Nearly a month after supporters of President Donald Trump violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., recounted the experience from her perspective.
Days later, the second-term congresswoman pushed back against right-wing critics who said she exaggerated the danger she faced during the riot.
“AOC lied!” another headline said. “She Wasn’t Even in the Capitol Building During the Riot…Her Life Was Never in Danger: Report.”
Similar claims attacking Ocasio-Cortez cropped up in widespread posts on Facebook, where they were flagged as part of the company’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
On Twitter, hashtags likened Ocasio-Cortez to actor Jussie Smollett, who was indicted for false reports to police and accused of staging an attack against himself.
The criticism also reached cable news. “There were no rioters in (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s) hallway,” said Fox News host Tucker Carlson. “Trump voters weren’t trying to kill her.”
Ocasio-Cortez stood by her remarks and pushed back against the attacks online. As she went back and forth on Twitter with conservative activist and One America News Network correspondent Jack Posobiec, readers asked PolitiFact what was true and what wasn’t.
It’s true that Ocasio-Cortez was not in the main Capitol building where the House and Senate chambers are located as rioters broke in. She was in the Cannon building.
But she never claimed in her video to have been in the main Capitol building, and the Cannon building was one of two buildings in the broader Capitol complex that was forced to evacuate.
Ocasio-Cortez feared she “could die” as police knocked on her door
In her Instagram Live video, Ocasio-Cortez said she had just gotten off the phone with her chief of staff and was scrolling through lunch options at around 1 p.m. when she heard “huge, violent bangs on my door.” It was like “someone was trying to break the door down,” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez said she ran over to her legislative director, Geraldo “G” Bonilla-Chavez, who told her to “hide, hide, run and hide.”
As she hid in her office bathroom behind the door, Ocasio-Cortez said she heard a man’s voice yelling from inside her office. “I just hear, ‘Where is she? Where is she?’” Ocasio-Cortez told her Instagram Live viewers. “And this is the moment where I thought everything was over.”
“I mean, I thought I was going to die,” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez said the person calling for her was actually a Capitol Police officer who did not identify himself — a fact she did not know as she hid.
Ocasio-Cortez said the Capitol Police officer told her to go to another building. She said she could hear “all of these rioters behind the glass of the door” as she and Bonilla-Chavez sought a place to take shelter. She ended up hunkering down in the office of Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., who also detailed the experience on Feb. 1 during an interview with MSNBC.
“I fully expected that by this point, the building had been breached and there were people walking the hallways,” she said.
Some websites attacking Ocasio-Cortez cited comments from Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C. Mace tweeted Feb. 2 that the rioters never made it to the hallway she shares with Ocasio-Cortez.
Mace was addressing a story from Newsweek, which erroneously reported that Ocasio-Cortez said rioters had entered her office. In her Instagram Live video, Ocasio-Cortez said that she was scared by the banging on her door because she did not know it was an officer.
The Cannon building was one of two buildings evacuated by Capitol Police as pro-Trump rioters outside moved toward to Capitol, which they broke into just after 2 p.m. It is a part of the larger Capitol complex, which is connected by underground tunnels accessible to lawmakers.
Several lawmakers, including Mace, tweeted about the evacuation in real time. “Just evacuated my office due to a nearby threat,” Mace wrote in her Jan. 6 tweet posted at 1:45 p.m. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., said that the evacuation was due to “a pipe bomb reported outside.”
The Capitol Police did not respond to PolitiFact’s inquiry about the evacuation. An FBI agent’s affidavit in support of an arrest warrant for one man charged in the riot said that the evacuation was “in part because of a suspicious package found nearby.”
Pipe bombs were discovered Jan. 6 near the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee headquarters. Both locations are within blocks of the Cannon building.
“They are manipulating the fact that most people don’t know the layout (of) the Capitol complex,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet. “We were all on the Capitol complex — the attack wasn’t just on the dome. The bombs Trump supporters planted surrounded our offices too.”
A spokesperson for the congresswoman declined to comment further.
The criticism of Ocasio-Cortez also minimized the threat posed to lawmakers and police by the mob at the Capitol, as Snopes reported. Videos and photos show rioters fighting with police, carrying zip-tie handcuffs and weapons, and chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”
“Assassinate AOC,” one man facing charges tweeted hours after storming the building.
Four people died during the Jan. 6 riot. A fifth, Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, died the next day from injuries he sustained. The Capitol Police officers’ union said 140 officers were injured.
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Tampa Bay Times U.S. Capitol coverage
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