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On Jan. 6, 2021, PolitiFact journalists were waiting to fact-check comments from senators and House members as they counted electoral votes and certified Joe Biden as president. Instead we watched, along with everyone else, as rioters overran the U.S. Capitol, fueled by misinformation from then-President Donald Trump and a storm of pro-Trump media.
We’ve spent the past year examining the events of Jan. 6, debunking false claims of election fraud in 2020, and trying to understand how misinformation — much of it spread online — spurred such real-life consequences.
Here is a summary of our coverage since that dramatic day. Links in the story will take you deeper into our stories and fact-checks with fuller explanation and detailed sources.
A day of crisis at the US Capitol, fact-checked: As Jan. 6 unfolded, we tracked many claims about election results and who was to blame for the Capitol siege. Trump was wrong that he had won the election by a landslide; he’d actually lost rather decisively. He also said Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn election results; that, too, was False.
There’s no proof antifa stormed the Capitol. Some claimed the riot was driven by left-wing antifa activists in disguise. There was no evidence for this on Jan. 6, and no evidence has been found since. The rumor spread quickly anyway. We dug deeper into claims that specific individuals were antifa activists; they turned out to be Trump supporters. We also found a right-wing echo chamber that aggressively pushed the false antifa narrative.
A Pentagon-National Guard timeline for Jan. 6: Democrats described a three-hour delay in response from the National Guard to what was happening at the Capitol. A review of public testimony and other documents suggests that is essentially accurate. However, our detailed timeline shows there are some nuances, including two separate delays in response.
What happened during the call between Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy? On Jan. 6, McCarthy called Trump to talk with him about the chaos at the Capitol. What was said on the call remains something of a mystery, but sworn testimony later suggested McCarthy was angry with Trump’s nonchalant response.
When ‘patriot warriors’ were fed lies: By June, we had pieced together more evidence about who participated in the Capitol riots and their motivations. We read court records, looked at online profiles and interviewed friends and family of rioters. We found people were drawn to Washington that day for myriad reasons. Many were everyday Americans who shared false beliefs in a stolen election and an array of conspiracy theories.
How the far-right Oath Keepers militia planned for violence: Some of the rioters were members of organized militia groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. They had military training and came to the Capitol organized and with armor, tools and weapons. In some cases, their expectations were that once they entered the Capitol, Trump would use the active military to take over the government.
Tucker Carlson’s ‘Patriot Purge’ film filled with falsehoods, conspiracy theories: Of all the media personalities who denied the significance of the Jan. 6 riots, none spoke louder than Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. In segments on his Fox News show and in an on-demand series called "Patriot Purge," Carlson promoted multiple conspiracy theories, including that the day was instigated by left-wing activists, that it may have been an FBI-led false flag, and that the government was using it to strip millions of Trump voters of their constitutional rights. PolitiFact debunked these claims in detail.
How many newly elected officials and congressional candidates were part of the Capitol riot? At least 10 people who were recently elected to public office appear to have been present in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. Another seven who are running for Congress were as well. It is not clear that all of these people entered the Capitol or themselves were active participants in the riot. But one congressional candidate, New Hampshire Republican Jason Riddle, faces federal charges for his actions that day. Riddle has pleaded guilty to two charges, demonstrating in a Capitol building and theft of government property. Other charges are pending.
The Jan. 6 committee tries to get to the truth about the attack: After failing to get bipartisan support for an independent commission, House Democrats pushed through a select committee. Republicans have largely shunned the commission, with two exceptions: U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and committee co-chair Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Though very different in background and politics, Cheney and Democratic co-chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi have teamed up to lead the committee’s work.
How Fox News hosts told different stories of the attack: As Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, three Fox News hosts texted his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, calling on Trump to speak out. But the alarm raised by Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade was a striking departure from the public comments they delivered on the Fox News airwaves. On various programs, they played down the violence and, in some cases, suggested that antifa may have been to blame.
The 2021 Lie of the Year: Every year, PolitiFact picks one falsehood as the most important, pervasive or harmful. This year, PolitiFact picked lies about Jan. 6 and its significance, for two reasons. First, the attack was historically important; a federal judge called it "the most significant assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812." Second, the events of Jan. 6 were widely broadcast, allowing the public to see for itself exactly what happened. So efforts to downplay and deny what happened are an attempt to brazenly recast reality itself.
Ongoing fact-checking: We fact-checked dozens of individual claims about the Jan. 6 attacks. More will be added as we complete new fact-checks.
See links for sources