WASHINGTON ― Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) over the weekend promoted false conspiracy theories about the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, after House Republicans released hours of raw footage from that day.
Lee said he couldn’t wait to ask FBI Director Chris Wray about an image of a man who was convicted of storming the Capitol and entering the office of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.). The image was shared by another Jan. 6 skeptic who suggested the man was an undercover federal agent posing as a supporter of Donald Trump.
“I predict that, as always, his answers will be 97% information-free,” Lee said of Wray in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Saturday.
But the image of the man was actually of Kevin Lyons, a Chicago man who was convicted of six federal charges relating to the insurrection, per NBC News’ Ryan Reilly. And Lyons wasn’t flashing a police badge, as the post had suggested, but rather a vaping device.
In another post, commenting on a video of Trump supporters attacking police, Lee asked: “How many of these guys are feds?”
There have always been Republicans who lied about what happened on Jan. 6, falsely claiming that the rioters were peaceful, that they were secretly leftists, or that they were undercover FBI agents. But Lee’s statements on social media were remarkable, given his efforts to depict himself as an intellectual defender of the U.S. Constitution and his apparent unwillingness to make any effort to check his facts.
Former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who helped lead the House committee that investigated the attack on the Capitol, said that a “nutball conspiracy theorist appears to be posting” from Lee’s account. In a follow-up, she reminded Lee that he voted in favor of certifying the election on Jan. 6.
“You’re a lawyer, Mike. You’re capable of understanding the scores of J6 verdicts & rulings in our federal courts,” Cheney wrote on social media. “You didn’t object to electors on J6 because you knew what Trump was doing was unconstitutional & you know what you’re doing now is wrong.”
Lee’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Even though he didn’t vote to throw out Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, Lee was initially supportive of the Trump White House’s efforts to contest the 2020 presidential results, helping push legally dubious schemes from John Eastman, a right-wing attorney who authored “coup memos” for Trump. Just a few days before the Jan. 6 riot, Lee shifted course and backed off.
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Friday ordered the House administration committee to begin publicly releasing thousands of hours of footage from security cameras inside the Capitol complex. The footage had previously been available for viewing only to reporters and criminal defendants, though its broader public dissemination had been requested by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and others.
In a statement on Friday, Johnson suggested that people who correctly understand the events of Jan. 6 ― that it was a riot by Trump supporters angry that he lost the 2020 election ― have been duped by a government-imposed “interpretation” of the day’s events. Releasing the footage, Johnson claimed, would reveal what actually happened.
Gaetz, who falsely claimed on Jan. 6, 2021, that some of the rioters “were members of the violent terrorist group ‘antifa,’” amplified social media posts over the weekend claiming that the entire riot had been a setup.
Court cases have revealed that paid FBI informants did tag along with certain groups of rioters at the Capitol, though defense attorneys have not alleged their clients attacked the Capitol because they’d been manipulated.
A former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office told lawmakers earlier this year that the FBI did not deploy undercover agents or confidential informants into the crowd at the Capitol, but that some informants came to Washington on their own.
Before Lee and others homed in on Lyons, Republicans’ top suspected “fed” was an Arizona man named Ray Epps, arbitrarily singled out from video footage for supposedly acting suspicious. Lawmakers like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) refused to withdraw their accusation even after Epps said under penalty of perjury that he had no affiliation with any federal agency, and even after he was charged with a crime this year for being on restricted Capitol grounds.
Last week, before Johnson released the video footage, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) invented a new conspiracy theory that the FBI had brought busloads of agents dressed as Trump supporters to Washington.
“I’ve turned a lot of this evidence over to the appropriate authorities, and we’ll see what happens,” Higgins told HuffPost. “When we get Trump back in the White House, these guys are in a bind.”
Wray, for his part, has repeatedly told Republicans that FBI agents and informants did not orchestrate the ransacking of the Capitol.
“If somebody is asking or suggesting whether the violence at the Capitol on January 6th was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources or FBI agents or both, the answer is emphatically not,” Wray said last week.
This story originally appeared on HuffPost