GSAN: Mob reality | Antifa falsely accused | Riot or coup?

Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter for the general public Get Smart About News.


Learn about news literacy this week
Mob reality | Antifa falsely accused | Riot or coup?

NOTE: There will be no issue of Get Smart About News next Tuesday. We’ll return to your inbox on Tuesday, Jan. 26.
WARNING: Some content in this week's issue includes disturbing language, images and video footage, including profanity, racist slurs, hate symbols and violence.

Mob reality

When the mob of extremists, conspiracists and zealous supporters of President Donald Trump violently raided the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, many of its members behaved in person how they have generally acted online. They propagated disinformation, spewed hate, stoked violence, disregarded the law and overwhelmed authorities vastly outnumbered and ill-equipped to handle the onslaught. The consequences were deadly.

The crush of militia members, White nationalists, QAnon believers, “boomerwaffen” and ordinary Americans represented an alternative information ecosystem come dangerously to life — a physical demonstration of the “vanishing line between mainstream and fringe” political beliefs. The insurrection was a product of a circular and self-sustaining echo chamber of false political claims, propaganda from openly partisan media, conspiracy theories and disinformation that has been escalating — largely unchecked — for years.

Here are three key implications of this shocking event.


Viral rumor rundown

NO: The facial recognition company XRVision did not identify supporters of the antifa movement among the mob who stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. YES: The openly conservative Washington Times published a report falsely claiming that XRVision had “matched two Philadelphia antifa members to two men inside the Senate.” NO: This is not true. YES: The Times removed the story from its website on Jan. 7 and replaced it with a new version with a correction. YES: Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz cited the incorrect report in remarks he made on the House floor after the Capitol was secured and repeated the false claim that some of the rioters were “members of the violent terrorist group Antifa.”

Note: Antifa is an unofficial anti-fascism movement and not an established organization.



NO: Capitol Police officers did not simply let this pro-Trump mob through the barricades surrounding the Capitol building on Jan. 6. YES: Marcus DiPaola, the freelance journalist who shot this video and posted it to TikTok as part of his coverage of the Capitol riots, told PolitiFact that the police “definitely didn’t just open the barriers.” YES: A number of other videos show vastly outnumbered Capitol Police fighting to protect the Capitol, including at an initial barrier on the perimeter of the Capitol grounds. YES: Some video clips also seem to show police not resisting the rioters, and at least one police officer appeared to allow a rioter to take a selfie with him.



NO: This photo does not show Senate aides protecting Electoral College votes as the Senate chamber was evacuated on Jan. 6. YES: It shows aides carrying the ballot boxes from the Senate to the House chamber to be certified about an hour before rioters breached the Capitol building. YES: Parliamentary floor staff were credited with saving the ballot boxes from the mob.


★ NewsLit Picks


“How to describe the events at the U.S. Capitol” (John Daniszewski, AP Style Blog).

As journalists raced to document the historic and violent events unfolding at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, newsrooms across the country debated how to describe these events in news coverage. Stories filed by reporters included words like protest, riot, insurrection, mob and coup. In this piece, The AP Stylebook — which offers editing rules and language guidance followed by many news organizations— weighed in with a series of recommendations, including advising journalists to avoid the term “coup,” unless attributed to others, because “so far AP has not seen conclusive evidence that the protesters’ specific aim was to take over the government.” For newsrooms grappling with these decisions on deadline, this broader advice stands out: “As always, journalists should look at the events with an open and dispassionate mind and decide what language best applies.”


Note: Journalists at the Toledo Blade say management “manipulated wording in headlines, stories, and photo captions to alter the reality of what occurred” on Jan. 6, including avoiding describing rioters as Trump supporters in headlines. The Blade’s news guild announced a temporary byline strike, removing journalists’ names from stories.


Quick Picks

“This Pro-Trump YouTube Network Sprang Up Just After He Lost” (Craig Silverman, BuzzFeed News).

  • Note: The Epoch Times is an openly partisan, far-right media outlet that mimics the appearance of a legitimate, standards-based news organization but has repeatedly lent credence to baseless conspiracy theories. It regularly publishes highly misleading political coverage and is connected to the dissident Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong.

“How to reduce the spread of fake news — by doing nothing” (Tom Buchanan, NiemanLab).

“How a Florida reporter became a one-woman help desk for anxious seniors navigating the COVID-19 vaccine” (Kristen Hare, Poynter).


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s Mary Kane (@marykkane).

Sign up to receive NLP Connections (news about our work) or switch your subscription to the educator version of Get Smart About News called The Sift® here.


Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.