GLENN GREENWALD: The False and Exaggerated Claims Still Being Spread About the Capitol Riot .
One of the most significant of these falsehoods was the tale — endorsed over and over without any caveats by the media for more than a month — that Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was murdered by the pro-Trump mob when they beat him to death with a fire extinguisher. That claim was first published by The New York Times on January 8 in an article headlined “Capitol Police Officer Dies From Injuries in Pro-Trump Rampage.” It cited “two [anonymous] law enforcement officials” to claim that Sicknick died “with the mob rampaging through the halls of Congress” and after he “was struck with a fire extinguisher.”
After publication of these two articles, this horrifying story about a pro-Trump mob beating a police officer to death with a fire extinguisher was repeated over and over, by multiple journalists on television, in print, and on social media. It became arguably the single most-emphasized and known story of this event, and understandably so — it was a savage and barbaric act that resulted in the harrowing killing by a pro-Trump mob of a young Capitol police officer.
It took on such importance for a clear reason: Sicknick’s death was the only example the media had of the pro-Trump mob deliberately killing anyone. In a January 11 article detailing the five people who died on the day of the Capitol protest, the New York Times again told the Sicknick story: “Law enforcement officials said he had been ‘physically engaging with protesters’ and was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher.”
But none of the other four deaths were at the hands of the protesters: the only other person killed with deliberate violence was a pro-Trump protester, Ashli Babbitt, unarmed when shot in the neck by a police officer at close range.
The problem with this story is that it is false in all respects. From the start, there was almost no evidence to substantiate it. The only basis were the two original New York Times articles asserting that this happened based on the claim of anonymous law enforcement officials.
Despite this alleged brutal murder taking place in one of the most surveilled buildings on the planet, filled that day with hundreds of cellphones taping the events, nobody saw video of it. No photographs depicted it. To this day, no autopsy report has been released. No details from any official source have been provided.
Not only was there no reason to believe this happened from the start, the little that was known should have caused doubt. On the same day the Times published its two articles with the “fire extinguisher” story, ProPublica published one that should have raised serious doubts about it.
The outlet interviewed Sicknick’s brother, who said that “Sicknick had texted [the family] Wednesday night to say that while he had been pepper-sprayed, he was in good spirits.” That obviously conflicted with the Times’ story that the mob “overpowered Sicknick” and “struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher,” after which, “with a bloody gash in his head, Mr. Sicknick was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support.”
But no matter. The fire extinguisher story was now a matter of lore. Nobody could question it. And nobody did: until after a February 2 CNN article that asked why nobody has been arrested for what clearly was the most serious crime committed that day: the brutal murder of Officer Sicknick with a fire extinguisher. Though the headline gave no hint of this, the middle of the article provided evidence which essentially declared the original New York Times story false:
In Sicknick’s case, it’s still not known publicly what caused him to collapse the night of the insurrection. Findings from a medical examiner’s review have not yet been released and authorities have not made any announcements about that ongoing process.
According to one law enforcement official, medical examiners did not find signs that the officer sustained any blunt force trauma, so investigators believe that early reports that he was fatally struck by a fire extinguisher are not true.
The CNN story speculates that perhaps Sicknick inhaled “bear spray,” but like the ProPublica interview with his brother who said he inhaled pepper spray, does not say whether it came from the police or protesters.
The fire extinguisher tale was far from the only false or dubious claim that the media caused to circulate about the events that day. In some cases, they continue to circulate them.
In the days after the protest, numerous viral tweets pointed to a photograph of Eric Munchel with zip-ties. The photo was used continually to suggest that he took those zip-ties into the Capitol because of a premeditated plot to detain lawmakers and hold them hostage. Politico described Munchel as “the man who allegedly entered the Senate chamber during the Capitol riot while carrying a taser and zip-tie handcuffs.”
But on January 21, the “zip-tie man’s” own prosecutors admitted none of that was true. He did not take zip-ties with him from home or carry them into the Capitol. Instead, he found them on a table, and took them to prevent their use by the police.
(A second man whose photo with zip-ties later surfaced similarly told Ronan Farrow that he found them on the floor, and the FBI has acknowledged it has no evidence to the contrary).
Just today, PolitiFact purported to “fact-check” a statement from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) made on Monday. Sen. Johnson told a local radio station:
“The fact of the matter is this didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me. I mean armed, when you hear armed, don’t you think of firearms? Here’s the questions I would have liked to ask. How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired? I’m only aware of one, and I’ll defend that law enforcement officer for taking that shot.
The fact-checking site assigned the Senator its “Pants on Fire” designation for that statement, calling it “ridiculous revisionist history.” But the “fact-checkers” cannot refute a single claim he made. At least from what is known publicly, there is no evidence of a single protester wielding let alone using a firearm inside the Capitol on that day. As indicated, the only person to have been shot was a pro-Trump protester killed by a Capitol police officer, and the only person said to have been killed by the protesters, Officer Sicknick, died under circumstances that are still completely unclear.
One can — and should — condemn the January 6 riot without inflating the threat it posed. And one can — and should — insist on both factual accuracy and sober restraint without standing accused of sympathy for the rioters.