SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A state senator in South Dakota, citing debunked evidence, blamed Wednesday's siege by a pro-Trump mob at the U.S. Capitol on communists and an antifa member or paid actor in an email to his colleagues Saturday, Jan 9.
Sen. John Wiik, R-Big Stone City, made the false claims in an email to a constituent and other legislators on the eve of the legislative session, which convenes in Pierre on Tuesday. His claims also came amid a party-wide reckoning on elected officials' role in perpetuating mistruths and conspiracy theories about the November presidential election.
"I suggest that you take a good look at the footage from the Capitol that day," Wiik wrote, without citing any law enforcement evidence in a Saturday-night email obtained by Forum News Service. "Trump supporters don't have communist hammer and sickle tattoos. Buffalo horn guy is a paid actor/antifa member from Phoenix, Arizona," referring to an oft-pictured rioter.
Wiik made his comments on Saturday evening to a constituent who'd written in an email earlier on Saturday to dozens of legislators falsely disparaging the Republican Party as a "the Party of Domestic Terrorism." The constituent confirmed the email exchange to Forum News Service.
On Sunday morning, Rep. Sue Peterson, R-Sioux Falls, responded to Wiik's email by saying, "John, Well said! Thank you!"
Wiik backtracked in an email on Sunday to Forum News Service: "I don't believe that anyone knows for certain who was who, but I also said those who infiltrated the Capitol should be captured and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Sen. Troy Heinert, the minority leader, called the remarks "dangerous" in an interview with the Forum News Service on Sunday.
"We saw (on Wednesday) how dangerous the months and years of claims such as these have been and the result of that," said Heinert, D-Mission. "It's radicalization of Americans to believe something that is just absolutely false."
Antifa not among those arrested
Following the attacks, claims ping-ponged around social media among conservatives blaming antifa and Black Lives Matter activists with either leading or coordinating the attack. But the claims have no basis in fact and those arrested so far for their involvement in the storming of the U.S. Capitol have been mainly supporters of President Donald Trump and QAnon, the broad online conspiracy claiming Democrats are blood-drinking pedophiles who run the government.
On Saturday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the arrest of Jacob Anthony Chansley, also known as Jake Angeli, a QAnon supporter and far-right activist from Arizona who appeared shirtless, in face-paint and wearing a horn helmet in photographs during Wednesday's attack. Chansley was charged in federal court in the District of Columbia for entering a restricted building, as well as violent entry.
Previously, news service Reuters debunked a false claim gaining attention on social media that a man inside the Capitol during the rally was a member of antifa from Philadelphia. Not only was the man in question not a member of antifa, said Reuters, but a tattoo on his hand is based on a video game, and not the Soviet-era hammer-and-sickle emblem.
Contrary to Wiik's claims, a number of staunch Trump supporters and far-right activists have been arrested for roles in the attack on the American Capitol.
A Republican West Virginia lawmaker, State Delegate Derrick Evans, resigned on Saturday after filming himself and others illegally entering the Capitol building during Wednesday's attack and briefly halting Congress' certification of president-elect Joe Biden's victory in the Electoral College.
And in the last two days, the Justice Department has announced federal criminal charges against 13 individuals for roles in this week's riots, as well as the arrest of an Arkansas pro-gun activist, Richard Barnett, who'd been photographed putting his feet on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office during Wednesday's raid, for entering the Capitol building.
In a news release, Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen called the image "repulsive."
"Those who are proven to have committed criminal acts during the storming of the Capitol will face justice," said Rosen.
Wednesday's raid on the U.S. Capitol was incited earlier in the day on the other side of the National Mall by speeches from leading GOP officials, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who urged a "trial by combat," and Trump,. who repeated mistruths about election fraud and warned supporters "you'll never take back our country with weakness."
While some Trump loyalists, notably Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, later baselessly suggested the Capitol-storming mob actually comprised left-wing agitants, other GOP leaders, such as Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, have called for Trump to resign for his role in spurring the attack.
PolitiFact with the Poynter Institute has debunked the suggestion that the Capitol attacks were "staged by antifa," calling the theory a "'pants on fire' mistruth."
"A growing number of protesters have been identified and connected to long histories supporting Trump, QAnon and far-right causes," said the PolitiFact report.