On the night of the January 6 2021 Capitol riots, Rep. Matt Gaetz shared a Washington Times article on Twitter along with the headline, “XRVision firm claims Antifa infiltrated protesters who stormed Capitol”:
Alongside the link, Gaetz tweeted:
“Facial recognition firm claims Antifa infiltrated Trump protesters who stormed Capitol”
On January 7 2020, Daily Beast reporter Lachlan Markey tweeted that the piece had done a disappearing act (but not before firmly entrenching itself as a viral rumor on social media sites in true weaponized disinformation form):
Markey accurately pointed out that Gaetz’s link directed to the WashingtonTimes.com domain, adding that “The Washington Times appears to have deleted this story entirely after it was revealed to be complete nonsense.” It was.
On Google Trends, several search terms related to the title of the seemingly-deleted piece were labeled “breakout,” indicating an extremely large number of searches. The most popular search terms (all “breakout”) were:
- “antifa infiltrated trump”;
- “facial recognition”;
- “antifa infiltrated trump supporters”;
- “antifa infiltrated trump rally”;
- “facial recognition firm claims antifa infiltrated trump protesters who stormed capitol,” and tellingly;
- “washington times”.
The now-missing article appeared to be an attempt to use disinformation to provide plausible deniability and excuses around events witnessed by the world throughout January 6 2021 — such as United States President Donald Trump addressing the individuals who would go on to breach the Capitol and desecrate its halls and chamber.
The Washington Times (and, apparently, Matt Gaetz) failed to acknowledge another notable instance of Trump claiming the supporters as his own, rather than blaming anti-fascists for the violence and destruction inside the Capitol. As lawmakers and journalists called for Trump to quell the violence, he published statements and videos to Twitter and other platforms tacitly praising the insurrection and encouraging further acts of violence.
Before being banned by Facebook and Twitter, Trump clearly attributed the acts and actions viewed by the world as the work of the men and women he rallied earlier in the day:
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & peace. Remember this day forever!”
It is not clear when Washington Times deleted their story (versus correcting it or leaving it up with an editor’s note), but in the less than 24 hours it was live, it was archived 40 times on the Wayback Machine and ten times on Archive.is.
The story, which was headlined “Facial recognition firm claims Antifa infiltrated Trump protesters who stormed Capitol” and bore the byline Rowan Scarborough, began:
Trump supporters say that Antifa members disguised as one of them infiltrated the protesters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday [January 6 2012.]
A retired military officer told The Washington Times that the firm XRVision used its software to do facial recognition of protesters and matched two Philadelphia Antifa members to two men inside the Senate.
The source provided the photo match to The Times.
One has a tattoo that indicates he is a Stalinist sympathizer. Antifa promotes anarchy through violence and wants the end of America in favor of a Stalinist-state. “No more USA at all” is a protest chant.
XRVision also has identified another man who, while not known to have antics links, is someone who shows up at climate and Black Lives Matter protests in the West … Before the Nov. 4  election, an Antifa chapter sent out on social media a reminder for members to disguise themselves as Trump supporters by wearing the distinctive red Make American Great Again (MAGA) hat.
“On Nov. 4  don’t forget to disguise yourselves as patriots/Trump supporters. Wear MAGA hats. USA flags. A convincing police uniform is even better. This way police and patriots responding to US won’t know who their enemies are and onlookers and the media will think there are Trump supporters rioting so it’s harder to turn popular opinion against us.”
Scarborough also tweeted a link to the seemingly deleted piece, but he did not appear to address its removal as of 2 PM Eastern on January 7 2021:
A search of WashingtonTimes.com returned Scarborough’s missing report, but clicking the link led back to the homepage. At 1:09 PM on January 7 2021, disinformation expert Craig Silverman covered the original claim for BuzzFeed, reporting that a representative for XRVision had not only said the story was false — but that their software had actually identified “two members of neo-Nazi organizations and a QAnon supporter” among the rioters:
A facial recognition company says a viral Washington Times story claiming it identified antifa members among the mob that stormed the Capitol on Wednesday is completely false.
XRVision told BuzzFeed News it has asked the conservative outlet for a retraction and apology over the story, which was cited in the House of Representatives after the riot late Wednesday by Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, an ardent Trump supporter.
An attorney representing XRVision, which says it was founded in 2015 in Singapore, issued a statement to BuzzFeed News refuting the Washington Times story. The statement said XRVision’s software actually identified two members of neo-Nazi organizations and a QAnon supporter among the pro-Trump mob — not antifa members.
Silverman linked to a statement published separately, which supplied more details about the falsehoods:
XRVision didn’t generate any composites or detections for the Washington Times or for any “retired military officer,” nor did it authorize them to make any such claims or representations. Additionally, The Washington Times never attempted to contact XRVision to verify their false claim prior publication.
Shortly after the rioting started, XRVision performed an analysis on the video footage and identified several individuals. This information was shared with Federal LEA. We concluded that two of the individuals (Jason Tankersley and Matthew Heimbach) were affiliated with the Maryland Skinheads and the National Socialist Movements. These two are known Nazi organizations; they are not Antifa. The third individual identified (Jake Angeli) is an actor with some QAnon promotion history. Again, no Antifa identification was made for him either.
Due to the sensitive nature of the imagery, the composites were distributed to a handful of individuals for their private consumption and were not to be made public. XRVision views the Washington Times publication as outright false, misleading, and defamatory.
Our attorney has contacted the Washington Times and has instructed them to ‘Cease and Desist’ from any claims regarding the sourcing of XRVision analytics, retract their current claims, and publish an apology.
We were unable to locate any retraction or clarification by the Washington Times on their site, nor on their “with replies” Twitter timeline.
To summarize, the Washington Times and disinformation purveyor Matt Gaetz advanced a falsehood via an article headlined, “Facial recognition firm claims Antifa infiltrated Trump protesters who stormed Capitol”; those claims and variants became widely-spread disinformation following the Capitol riots, as intended — despite extensive evidence of Trump goading the insurrectionists. Silverman obtained a statement from XRVision not only indicating the claims were false and defamatory, but noting that the individuals shown were known members of far right organizations. The Washington Times appeared to hastily delete the archived piece, but it was still visible via site search, but leading back to the site’s homepage. We have been unable to locate any apology, retraction, or correction.