Trump allies eager to deflect blame for Wednesday’s attack on the presidential vote count have claimed that the rioters were “antifa” infiltrators, citing a Washington Times report on evidence compiled by a little-known facial recognition company associated with a far-right blog.
But the company at the center of the story says the Times article is a hoax and wants a retraction and apology.
As Capitol Police struggled to clear the congressional complex on Wednesday evening, Times reporter Rowan Scarborough published a story claiming that obscure facial recognition company XRVision had proof that some of the rioters were in fact left-wing antifa agitators, including one “Stalinist sympathizer.”
“Facial recognition firm claims Antifa infiltrated Trump protesters who stormed Capitol,” the headline on the story read.
Scarborough’s article was based entirely on an interview with an anonymous “retired military officer” who claimed to have seen XRVision data that proved two of the rioters were members of “Philadelphia Antifa.” The story didn’t include any pictures of the supposed antifa infiltrators or other evidence.
Despite the fact that Trump had promoted the rally for weeks while his supporters openly planned the riot on pro-Trump websites, the exculpatory idea that the riot was a secret antifa plot rocketed around right-wing media. Fox News host Laura Ingraham declared it a “developing” story, in a tweet that was recirculated more than 35,000 times.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) tweeted the story as proof of mounting evidence of an antifa scheme. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) even cited the Washington Times story on the House floor during the electoral vote count.
"I don't know if the reports are true, but The Washington Times has just reported some pretty compelling evidence from a facial recognition company that some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters,” Gaetz said. “They were masquerading as Trump supporters and, in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”
But XRVision, the company at the center of the story, says the Times story is totally made up. In a statement provided by the company’s attorney, XRVision said its facial recognition software had in fact identified two neo-Nazis and a QAnon supporter.
“We concluded that two of [the] individuals (Jason Tankersley and Matthew Heimbach), were affiliated with the Maryland Skinheads and the National Socialist Movements,” the statement reads. “These two are known Nazi organizations, they are not Antifa. The third individual identified (Jake Angeli) was an actor with some QAnon promotion history. Again, no Antifa identification was made for him either.”
XRVision has demanded a retraction and apology from the paper, according to the statement.
“XRVision takes pride in its technology's precision and deems the Washington Times publication as outright false, misleading, and defamatory,” the statement read. “Our attorney is in contact with the Washington Times and has instructed them to ‘Cease and Desist’ from any claims regarding sourcing of XRVision analytics, to retract the current claims, and publish and (sic) apology.”
The Washington Times didn’t respond to a request for comment.
XRVision is closely tied to right-wing hoax blog The Gateway Pundit and often provides its technology, such as it is, to promote attacks on liberal figures and bogus claims about voter fraud. In 2019, The Gateway Pundit deleted a fake story based on XRVision “data” that falsely purported to show that the father of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was a Somali war criminal.
This isn’t the first time the Washington Times has promoted a right-wing hoax by citing a retired military official. In 2018, the paper published a column by a retired admiral that claimed to prove that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich and his brother Aaron Rich stole DNC emails and gave them to WikiLeaks. The paper later retracted the column and apologized for its publication, in a bid to settle a lawsuit filed by Aaron Rich.