Peter Stager was at the Jan. 6 “Save America” protest rally that descended into an insurrection after then-President Donald Trump told attendees to march on the U.S. Capitol and “show strength” as part of a plot to stop the counting of electoral votes taking place at that time.
“Death is the only remedy for what’s in that building,” Stager is heard saying in a video posted to social media that was recorded as the rioters approached the Capitol building.
Soon afterward, Stager could be seen using a wooden pole bearing an American flag to beat a Metropolitan police officer who had been dragged down the west-facing steps of the Capitol. Stager later told an acquaintance — who then reported him to federal investigators — “that he thought the person he was striking was ANTIFA,” the left-wing anti-fascist group that often clashes with the far-right, according to charging documents. The words “Metropolitan Police,” were clearly visible on the fallen officer’s clothing as Stager beat him. Stager was arrested in Arkansas on charges of civil disorder on Jan. 14.
Stager isn’t the only member of the mob involved in the Capitol insurrection who blamed antifa for the day’s mayhem. At least nine other insurrectionists arrested for their actions on January 6 cast blame for what happened that day on antifa.
Republican lawmakers and commentators, eager to distance themselves and Trump from the violence, boosted the claim that antifa was behind the violence. The only problem: There is no evidence to suggest any members of antifa or left-wing groups infiltrated or took part in the insurrection ― but there’s mountains of evidence that Trump supporters did.
“I didn’t storm the castle violently,” Patrick Montgomery of Littleton, Colorado, wrote in an email to an acquaintance who confronted him on Facebook about his participation in the insurrection. “My group was let in peacefully by the police we were talking to with respect. We came a[n]d left peacefully before the anarchist and Antifa showed up breaking shit and being hoodlums.”
Montgomery was arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct on Jan. 17.
“Just left Dc… I got tear gas, paper spray!!! But I was part of the history,” Rasha Abual-Ragheb, a New Jersey resident, wrote on Facebook on Jan. 6. “We the people won’t take it anymore. Antifa were between us, i and other MAGA people told Dc police, get that Antifa they didn’t do anything. He had black metal chair…”
Abual-Ragheb was arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct on Jan. 19.
Stephen Ayres was arrested on charges of obstruction of justice, trespassing and disorderly conduct on Jan. 25 after appearing in a video posted to Facebook and YouTube bragging about breaking into the Capitol. The video features an additional unnamed man and woman.
“It was all ANTIFA breaking into the Capitol 1-6-2021,” the unidentified man, labeled as “Male 1” in FBI charging documents, says in the video while sitting next to Ayres. The man claimed antifa “chiefly” led the violence, including breaking doors and windows.
“It was a ‘staged Antifa setup’ coordinated by the media, police, and the Mayor of Washington, D.C.” Male 1 said, according to the charging documents.
It was “definitely planned out,” Ayres said.
“This is one of the antifa fucks we found.. lol of course for some reason trish and I were around everytime the crowd found one,” Marissa Suarez, a probationary correctional officer from New Jersey, texted a friend on Jan. 6, along with a video of a person Suarez believed was a member of antifa.
Suarez was arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct on Jan. 22.
“I went to DC,” Daniel Phipps, a Texas man arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct on Jan. 26, wrote in a Facebook post. “I helped take the Hill. I helped other patriots prevent antifa from damaging anything. I exercised my 1st amendment right to take grievances to our representatives. It was a (mostly peaceful) political protest.”
Jacob Lewis of Victorville, California, believed “that some individuals involved in agitating were Antifa members in disguise,” according to charging documents. Lewis was arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct on Jan. 27.
Right-wing figures spread the idea that antifa members had disguised themselves to infiltrate the pro-Trump crowd ahead of Jan. 6.
Donovan Crowl, an Ohio member of the right-wing Oathkeepers militia group, received a Facebook message on Jan. 5 warning him about possible antifa infiltration.
“One more thing,” the message read. “Keep eyes on people with Red MAGA hats worn backwards. Saw a report that they were going to infiltrate crowd tomorrow.”
“Thanks Brother, but we are WAY ahead on that,” Crowl replied. “We have infiltrators in Their ranks. We are doing the W.H. in the am and early afternoon, rest up at the Hotel, then headed back out tomorrow night ‘tifa’ hunt’in. We expect good hunting.”
Crowl, along with Oathkeeper leaders Thomas Caldwell and Jessica Watkins, was arrested on charges of conspiracy, conspiracy to injure an officer, destruction of government property, obstruction of an official proceeding, trespassing and disorderly conduct on Jan. 18.
On the day of the insurrection, Patrick Stedman, a 32-year old professional pick-up artist from New Jersey, claimed that antifa had invaded the crowd, offering a photo of a man wearing a backwards hat as proof.
“Backwards hat (Antifa) right where they were breaking into the main area of Congress,” Stedman tweeted.
The conspiracy theory that antifa was behind the violence during the Capitol insurrection did not just circulate among the insurrectionists themselves, but was fed by right-wing media outlets and congressional Republicans.
“This has all the hallmarks of antifa provocation,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who reportedly helped plan the Capitol siege with organizer Ali Alexander, wrote three hours after the insurrection ended.
“There is some indication that fascist antifa elements were involved, that they embedded themselves in the Trump protests,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who told the “Save America” rally crowd to “kick ass” in a speech just before the insurrection began, said on Fox New Business the day of the riot.
“Some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said on the House floor hours after the insurrection took place. “They were masquerading as Trump supporters and, in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”
The Oregon Republican Party approved a resolution on Jan. 19 calling the Capitol insurrection “a ‘false flag’ operation designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters, and all conservative Republicans.”
Although there’s no evidence that antifa infiltrated the mob, there is evidence that right-wing groups wanted to make it seem as though they were antifa.
In a message he directed at antifa members, Joseph Biggs, a 37-year-old Florida resident and member of the right-wing street-fighting gang the Proud Boys, posted on Parler on Dec. 29: “We will not be attending DC in colors.”
Instead of wearing their traditional black and yellow uniform, he wrote, “We will be blending in as one of you. You won’t see us. You’ll even think we are you ... We are going to smell like you, move like you, and look like you. The only thing we’ll do that’s us is think like us! Jan 6th is gonna be epic.”
This echoed a similar Parler post sent by Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio on Dec. 29.
He wrote that Proud Boys would “turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist… We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will be spread across downtown DC in smaller teams. And who knows….we might dress in all BLACK for the occasion,” a reference to the fact that antifa often wear all black.
They followed through. “Consistent with the directive issued by organizers of the Proud Boys, including Tarrio and BIGGS, none of the men pictured are wearing Proud Boys colors of black and yellow, but are instead dressed ‘incognito,’” the charging documents for Biggs state.
Biggs was arrested on Jan. 20 on charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with a government proceeding.
But not all of those arrested for their participation in the insurrection sought to blame it on antifa. These people were proud of what they did and wanted credit.
“Okay all you conspiracy theorists [winking smiley face emoji] don’t worry I loves yous all just setting the record straight.antifa did not take the capitol.that was Patriots,” Karl Dresch, a 40-year-old man from Calumet, Michigan, wrote on Facebook. Dresch, who was arrested on Jan. 20 on charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and interfering with a government proceeding, added, “Don’t give them the thunder, we the people took back our house, the news is all bullshit.and now those traitors Know who’s really in charge.”
“Be embarrassed & hide if you need to- but I was there,” Brandon Straka, the founder of the pro-Trump WalkAway organization, posted to Twitter. “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 was arrested on charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct, impeding a law enforcement officer and interfering with a government proceeding on Jan. 25.
“We The People have spoken and we are pissed! No antifa, no BLM… We The People took the Capitol!” Blake Reed, arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct on Jan. 17, wrote on Facebook.
And some tried to have it both ways.
“Listen up: I hear so many reports of ‘Antifa’ was storming the capital [sic] building,” Ryan Nichols, a 30-year old retired Marine from Longview, Texas, wrote on Facebook. “Know that every single person who believes that narrative have been DUPED AGAIN! Sure, there may have been some ‘Antifa’ in DC, but there wasn’t enough to ‘Storm the Capital’ [sic] themselves.”
Nichols was arrested on charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct, civil disorder, conspiracy and unlawful entry with a deadly weapon and assaulting a federal officer on Jan. 18.