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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 30, 2021

No proof man who filmed Capitol riot led it, or was antifa

If Your Time is short

  • Activist John Earle Sullivan, who has often posed as a journalist to record protests, joined supporters of Donald Trump in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and is charged with crimes for his participation. 

  • Sullivan extensively recorded the riot and he can be heard in his footage cheering on the violent acts as he followed rioters through the Capitol.

  • We found no evidence that he is a member of antifa, or that he caused the riot.

A viral image claims that a member of the left-wing movement antifa disguised himself as a Donald Trump supporter and instigated the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead.

The image, posted on Facebook on June 21 and widely shared more than a month later, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The post alludes to activist John Earle Sullivan, a 27-year-old Utah man who has often posed as a journalist to record protests. He joined Trump supporters rioting at the Capitol, extensively recorded the violence and is charged with crimes for his participation.

But we found no evidence that Sullivan is a member of antifa, or that he caused the riot, even as he celebrated the violent acts he recorded.

Antifa stands for "anti-fascist." It’s a broad, loosely affiliated coalition of left-wing activists that’s been around for decades, but has had a resurgence since Trump’s election in 2016.

Sullivan told PolitiFact in January that he’s not part of the antifa coalition, and that he went to the Capitol to document what was going on. 

The viral image

The image shows two whiteboards, both of which have a photo and text. 

The top panel, without identifying him by name, shows a widely circulated photo of Sullivan, who became one of the better known figures in the riot. The caption says: "This is a known antifa member who was paid $70,000 for his Capitol riot video Jan. 6."

The bottom panel shows a man wearing a "Trump 2020" hat pulled over his eyes. The caption suggests the photo is of Sullivan, saying: "The FBI says they have no proof antifa members dressed as Trump supporters & caused the Capitol riot January 6, 2021."

Sullivan’s role in the riot

According to news reports, news outlets paid $90,000 to Sullivan for his riot videos, including one that captured the fatal shooting by a Capitol Police officer of Ashli Babbit, who was with rioters who tried to force their way into the House chamber. Federal authorities in May seized $90,000 from Sullivan as part of the criminal case against him. 

The Justice Department has so far charged 556 people in connection with the siege, according to a database run by the George Washington University Center on Extremism.

The charges against Sullivan include  felony interference with law enforcement and weapons counts. According to the charges, he led an organization called Insurgence USA, through which he organized protests, and he has posed as a journalist. Wearing a bulletproof vest and gas mask on Jan. 6, he said, he entered the Capitol with others through a broken window and filmed the violence, which the video footage shows him cheering on. 

The charges do not say whether Sullivan wore pro-Trump gear.

Sullivan’s affiliations are complicated, according to news stories about him. 

The protests he organized included one that featured Black leaders as well as members of the Proud Boys, an all-male extremist group with ties to white nationalism, and he organized racial justice rallies as well as a pro-gun rights rally, in which he marched with self-styled militia members, the Washington Post reported. He "made a habit of blurring the lines between activism, advocacy journalism and opposition research," wrote the New Yorker.

The New Yorker quoted Sullivan as writing in an unpublished memoir: "I was able to collaborate with the left in their community to gather information. But I also can connect with the right and successfully be in their presence without them being combative towards me."

Our ruling

A viral image claims that a "known antifa member" dressed as a Trump supporter "and caused the Capitol riot" on Jan. 6.

Activist John Earle Sullivan, whose photo appears in the image, joined Trump supporters in the riot, extensively filmed and cheered on the violence, and is charged with crimes for his participation. But there is no evidence that he is part of antifa, or that he caused the riot.

We rate the post Mostly False.

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No proof man who filmed Capitol riot led it, or was antifa

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