MAGA or Antifa? The Right-Wing War for Control of the Insurrection Narrative

In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a battle broke out for control of the narrative regarding the events of that day. The battle was not between the left and the right, but rather between varying factions of the right-wing movement, as a variety of MAGA activists sought to shape the narrative about what had unfolded at the Capitol. Would they take pride in the Trump loyalists storming the Capitol, or would they baselessly blame the insurrection on left-wing insurgents?

To objective outside observers, it was clear that supporters of former President Donald Trump had violently stormed the Capitol in an effort to intimidate members of Congress into refusing to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. Threats of violence had filled social media and calls for war and revolution were ubiquitous at right-wing rallies in the days and weeks leading up to Jan. 6. As such, it was no surprise when MAGA activists immediately began praising the “patriots” who stormed the Capitol in the days after Jan. 6.

For example, just two days after the insurrection, radical right-wing anti-Islam activist John Guandolo praised the insurrectionists for showing remarkable “restraint” by not summarily executing the “traitors” in Congress.

A few days later, Guandolo asserted that those who condemned the insurrection were “enemies of the republic” and should be “swinging from a rope because these are traitors to the country.”

QAnon conspiracy theorist DeAnna Lorraine was equally proud of the “patriots” who ransacked the Capitol. Lorraine, who had been covering the Jan. 6 events for radical conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ InfoWars network, filed a report on her way back to Texas in which she gushed that she had “never felt more pride in my heart and soul than yesterday.”

Lorraine lashed out at those in the MAGA movement who were already trying to distance themselves from the insurrection by falsely blaming the attack on the Capitol on left-wing activists. “No one should be blaming antifa for what happened,” Lorraine said. “American patriots did this. And it’s a good thing. It’s not a bad thing.”

Likewise, Brandon Straka, a speaker at the Jan. 5 so-called Stop the Steal rally who has since pleaded guilty to joining the mob storming the Capitol, took to Twitter on Jan. 6 to shame conservatives who weren’t supporting “freedom loving Patriots” storming the Capitol.

“Be embarrassed & hide if you need to- but I was there. It was not Antifa at the Capitol. It was freedom loving Patriots who were DESPERATE to fight for the final hope of our Republic because literally nobody cares about them. Everyone else can denounce them. I will not,” Straka wrote on Twitter, according to a criminal complaint.

Not everyone agreed with Lorraine​ and Straka’s assessment. ​Even as Trump loyalists fought Capitol police, right-wing conspiracy theorists like Lin Wood and Mark Burns took to various social media platforms to claim that “antifa”—conservatives’ shorthand for anti-fascist activists—was behind the attack. Fox News personality Laura Ingraham—whom the House select committee revealed to have pleaded with Trump’s chief of staff to get Trump to tell his supporters to go home on Jan. 6—went on her show in the hours following the attack to claim “antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd.” Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson echoed similar messages.

Perhaps nobody better illustrates the “blame antifa” camp than former Rep. Michele Bachmann. Just hours after the insurrection, Bachmann was baselessly declaring those who breached security and ran loose through the Capitol were actually left-wing “rabble-rousers paid to put together a coup.”

In the following weeks, Bachmann repeatedly insisted that the attack on the Capitol was actually carried out by “the progressive left.”

“It is my opinion that this was a theatrical event that the progressive left put on,” Bachmann said. “The individuals who were the instigators, who brought this about, these were agitators brought in to create this problem. I believe it was specifically done to rebrand Donald Trump as being an insurrectionist and a leader of a terrorist movement. I also believe that this was done to rebrand the Make America Great agenda—because remember, that was considered extremely popular by about 80 million Americans—so they wanted to rebrand Make America Great as an evil thing and those of us who supported Donald Trump and that agenda as evil and terrorists.”

By July, Bachmann was claiming that MAGA activists had nothing to do with the events of Jan. 6 and that left-wing activists dressed in black clothing had been bused in to attack the Capitol.

“There were some bad actors who had climbed up … and they actually were pounding on the glass,” Bachmann claimed. “Now, a normal person doesn’t do that. A normal person would never think to pound on the glass. I’ve seen the videotape of the first 14 people who went into the building. They were all dressed in black. They look like they’d been trained as warriors, the people who went in. This was clearly a planned event; that was not the Trump supporters who were around the building. What my conclusion was on-site is that this was nothing short of a coup.”

Despite the initial elation experienced by many MAGA activists in the wake of the insurrection and the endless praise for the “patriots” who had carried it out, the right-wing narrative about the events of Jan. 6 eventually solidified once the reality of the situation began to set in. As hundreds of Trump-loving activists began to face arrest and conviction stemming from their actions on that day and the disgrace the insurrection began to stain the MAGA movement, parts of Trump’s base and the former president himself collectively embraced the baseless belief that the entire thing had been a “false flag” orchestrated by left-wing groups.

So complete has the collective brainwashing been that even those who had initially celebrated the attack on the Capitol reversed course.

John Guandolo, who initially praised the insurrectionists for showing remarkable “restraint” by not summarily executing the “traitors” in Congress, now claims that he was outside the Capitol during the events on Jan. 6 and saw “several busloads” of “antifa people and non-patriot hostiles” mixing with the crowd and entering the Capitol.

“It makes you wonder what is actually going on,” Guandolo said. “We know what’s going on. What happened on Jan. 6 was the surrender of the republic and the takeover of the republic.”

Likewise, DeAnna Lorraine, who was on the ground at the Capitol during the insurrection and initially declared that she could not have been prouder about what happened, completely changed her tune and began insisting that the insurrection was a “false flag” operation set up to “trap” Trump supporters and provide justification for their persecution.

Lorraine eventually so thoroughly repudiated her initial support for the “patriots” who carried out insurrection that she ultimately began spreading a conspiracy theory that police officers who had been in the Capitol that day—several of whom have since died from suicide—were being murdered by the “deep state” to cover up the truth about the events of Jan. 6.

A new NPR/Ipsos poll released Monday shows how deeply this narrative has burrowed its way into the public’s beliefs.. According to the poll, nearly one-third of Republicans falsely say the attack on the Capitol was carried out by “opponents of Donald Trump, including antifa and government agents.”

Of course, this entire narrative shift regarding the events of Jan. 6 raises the question of why MAGA and the GOP have been intractably opposed to the efforts by the House select committee to investigate the attack. After all, if Jan. 6 was nothing but a “false flag” operation carried out by left-wing operatives for the purpose of discrediting Trump and his supporters, wouldn’t Trump and his supporters want that truth to be exposed?


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