Tuesday, January 26, 2021

PolitiFact writes up Capitol riot, omits mention of John Sullivan

PolitiFact wants you to know right-wing groups were solely responsible for the Capital riot in early 2021--even if it's not necessarily true.

PolitiFact politisplained it in a Jan. 20, 2021 article by Daniel Funke:

Since Jan. 6, we’ve fact-checked several claims that blame antifa, short for anti-facist, for the breach of the U.S. Capitol Building. Republican lawmakers, conservative pundits and social media users have said the loose coalition of communists, socialists and anarchists infiltrated a crowd of Trump supporters to stoke violence.

There is no evidence to support those claims.

PolitiFact plays an interesting game with antifa. On the one hand, it's a "loose coalition of communists, socialists and anarchists" but on the other hand it's just an idea with no structure of membership, so it's next to impossible to identify people as "antifa" even if they are communists, socialists or anarchists.

Funke's article struck us as fascinating for its failure to mention John Sullivan, the left-winger who took video of the rioting and exhorted the rioters with cries such as "We accomplished this s**t. We did this together." (Newsweek)

Sullivan was among those charged in association with the rioting. But he remained unmentioned when Funke gave the rundown of those who were charged:

FBI Assistant Director Steven D'Antuono said during a Jan. 8 press briefing that there was "no indication" that antifa activists were involved in the insurrection. Since then, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has charged more than 100 people with crimes related to the Capitol riot, many who bragged on social media about taking part, and the FBI has arrested more than 40. Several suspects appear to have connections to militia and far-right groups.

 Guess what? Sullivan was one of those charged (Deseret News, via MSN):

John Earle Sullivan, 25, was charged federally on Wednesday with being on restricted property, civil disorder and “violent entry or disorderly conduct,” according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
These days the media do not associate Sullivan with antifa or Black Lives Matter.

But let's dwell on the past.

Sullivan's History in the Media

The media have reported that Sullivan organized Insurgence USA. The Insurgence USA website peddles the kind of protest gear the public associates with antifa.

Is Sullivan just a right-wing capitalist trying to take advantage of left-wing rubes? Maybe. Let's look for press reports using "Sullivan" and "Insurgence USA" as our search terms, focusing on 2020 and before.

The Guardian (July 27, 2020)

That same Black Lives Matter protest that inspired Robertson’s fear was originally planned as a pro-police event in downtown Provo. John Sullivan, 26, the founder of Insurgence USA, a group for racial justice and police reform, organized a counter-protest alongside several other organizers. Protesters were to meet at the Provo police station at 6.30pm that night.
Newsweek (July 23, 2020):

John Sullivan, of the Insurgence USA activist group, was armed with a rifle for around two hours during what was promoted online as a "Solo Armed Stance" in protest at the unidentifiable agents who have been seen forcing protesters into unmarked vehicles in Portland, Oregon.

It's entirely worth noting that the left-wing protest community aired concerns about Sullivan in late 2020, as reported by the Daily Dot (links lead to profanity-laced reports). At the same time, the reports acknowledge Sullivan's connection to BLM/antifa activity:

last night he leaked the details of a secret event. luckily spotters OTG were able to shut it down before it started once they began to see an increase in police activity.

The report suggests Sullivan received the details of a secret event involving illegal activity. Without receiving such details, leaking them proves difficult.

"Sullivan denied being affiliated with antifa"

The Daily Dot article also contains an amusing (and common) example of liberal press credulity. It points to a Rolling Stone interview of Sullivan in which he supposedly "denied being affiliated with antifa."

But the supposed denial is a non-denial denial (bold emphasis added):

Sullivan carried a simple setup: a cellphone mounted on an image-stabilizing gimbal. Fitting into the mob, he says, required mirroring its revolutionary sentiments. “I was worried about people recognizing me and thinking that I was Antifa or, like, BLM or whatever,” he says. “The entire time they’re yelling, ‘Fuck Antifa! Fuck, BLM.’ I’m not saying I’m Antifa, by any means. But I definitely believe Black Lives Matter.”

Reported accurately, Sullivan did not deny affiliation with antifa. He denied he was saying he was affiliated with antifa. That's not the same thing. We're in trouble when journalists either can't tell the difference or apply spin to obscure the difference.

And if Sullivan had offered a full-throated denial of an affiliation with antifa, that would still not serve as dispositive evidence that no affiliation existed when he gave the interview. How many members of antifa have been publicly identified based on their own admission?

As things stand, we do not have definitive evidence Sullivan sustained a relationship with the antifa movement. But we do have evidence of at least a temporary connection to a secretive left-wing organization planning illegal activity.

Why is Sullivan entirely missing from Funke's report?

When PolitiFact Reported About Sullivan

We found Sullivan's absence from Funke's report even more strange given that PolitiFact previously did some reporting on Sullivan. The "fact check," by Bill McCarthy, supposedly covered the same subject as Funke's,the allegation that antifa incited the riot:

(C)laims faulting antifa for the violence at the Capitol keep coming. The latest target is Utah’s John Sullivan, the founder of Insurgence USA, an activist group against police brutality.

McCarthy's article published on Jan. 8, 2021. Did Funke somehow not know about it? It's not linked in Funke's story, though he linked other fact checks about the Capitol riot.

On Jan. 15, 2021, PolitiFact updated McCarthy's story noting Sullivan's arrest over his part in the D.C. riot. Did Funke also not know about that?

To be sure, McCarthy's article tries to downplay Sullivan's involvement in the riot, even assuring readers there's no proof he incited the insurgency. That occurs shortly before including quotations of things Sullivan said during the riot, such as "Let's burn this s--- down."

We can't help but think that if the Democratic managers of the Trump impeachment case had Trump on record telling the D.C. crow "Let's burn this s--- down" it would improve the case for Trump's impeachment. Supposedly Trump incited the Capitol insurrection, requiring his impeachment.


While there's no unequivocal case, at least for now, that John Sullivan counts as antifa or Black Lives Matter, a competent debunking of antifa/BLM involvement in the Capitol riot should not omit all mention of the strongest evidence of that involvement. 

And PolitiFact may want to look up the definition of "incited." 

It's a bit absurd to claim there's no evidence antifa incited the Capitol riot, quote somebody saying "Let's burn this s--- down" and then take the man at his word that he's not antifa when that wasn't what he said.

Correction Jan. 26, 2021: We misspelled "Capitol" as "Capital"in one of two instances in our summary section. That's fixed with this update.

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