Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP) Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP)

Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP)

Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek November 21, 2023
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman November 21, 2023

Why a Republican's claim about ‘ghost buses’ of FBI informants on Jan. 6 is dubious

If Your Time is short

  • Hundreds of rioters, many wearing Trump-branded apparel, stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

  • Experts said they were unfamiliar with the term "ghost bus" and that there are reasons the FBI would not bus a group of informants to an event.

  • FBI Director Christopher Wray testified Nov. 15 that the agency’s sources and agents were not responsible for violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Nearly three years after the violent breach on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a lawmaker presented FBI director Christopher Wray with a new theory about how people arrived at the Capitol that day.

"Do you know what a ‘ghost vehicle’ is?" Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., asked during a Nov. 15 House Committee on Homeland Security hearing. "You’re the director of the FBI, you certainly should. Do you know what a ‘ghost bus’ is?"

Wray said he wasn’t familiar with the term. 

Higgins expounded. "These (ghost) buses are nefarious in nature and were filled with FBI informants dressed as Trump supporters, deployed onto our Capitol on Jan. 6," Higgins said. 

Higgins said that he had long sought a "definitive answer" from federal officials about whether FBI confidential human sources dressed as Trump supporters were at the Capitol. But he barely gave Wray time to answer.

"If you are asking whether the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources or agents, the answer is an emphatic no," Wray said before Higgins cut him off.

Numerous investigations into what happened Jan. 6, 2021, including by a congressional committee, have found the attack on the U.S. Capitol was orchestrated and carried out by people who supported Donald Trump’s presidency and believed or pushed false claims that the 2020 election was "stolen."

Evidence from court documents — including information that led to charges against 1,200 defendants, more than half of whom have been found guilty so far — shows, person-by-person, who ransacked the Capitol and fought with police officers. The rioters’ goal was preventing Congress from accepting the results of the election showing that Trump had lost. In 17 key findings, the House committee investigating the attack determined Trump himself disseminated false allegations about the election and summoned supporters to the Capitol and directed them to "take back" the country.

Higgins’ statement about a "ghost bus" furthers the falsehood that FBI agents "intentionally entrapped" Americans, instigated or orchestrated the Capitol attack. 

Although evidence shows FBI informants were at the Capitol that day, none shows informants instigated the violence that followed.

Experts familiar with the FBI told PolitiFact they were unfamiliar with the term "ghost bus." They said it would make no sense for the FBI to pack informants into a bus together because that would draw attention to them and they generally work independently.

On Jan. 6, 2021, Higgins wrote on Twitter that "violence and lawlessness" was unacceptable. Since then, he has used his influence to request leniency for the people arrested in the Capitol attack and in June accused the Justice Department of wanting "J6 again," saying it had targeted Trump supporters with "persecution and further entrapment."

Higgins did not respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment. But he told HuffPost that the buses unloaded men with muscular physiques dressed as Trump supporters, and the buses were abandoned in the garage. "They orchestrated what they orchestrated and don’t put words in my mouth," Higgins told HuffPost.

The FBI directed PolitiFact to Wray’s testimony that FBI sources and agents did not incite violence at the Capitol.

What is a ‘ghost bus’?

Explaining "ghost bus" during the Nov. 15 hearing, Higgins, a former sheriff’s office captain, said it is "pretty common in law enforcement," for vehicles to be "painted over" and "used for secret purposes." Higgins pointed to a photo board with an image of buses in a parking garage, singling out two buses he said were "painted completely white" and the first to arrive at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station on Jan. 6, 2021. 

But experts, including an FBI spokesperson, told PolitiFact the term "ghost bus" was unfamiliar.

We searched Google and the Nexis database for use of the term "ghost bus" from before Higgins made the claim and found no FBI-related references. 

One common use of the term refers to a frustrating public transportation phenomenon, in which an online application shows that a bus has nearly arrived — only for it to abruptly disappear or report significant delays. 

Searches for "stealth vehicle" revealed a law enforcement connotation: Some police departments use vehicles for covert operations that are emblazoned with stealth graphics they describe as "ghost graphics" because they blend in with the vehicle’s paint color, making them harder to see.

Journalist Trevor Aaronson, who writes for The Intercept and has reported on the FBI for years, told PolitiFact the agency has undercover vehicles but that he had "never heard of the FBI using buses specifically." He also said the FBI wouldn’t collectively bus informants to an event.

Featured Fact-check

"Informants don't know who the other informants are," Aaronson said in an email. "This sometimes results in comic situations for the FBI: Informants start targeting other informants in investigations. So the idea that the FBI arranged some sort of field trip with a bunch of informants? Absurd."

Mike German worked 16 years for the FBI, including 12 as an undercover agent investigating white supremacists and far-right groups. He said he also had never heard the term "ghost bus" and found the notion of putting "a bunch of undercover agents or FBI informants together on a bus to send them to a rally" to be "ludicrous from a covert operations perspective."

"When you are doing undercover work you are trying to blend in," said German, who wrote a book critical of the FBI and now works for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

German said that FBI informants generally work alone. And though he has heard of perhaps two or three working together, a bus full would be "highly unlikely."

What we know about Jan. 6, 2021, rioters 

Numerous federal investigations and years of reporting on the attack have not revealed evidence to support the conspiracy theory that the Capitol attack was a false flag event orchestrated by the FBI to entrap Trump supporters.

Court filings, news reports and other information for hundreds of Jan. 6, 2021, defendants show that many considered their actions patriotic; they believed they were on the front lines of a revolution or civil war. Rioters scaled walls, broke windows, forced their way into the building and clashed with police.

Among people sentenced for seditious conspiracy are multiple members of far-right groups including the Proud Boys extremist group and militia groups including the Oath Keepers. These groups, and other Americans, responded to Trump’s invitations to convene on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In this Jan. 6, 2021 photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a rally protesting the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as President in Washington. (AP)

The FBI’s role on Jan. 6, 2021

Government reports have criticized the FBI for failing to sound the alarm about Jan. 6, 2021, despite repeated tips in the preceding weeks that violence could occur.

Steven D’Antuono, the former assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, told the House Judiciary Committee in June that the agency had maybe a "handful" of informants present in the crowd on Jan. 6, 2021 — some the agency knew about ahead of time, some it did not.

When asked about the theory that the FBI directed the attack, he replied "that is furthest from the truth." 

Allegations that FBI informants played a key role in the day’s events have proved to be false. One viral claim repeated by some lawmakers involved Ray Epps, an Arizona man whom some people had identified as a possible undercover FBI agent or informant. But no evidence supported that claim and Epps’ own statements to the House committee investigating the attack rebutted it.

The New York Times reported in 2021 that confidential records showed that the FBI had an informant in the crowd among the Proud Boys as its members marched to the Capitol. The informant texted his FBI handler during the day.

Proud Boys’ defense attorneys claimed in court filings that there may have been eight informants inside the group in the months surrounding the attack.

But evidence singled out Proud Boys, not FBI agents, for their actions: In May, a jury found former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and three other members guilty of seditious conspiracy for their role in the day’s events.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP)

Our ruling

Higgins said a "ghost bus ... filled with FBI informants dressed as Trump supporters deployed onto our Capitol on January 6th."

FBI experts said they were unfamiliar with the term "ghost bus," and cast doubt on the idea that the agency would pack informants onto a bus. Such a scenario would challenge informants’ ability to be inconspicuous and gather information independently.

Higgins’ statement furthers the falsehood that FBI agents instigated or orchestrated the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. Numerous investigations into the day’s events, including a congressional review and federal cases involving 1,200 defendants, many of whom have been found guilty, show the attack was led by and executed by people who believed or perpetuated false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. There has been no credible evidence to support that the violence carried out at the Capitol that day was the work of the FBI.

The onus is on Higgins to back up his statement with evidence, and he has failed to do that. 

We rate this statement False.

PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

RELATED: All of our fact-checks about Jan. 6

RELATED: The 2021 Lie of the Year: Lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and its significance

Our Sources

C-SPAN, Secretary Mayorkas and FBI Director Wray Testify on Global Threats, Part 1, Nov. 15, 2023

Transit Center, Ghost Buses are Haunting Riders Across America, Oct. 31, 2022

WMATA, Tired of being ghosted? Metrobus customers now saved from the frustration of "ghost buses," Dec. 16, 2022 

Washingtonian, Goodbye, Ghost Buses, Dec. 16, 2022

Streetsblog Chicago, Here’s the CTA’s explanation for the infuriating "ghost" bus and train problem, May 26, 2022

ABC 7, CTA bus tracker 'ghosts' are frequent issue for riders, agency says it's caused by staffing shortage, Oct. 31, 2023

New York Times, F.B.I. Had Informants in Proud Boys, Court Papers Suggest, Nov. 14, 2023

New York Times, Among Those Who Marched Into the Capitol on Jan. 6: An F.B.I. Informant, Sept. 25, 2021

AP, Proud Boys’ Tarrio guilty of Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy, May 4, 2023

HuffPost, Clay Higgins Claims ‘Ghost Buses’ Brought FBI Informants To Washington On Jan. 6, Nov. 15, 2023

Yahoo News, Leeds bus operators explain why 'ghost buses' disappear from digital timetables, Nov. 2, 2023

Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, Final report, Dec. 22, 2022

U.S. Senate committee on homeland security and governmental affairs majority staff report, Planned in Plain sight a review of the intelligence failures in advance of January 6th, 2021, June 2023

Select January 6th Committee, Final Report and Supporting Materials Collection, Dec. 22, 2022

Washington Post, Tough-talking captain in Louisiana sheriff’s office resigns after calling black suspects ‘animals’ in viral video, Feb. 29, 2016

San Antonio Express-News, The Go-To Guy; Stealth cars on patrol, Aug. 2, 2009

FBI media office, Statement to PolitiFact, Nov. 17, 2023

The Washington Post, Tough-talking captain in Louisiana sheriff’s office resigns after calling black suspects ‘animals’ in viral video, Feb. 29, 2016

Graphic Designs International, Why Ghost Police Car Graphics Are Becoming So Popular, June 10, 2021

WUSA 9, Montgomery County Police deploy hard-to-see 'ghost cruisers' to catch dangerous drivers, July 28, 2023

Newsweek, Proud Boys Attorney Wants to Unmask Informants During Jan. 6 Trial, April 6, 2023

Committee on the Judiciary, Steven D’Antuono, June 7, 2023

U.S. District Court District of Columbia, US vs Nordean et al, Motion to compel all confidential human sources of homeland security April 5, 2023

Justice Department, 34 Months Since the Jan. 6 Attack on the Capitol, Nov. 6, 2023

PolitiFact, No, the Capitol insurrection was not staged by antifa, Jan. 8, 2021

PolitiFact, There’s no proof antifa stormed the Capitol. The rumor spread quickly anyway, Jan. 7, 2021

PolitiFact, How new Jan. 6 revelations on Ray Epps, others undercut Tucker Carlson’s FBI conspiracy theory, Jan. 18, 2022

PolitiFact, Ray Epps didn’t tell Congress he orchestrated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. Here’s what he did say, Jan. 6, 2023

PolitiFact, Tucker Carlson’s conspiracy theory about FBI and Jan. 6 continues to be wrong, Nov. 4, 2021

PolitiFact, Tucker Carlson film falsely claims Jan. 6 is ‘pretext to strip millions’ of ‘constitutional rights,’ Nov. 2, 2021

PolitiFact, Yes, Jan. 6 Capitol assault was an "armed insurrection," Feb. 15, 2021 

PolitiFact, Ask PolitiFact: Did Capitol Police let mob of Trump supporters in? Jan. 7, 2021

PolitiFact, The 2021 Lie of the Year: Lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and its significance, Dec. 15, 2021

U.S. Attorney’s Office, 34 Months Since the Jan. 6 Attack on the Capitol, accessed Nov. 6, 2023

PolitiFact, GOP Texas House candidate repeats false claim that FBI agents instigated Jan. 6 attack on US Capitol, Feb. 7, 2022

C-SPAN, House Homeland Security Hearing on Global Terror Threats, Nov. 15, 2022

The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Capitol rioters feel betrayed by Trump, lawyer says, Jan. 22, 2021

Telephone interview, Mike German, former FBI agent, author and fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program, Nov. 17, 2023

Email interview, Luke William Hunt, associate professor of philosophy at University of Alabama and a former FBI Special Agent in Virginia and Washington, D.C., Nov. 18, 2023

Email interview with Trevor Aaronson, a journalist at The Intercept, Nov. 17, 2023

Email interview, Asha Rangappa, assistant dean and a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson School of Global Affairs and former Special Agent in the New York Division of the FBI, Nov. 20, 2023

The Anti-Defamation League, Three Percenters, accessed Nov. 20, 2023

The Intercept, Trevor Aaronson, accessed Nov. 20, 2023

PolitiFact, A day of crisis at the US Capitol, fact-checked, Jan. 6, 2021

Government Accountability Office, Capitol Attack: Federal Agencies Identified Some Threats, but Did Not Fully Process and Share Information Prior to January 6, 2021, February 2023

The New York Times, Final Report From the Jan. 6 Committee, Dec. 22, 2022

The New York Times, F.B.I. Had Informants in Proud Boys, Court Papers Suggest, Nov. 14, 2022

The New York Times, In Proud Boys Jan. 6 Sedition Trial, F.B.I. Informants Abound, March 24, 2023

The New York Times, Among Those Who Marched Into the Capitol on Jan. 6: An F.B.I. Informant, Sept. 25, 2021

PolitiFact, Misinformation and the Jan. 6 insurrection: When ‘patriot warriors’ were fed lies, June 30, 2021

U.S. Justice Department Office of Public Affairs, Four Additional Oath Keepers Sentenced for Seditious Conspiracy Related to U.S. Capitol Breach, June 2, 2023

PolitiFact, What the Jan. 6 hearings revealed about Trump’s actions before and after the Capitol attack, Dec. 9, 2022

NPR, Proud Boys leaders sentenced to a combined 32 years for Jan. 6 riot, Aug. 31, 2023

Clay Higgins Congressional website, Higgins Warns Conservatives Against "Falling for the trap the DOJ/FBI has set," June 11, 2023

KALB, Congressman Clay Higgins asks judge for leniency for Jan. 6 rioter, Nov. 13, 2023

Louisiana Illuminator, Rep. Clay Higgins posts cryptic Tweet after Trump indictment, June 9, 2023

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Madison Czopek

Why a Republican's claim about ‘ghost buses’ of FBI informants on Jan. 6 is dubious

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up