The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ocasio-Cortez’s recounting of the Jan. 6 riot was not a ‘hoax’

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is the latest to falsely accuse Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) of exaggerating her experience of the Capitol attack. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)
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“I was in the chamber, unlike AOC — Representative Ocasio-Cortez — that faked her outrage with another hoax, just another hoax that gets shared everywhere.”

— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), during a news conference, Feb. 5, 2021

The House of Representatives ousted Greene from her committee posts on Thursday because of controversy surrounding her embrace of extremist ideology and her comments on social media that ranged from endorsing the assassinations of prominent Democrats to suggesting a Jewish-directed laser beam had sparked a deadly California wildfire.

She still seems to be following misleading accounts on social media. A day after the vote, Greene attacked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) for offering a “hoax” about her experience during the Capitol Hill riot.

There was no hoax. Ocasio-Cortez’s words have been twisted beyond recognition.

The Facts

On Feb. 1, Ocasio-Cortez had a 90-minute Instagram Live talk about her experience during the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, including disclosing that she once had been a victim of sexual assault. “I’m a survivor of sexual assault, and I haven’t told many people that in my life,” she said, by way of explaining why the experience was so frightening for her: “But when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other.”

Ocasio-Cortez recounted how she hid in a bathroom, convinced she was going to die, then encountered a Capitol Police officer who she thought was “looking at me with a tremendous amount of anger and hostility,” and finally sheltered with Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) in Porter’s office for hours.

Porter has confirmed Ocasio-Cortez’s fear during the ordeal. “We had no way to know if and when the people who had penetrated the Capitol were coming through the tunnels to get us,” Porter told CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time” on Feb. 4. “No way to know if the voices that we heard in the hallway were those of police officers or those of the mob.”

During her talk, Ocasio-Cortez made clear that she was not in the main Capitol building. “And so for you all to know, there’s the Capitol Hill complex,” she said. “But members of Congress, except for, you know, the speaker and other very, very high-ranking ones, don’t actually work in that building with the dome. There’s buildings like right next to the dome, and that’s where our actual offices are.”

She did not name the building, but her office is in the Cannon House Office Building, which is across the street from the Capitol.

At another point, Ocasio-Cortez referenced bombs that had been found near the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee. “You know, at this point we start getting intelligence that bombs have been found, one about like one block away from where we were, one or two blocks away from where we were,” she said. “And then a second one, like three blocks away from where we were.”

The RNC is about 260 feet from Cannon, almost across the street, while the DNC is about a third of a mile away. That’s further confirmation she was speaking about being in a House office building, not the Capitol itself.

Yet, starting with a report from the conservative website Red State, the narrative took hold that Ocasio-Cortez said she was in the Capitol. “AOC Wasn’t Even in the Capitol Building During Her ‘Near Death’ Experience,” headlined the Red State report, using a common shorthand for Ocasio-Cortez’s name. A right-wing commentator named Steven Crowder piled on with his own take, declaring “AOC Lied and I can prove it.”

And now Greene has added to the furor: “I was in the chamber, unlike AOC — Representative Ocasio-Cortez — that faked her outrage with another hoax, just another hoax that gets shared everywhere.”

(The Washington Post video team has closely studied who was on the House floor and in the gallery at the time and cannot find any images of Greene to confirm her claim. The number of members on the House floor at the time was limited because of House rules. A spokesperson for Greene did not respond to a request for comment.)

The Post obtained hours of video footage, some exclusively, and placed it within a digital 3-D model of the building. (Video: The Washington Post)

But as we have demonstrated, Ocasio-Cortez never said she was in the chamber. She clearly stated she was in one of the House buildings where most members have their offices.

Part of the problem is that some news organizations misreported what Ocasio-Cortez said during her Instagram talk. Newsweek, for instance, incorrectly wrote that Ocasio-Cortez said that “rioters entered her office, forcing her to take refuge in her bathroom.” Actually, she had said she was already in the bathroom when a Capitol Police officer banged on the door.

This led to another misunderstanding. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) on Feb. 2 tweeted out images of the Newsweek report and wrote: “AOC made clear she didn’t know who was at her door. Breathless attempts by media to fan fictitious news flames are dangerous. My office is 2 doors down. Insurrectionists never stormed our hallway. Egregious doesn’t even begin to cover it. Is there nothing [the mainstream media] won’t politicize?”

Two days later, Mace tweeted a Fox News report on her tweet, with a truncated version of the earlier tweet: “I’m two doors down from aoc and no insurrectionists stormed our hallway.” In response, Ocasio-Cortez fired back: “This is a deeply cynical & disgusting attack. … You previously told reporters yourself that you barricaded in your office, afraid you’d be hurt.”

In a later Twitter thread, Ocasio-Cortez even accused Mace of silencing rape survivors. Yet Mace herself was raped when she was 16. As a state legislator, Mace used that experience to convince lawmakers to include a rape and incest exception to a pending antiabortion bill.

Natalie Johnson, a spokeswoman for Mace, said Mace’s tweet had been misunderstood and she was not contradicting Ocasio-Cortez. “It was a critique of media twisting AOC’s account, not of AOC,” she told The Fact Checker.

The Pinocchio Test

No evidence has emerged that Ocasio-Cortez’s account of Jan. 6 was a hoax. During her Instagram Live event, she spoke in detail about where she was during the riot and whom she encountered. Ocasio-Cortez has many critics who leap at any possible misstep, but the problem was compounded when a tweet by a GOP member of Congress was perceived as confirming the right-wing critique. Instead, that lawmaker was faulting the media for misreporting Ocasio-Cortez’s story.

Greene earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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