Conservative social media posts misleadingly claim the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was not an “armed” insurrection, citing FBI testimony that no guns were seized from suspects that day. But 23 people have been charged with having deadly or dangerous weapons during the assault — including a loaded handgun found on a man arrested on Capitol grounds.
On March 3, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held a joint hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill. The assault left five people dead and scores injured, including at least 138 Capitol and Metropolitan Police Department officers.
During the hearing, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin asked Jill Sanborn, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, “How many firearms were confiscated in the Capitol or on Capitol grounds during that day?”
“To my knowledge, we have not recovered any on that day from any other arrests at the scene at this point,” Sanborn said. “But I don’t want to speak on behalf of Metro and Capitol Police.”
Social media posts latched on to the answer to misleadingly purport that the protesters were not armed.
One meme, showing a photo of protesters inside the Capitol, falsely claimed: “Senate testimony this week confirms that no Capitol protesters were armed and not a single weapon was found. Clearly NOT insurrection, NOT an attempt to overthrow the government, just out of control protestors that saw inadequate security and ran thru the building.”
An article on the conservative website Gateway Pundit — which was cited on the website of conservative commentator David Harris Jr. — carried the headline: “Another Democrat-Media Narrative Goes Up in Flames: FBI Official Admits No Firearms Were Confiscated by Law Enforcement at Capitol Riot.”
But a wide array of lethal weapons — including a firearm — were found on protesters at the Capitol.
The Metropolitan Police Department reported its officers, while trying to clear the Capitol grounds about 7 p.m. on Jan. 6, arrested and charged a 33-year-old Maryland man with the federal offense of carrying a fully loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun on Capitol grounds.
Clarification, June 25: In response to a reader’s inquiry, we updated this story to clarify that Christopher Michael Alberts was arrested by Metropolitan Police on Jan. 6 for carrying a pistol without a license, possession of a firearm on Capital grounds and other charges. He was formally charged in U.S. District Court on Jan. 7.
Social media posts claiming that protesters were not armed also do not address the issue of other weapons used by assailants at the Capitol — or the seizure of guns from supporters before and after the riot.
In legal terms, “armed” means being in possession of any weapon, not just a firearm. While there are laws that specifically address firearms, weapons can include virtually any object used to threaten or cause harm.
According to a database compiled by NPR, of the people charged with violent offenses, including assault on police officers, 15 were armed with deadly or dangerous weapons during the riot at the Capitol.
Eight others facing civil disorder or property destruction charges also were charged with possessing weapons, according to the database.
Those weapons included baseball bats, chemical sprays, a captured police officer’s riot shield, a crowbar, fire extinguishers and a metal flagpole.
Thomas Webster, a retired New York Police Department officer, was charged with attacking a Metropolitan Police Department officer with a metal flagpole. The federal complaint says he struck at the officer “with the flagpole numerous times.”
Before and after the storming of the Capitol, NBC News reported, police seized a dozen firearms, including an assault rifle, and thousands of rounds of ammunition from seven people attending the rally for President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. Other weapons included a crossbow, a stun gun and 11 Molotov cocktails.
The FBI, in a statement to FactCheck.org on March 5, said Sanborn had testified “in her capacity as the FBI Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division. Her responses were restricted to FBI investigative matters and she appropriately deferred to other law enforcement partners for their information.”
Asha Rangappa, an attorney and former FBI agent, told us in an email that she did “not see the logic” in the claim that firearms had to be present for the Capitol riot to have been deemed an armed insurrection.
She also said we will never know how many rioters might have been armed with guns on Jan. 6, because only some were arrested that day.
“Not only was law enforcement completely overwhelmed (and being assaulted), from what I saw people were basically allowed to leave unimpeded,” said Rangappa, a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. “So those arrested … are hardly representative of everyone who was there that day.”
Update, May 24: The Capitol Police and the Justice Department initially reported that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died as a result of injuries sustained during the riot. In April, the Washington Post reported that District of Columbia Chief Medical Examiner Francisco J. Diaz found that Sicknick suffered two strokes nearly eight hours after being sprayed with a chemical irritant during the riot. Diaz told the Post that Sicknick died of natural causes, but “all that transpired played a role in his condition.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.
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Federal Bureau of Investigation. Email to FactCheck.org. 5 Mar 2021.
FindLaw Legal Dictionary. Accessed 8 Mar 2021.
Laila, Cristina. “Another Democrat-Media Narrative Goes Up in Flames: FBI Official Admits No Firearms Were Confiscated by Law Enforcement at Capitol Riot.” Gateway Pundit. 3 Mar 2021.
Metropolitan Police Department, District of Columbia. Christopher Alberts – Statement of Facts. 7 Jan 2021.
NPR. “The Capitol Siege: The Arrested and Their Stories.” Accessed 8 Mar 2021.
Rangappa, Asha. Senior lecturer, Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Yale University. Email to FactCheck.org. 8 Mar 2021.
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