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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 2/19/21

The False and Exaggerated Claims Still Being Spread About the Capitol Riot

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Insisting on factual accuracy does not make one an apologist for the protesters. False reporting is never justified, especially to inflate threat and fear levels.

2021 storming of the United States Capitol
2021 storming of the United States Capitol
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org), Author: Tyler Merbler)
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What took place at the Capitol on January 6 was undoubtedly a politically motivated riot. As such, it should not be controversial to regard it as a dangerous episode. Any time force or violence is introduced into what ought to be the peaceful resolution of political conflicts, it should be lamented and condemned.

But none of that justifies lying about what happened that day, especially by the news media. Condemning that riot does not allow, let alone require, echoing false claims in order to render the event more menacing and serious than it actually was. There is no circumstance or motive that justifies the dissemination of false claims by journalists. The more consequential the event, the less justified, and more harmful, serial journalistic falsehoods are.

Yet this is exactly what has happened, and continues to happen, since that riot almost seven weeks ago. And anyone who tries to correct these falsehoods is instantly attacked with the cynical accusation that if you want only truthful reporting about what happened, then you're trying to "minimize" what happened and are likely an apologist for if not a full-fledged supporter of the protesters themselves.

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."

A second New York Times article from later that day -- bearing the more dramatic headline: "He Dreamed of Being a Police Officer, Then Was Killed by a Pro-Trump Mob" -- elaborated on that story:

The New York Times, in a now-
The New York Times, in a now-'updated' article, Jan. 8, 2021
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The New York Times, in a now-
The New York Times, in a now-'updated' article, Jan. 8, 2021
(Image by New York Tines)
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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 other three deaths were all pro-Trump protesters: Kevin Greeson, who died of a heart attack outside the Capitol; Benjamin Philips, 50, "the founder of a pro-Trump website called Trumparoo," who died of a stroke that day; and Rosanne Boyland, a fanatical Trump supporter whom the Times says was inadvertently "killed in a crush of fellow rioters during their attempt to fight through a police line."

This is why the fire extinguisher story became so vital to those intent on depicting these events in the most violent and menacing light possible. Without Sicknick having his skull bashed in with a fire extinguisher, there were no deaths that day that could be attributed to deliberate violence by pro-Trump protesters. Three weeks later, The Washington Post said dozens of officers (a total of 140) had various degrees of injuries, but none reported as life-threatening, and at least two police officers committed suicide after the riot. So Sicknick was the only person killed who was not a pro-Trump protester, and the only one deliberately killed by the mob itself.

It is hard to overstate how pervasive this fire extinguisher story became. Over and over, major media outlets and mainstream journalists used this story to dramatize what happened:

Clockwise: Tweet of Associated Press, Jan. 29; Tweet of NBC's Richard Engel, Jan. 9; Tweet of the Lincoln Project's Fred Willman, Jan. 29; Tweet of The New York Times' Nicholas Kirstof, Jan. 9
Clockwise: Tweet of Associated Press, Jan. 29; Tweet of NBC's Richard Engel, Jan. 9; Tweet of the Lincoln Project's Fred Willman, Jan. 29; Tweet of The New York Times' Nicholas Kirstof, Jan. 9
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Television hosts gravely intoned when telling this story, manipulating viewers' emotions by making them believe the mob had done something unspeakably barbaric:

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9 people are discussing this page, with 16 comments


David William Pear

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Greenwald is a too rare journalist who has integrity. I'm sure he will be vilified for not being a stenographer and following the script. It is sad to see so many on the so-called left who are calling for censorship and authoritarianism against the rightwing. They will find that it is a double edged sword, which is mainly used against them.

Submitted on Saturday, Feb 20, 2021 at 4:38:45 AM

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Reply to David William Pear:   New Content

You provide an example of why I think the Left and Right terms have lost their meaning and are no longer clearly linked to any particular principles -- or at least not the principles that used to be associated with them. Many who consider themselves to be on the left seem to favour authoritarian control, which relates to traditional principles only in favouring a substantial role for government. But that hasn't always meant such restriction on individual freedom, especially on freedom of expression. Coercion and "cancellation" are not progressive, which supposedly is important to those on the left.

Submitted on Saturday, Feb 20, 2021 at 10:36:45 PM

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Libertarians have asserted since before the party was formed, and founder David Nolan came up with a two dimensional representation of politics, that left and right are not meanful ways to describe the potlitical universe. The Nolan chart has separate axes for Personal Freedom and Economic Freedom. Today that idea is represented by "The World's Smallest Political Quiz" available at www.theadvocates.org/quiz from the Advocates for Self-Government. Their variation was to rotate the graph 90 degrees so that the vertical axis runs from authoritarian to libertarian while the horizontal axis is the traditional left/right spectrum. It shows that people from both the "right" and "left" can easily fall away from liberty and toward tryanny.

Submitted on Saturday, Feb 20, 2021 at 11:43:30 PM

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Maxwell

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Yes, "left" and "right" is so one dimensional. It's not a very useful encapsulation of a person's beliefs.

Submitted on Monday, Feb 22, 2021 at 8:44:47 PM

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My wife and daughter both say they had not heard any of those claims about the guard being beaten with a fire extinguisher, people armed with guns inside the Capitol, or the guy arrested with the plastic handcuffs. They say the only reason I heard about it is because I monitor "right wing media" who throw those stories up as red herring attacks on the left.


I'm sure they were all over mainstream press. Who is correct?

Submitted on Saturday, Feb 20, 2021 at 9:27:23 PM

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My wife is into CNN and MSNBC and heard those stories there (as Greenwald describes).

Submitted on Sunday, Feb 21, 2021 at 3:18:27 AM

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That's where I remember hearing them, with a little Democracy Now, NPR, and impeachment trial managers thrown in. I knew I was being gaslighted!

Submitted on Sunday, Feb 21, 2021 at 6:14:42 AM

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They weren't plastic handcuffs. It was a set of plastic six-pack rings. A simpa'ticos thing. I'm told. Bogie said it was about the strawberries. Me, I want to know more about crullers and the dipshits who were dunking them. If they knew an insurrection was coming, why the glazed? To me, it's the equivalent of that hijacker passport they found on the ground near Zero on 9/11. Who gave them the crullers and we know who did this deed. We go from there. Kapish?

Submitted on Sunday, Feb 21, 2021 at 11:54:57 AM

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"It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled."

Mark Twain

Submitted on Sunday, Feb 21, 2021 at 4:54:41 AM

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Is formerly good-guy, Greenwald, saying that the mob rioters in the Capital are being falsely, unfairly accused of doing what anyone can see in the many videos? Or..that it wasn't so bad?

Submitted on Sunday, Feb 21, 2021 at 5:00:27 AM

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It's not that the rioters were doing something wonderful, but neither should a level of violence be ascribed to them that is inaccurate and greater than they deserve. Besides that it seems somewhat important to know what actually happened, just for its own sake, it also helps to see if a word like "insurrection", which is a pretty serious accusation, really should be applied to what happened.

Submitted on Sunday, Feb 21, 2021 at 6:24:08 AM

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" Besides that it seems somewhat important to know what actually happened, just for its own sake"

Agreed. Though a commission modeled after the 9/11 commission is unlikely to accomplish this. Quite the contrary.

Submitted on Monday, Feb 22, 2021 at 8:34:18 PM

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Amazing to see what gaslighting the public can do to people's perception of reality when the truth finally comes out. Some will accept that they were being manipulated and rightly be pi$$ed, but many who became so invested in the narrative spun for them refuse to accept that they were had.

Manipulation is done in small degrees to appear unnoticeable to the manipulated. A lie (insurrection) repeated often enough becomes fact in the minds of the public. That's the biggest crime committed that day. IMO

This should make people wonder what else they've been manipulated to believe, but for many the narrative is more important than the truth being told, and the truth teller becomes a bad guy.

Submitted on Sunday, Feb 21, 2021 at 11:26:36 AM

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Many independent journalists have fashioned themselves into folk heros battling the onslaught of propaganda on corportate owned main stream media. And they have many devotees who are so enamored with them that they won't question what Greenwald says- ever. CNN screwed this up and I for one would like to know who provided this information to them and why they failed to verify it before repeating it ad nauseum. BUT Glenn makes several baseless statements in this piece and no one will call him out on it so here goes:

He asserts that just because zip tie guy didn't bring the zip ties but rather found them that his picking them up was a "benign" act and that assertions that he and his mother were there to do violence is overblown. First of all to access the building acts of violence DID take place. Second just because the zip tie guy says he only picked them up to prevent the police from using them, how do we know he isn't lying? Why the body armor, fatigues and stun gun if he was only there to peacefully protest. Also, there is video, with audio, of rioters roaming the halls calling out for Nancy Pelosi and one woman said on camera that they were going to "find her and shoot her in the fricken head". There were chants for "Hang Pence! Hang Pence!" And a gallows was contructed outside the Capitol. Does Glenn want us to forget the larger body of evidence that clearly shows the motive and intent of the insurrectionists.

Also Glenn says this was a political riot and not an insurrection, because he claims it was brief and not a sustained campaign to over throw the government. This is flatly wrong.

According to U.S. Code 18 an insurrection is defined as:

"Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years or both, and shall be incapable of holding any office of the United States"

If I missed something stating that the insurrection must be prolonged please let me know. Besides, the planning for this event went on for two months before it took place.

Also, in regards to the zip ties. If by his own words the zip tie guy picked them up to prevent the police from using them then ask this, "Who would the police have used them on?" Of course they would have used them to stop the violent assault. So by preventing the police from detaining the insurrectionists he is acknowledging that he is giving aid and comfort to those committing violence on police.

Yes, how benign.

Lastly Glenn makes the assertion that there were no weapons so this was not an armed insurrection. Apparently for a journalists striving to as accurate as possible, reading indictments was too much work. There were weapons, ammunition, molotov cocktails and even pipe bombs confiscated by police.

As reported in The Hill in a January 16 atricle titled "Police Seized Alarming Number of Weapons on Capitol Rioters, Court Documents Show"

So yes, CNN screwed up. It is possible the source resporting that Sicknick was beaten with a fire extinguisher was confused with video of the insurrectionists throwing a fire extinquisher at an officer and an officer being beaten with a flag pole. And Yes CNN did repeat the story over and over and over for ratings. But that doesn't give Glenn carte blanche to start making his own unsupported claims.

Submitted on Monday, Feb 22, 2021 at 11:39:50 PM

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Greenwald's being nice here. The media is almost blatantly showing its true colors -- especially the NYT, when it comes to national politics, which is just another corporate interest watching out for the class it caters to. Who can forget that, as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Risen has written about over at his new home the Intercept, that the NYT quashed an October 2004 story that would have revealed the Bush admin's StellarWind program (data hoovering everything w/o a warrant) that would have come out 9 years before Ed Snowden's leaks) -- quashed, says Risen, as a favor to the NSA's Michael Hayden by a NYT editor.

Now we get a situation where the Dems force another silly f*cking impeachment trial in the Senate, clearly knowing ahead of time that they don't have the numbers to convict. All Dems did is get up on the soapbox and quake and quiver about freedom and justice and the Great American YadaYadaYada. But Trump wasn't there, no witnesses were called, and the outcome was already decided. No point. Except to act as the 'earnest' prologue for the 9/11-like commission to be convened to get to the bottom of it all. Uh-huh.

Greenwald has put the 'liar, liar pants on fire' to the story about the Cap Cop who got executed by fire extinguisher. He points out the obvious: The Capitol building is one of the most highly surveilled buildings in the nation: There's NO evidence of his be-bopping by the mob (pretend the bone's an extinguisher). Death by mob makes it a serious event. Except that...

That seriousness, not transferred to the Senate trial in any way, will now be solemnly delivered to the new commission. Which will have subpoena power, make folks talk or go to jail, and fabricate a report that recommends drones over America and deep infiltration. Tighter surveillance of everyone, including those lefties who might be crypto-knights deking defensive backs in the end zone, tra-la-laing left then sneaking Right. TD. Empire down. Backflips, splits. Show me the money time.

The only real development ahead is how the Man goes after those 400 million guns. That'll be fun to watch from afar. Good start bankrupting the NRA. Charlton Heston must be rolling over in his arsenal grave: he's in the box somewhere between all those rifles. The 10 Commandments didn't work, so he said F*ck it, hand me a Manlicher Carcano, I got some work to do. And then, and then, and then, he got rolled away a conspiracy theorists by shadowy figures nobody could clearly describe. Pass the bong.

Submitted on Sunday, Feb 21, 2021 at 11:24:15 AM

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Of course, demanding factually accurate reporting should be a no brainer.

This article spends about half its length describing the MSM's leveraging of the emotional impact of the dead cop. Then it finally gets around to refuting the story. I kept thinking "if you've got something, Greenwald, let's hear it". My main criticism.

Also, calling it or not calling it an "armed insurrection" is a quibble. People were wielding objects in ways that could have been lethal. And there were timed explosives found, unless you're disputing that too. If so, please do.

Submitted on Monday, Feb 22, 2021 at 8:31:51 PM

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