on the Capitol, but on Black Lives Matter Plaza, a traditional protest space north of Lafayette Square.
"There was a lot of consternation over whether [antifascists] would even show up or whether this would be a rare instance when people should stay home," Fryer recalled. "The biggest concern was coronavirus. People didn't want to cross state lines and get it and then bring it back to their families.
"The organizing around BLM Plaza didn't seem well put together," they added. "The numbers were small. People felt if they went to DC, they were putting quite a lot on the line with very little chance of success."
One self-identified antifascist on the ground in DC on Jan. 6 who agreed to speak to Raw Story on condition of anonymity out of concern for their safety, said observation was the order of the day.
"From my perspective as an antifascist, it would have been too dangerous to do anything other than observe," they said. Not only did they want to counter the inevitable conservative narrative attempting to pin blame on the left for the insurrection, but as part of a movement that is inherently critical of the police, they wanted to witness the dynamic between law enforcement and the right-wing insurrectionists.
"This is not a surprise for anyone in the antifascist movement or for antiracists because we know the police response is systemically altered based on who they're policing," they said. "The extremists are predominantly white, former military and law enforcement. They were handled with kid gloves. That benefit of the doubt has never been extended to antiracists."
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, a New Jersey activist who has been involved in antifascist work for more than three decades, said he had been frustrated by the prevalent argument among liberals and centrists that antifascists should stay away from DC on Jan. 6. It's a widely held view in the antifascist movement that opposing far-right and fascist groups in the streets is essential to preventing them from gaining traction.
Jenkins said he "absolutely" believes that a higher turnout by antifascists when the Proud Boys marched through downtown DC in November and December would have broken their momentum leading up to Jan. 6.
"Efforts were being made against the Proud Boys in December — it wasn't enough," he said. "All the opposition heard, all the other side heard is 'we're not coming out.' They thought they were going to be able do what they want, especially when Donald Trump went on that stage."
As an example, Jenkins cited July 6, 2019 rally when the Washington Post reported Proud Boys were "vastly outnumbered" by counter-protesters and police, and were contained to Freedom Plaza. In contrast, when the Proud Boys rallied in DC in December 2020, former DC Police Chief Peter Newsham estimated that Proud Boys and their allies outnumbered counter-protesters three to one. Counter-protesters were largely penned up by police at Black Lives Matter Plaza, while Proud Boys roamed downtown DC committing assaults against perceived adversaries.
Not everyone in the antifascist movement agrees with Jenkins' analysis. Fryer said they believe that sometime over the past summer far-right organizing passed a tipping point in which resentment over COVID-19 restrictions congealed with fear of Black Lives Matter protests and conspiracy theories, later combined with anger over the false belief that the election was stolen from Trump, that "normalized violence on a mass scale," previously "a logic that only avowed white supremacists would use."
Jenkins was unable to make it to DC on Jan. 6 because of a doctor's appointment. But if he had been there, he said he likely would have gone into the Capitol as a citizen journalist; he added, "Granted I would not be the most objective." Jenkins acknowledged that going into the Capitol to document the insurrection would have put him at legal risk, as well as played into the conservative narrative.
But Jenkins flatly rejected the notion that antifa contributed to the mayhem at the Capitol. Mentioning John Sullivan, an activist associated with Black Lives Matter who faces federal charges for breaching the Capitol, Jenkins alluded to his track record of alienating left-wing activists: "Every antifascist across the country is saying, 'You can have him.'"
By the middle of the afternoon, Fryer had shifted from attempting to identify far-right actors at the Capitol to strategizing with contacts in North Carolina about how to protect themselves if the insurrectionists were to actually succeed.
"Watching YouTube videos of people who were actually breaking windows and getting in, in terms of antifascist organizing, I pivoted personally after an hour or two of holy crap this might be the actual sacking of the Capitol — it was all up to a question of whether Trump was going to follow through in this putsch attempt," they recalled. "The whole thing went from talking to people on the ground to talking to people in my community about what if the state really is divided against itself and Congress members were getting killed."
Stanislav Vysotsky, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Fraser Valley and author of American Antifa: The Tactics, Culture and Practice of Militant Antifascism, said street mobilization is not the only tactic in the antifascist toolbox, and not always the best one.
"The energy may be different," he said. "It may be going to do different kinds of activism. It might be going more to the intelligence gathering, information distribution and public shaming aspect of antifascism. If you think about what's strategic, if you've got a riled-up, maybe armed group and you want to demobilize that movement, street confrontation may not be the best thing."
Jacked up on anger and conspiracy thinking, many of the right-wing extremists and other Trump supporters made little distinction between law enforcement and "antifa" when they encountered lines of police officers attempting to defend the Capitol.
Assigned to work the evening shift on Jan. 6, a Washington DC Metropolitan police officer identified in court documents as "BM" was directed to report to the Capitol to assist, according to court documents. Sometime between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., BM assumed a post in an archway at one of the entrances.
"From this archway, alongside other uniformed law enforcement officers, BM observed hundreds of individuals gathered outside," an FBI special agent wrote in an affidavit. "Some of these individuals were throwing and swinging various objects at the group of law enforcement officers. While standing in the archway to prevent the group of individuals from breaching the US Capitol building, and while wearing his official MPD uniform, some of these individuals grabbed BM and dragged him down the stairs of the Capitol building. These individuals forced BM into a prone position on the stairs and proceeded to forcibly and repeatedly strike BM in the head and body with various objects."
On Jan. 12, FBI agents reviewed a video that, court documents indicate, shows Peter Stager, an Arkansas resident, climbing the stairs while holding a flagpole with an American flag attached to it and repeatedly striking the officer while he lay prone on the steps.
In another video, according to the affidavit, Stager addresses the camera while standing outside the Capitol, and says, "Everybody in there is a treasonous traitor. Death is the only remedy for what's in that building."
Agents interviewed a person identified in court documents as "a close associate of Stager." The informant told agents that Stager told him "that he did not know the man he was striking was a cop and that he thought the person he was striking was antifa."
The agents didn't buy it.
Citing a photo published on Twitter, one of the agents wrote that it showed "Stager, holding a flagpole, with an American flag attached, with what appears to be a clear view of BM in uniform, lying on the stairs."