In the aftermath of American far-right extremists storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, video evidence surfaced online allegedly depicting a U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) officer posing for a "selfie" photograph with a member of the pro-Trump mob that vandalized and occupied the building.
The nine-second video clip spread rapidly online among supporters of the country's civil rights movement to hold police officers accountable for their use of force against civilians, particularly people of color and Native Americans, or to reimagine public safety with less focus on police.
Kayla Reed, a Black social justice activist, told The Washington Post:
"One hundred years ago, the sheriffs knew all the Klan members in their town and were often the Klan members in their town. Now we’re watching officers take selfies with domestic terrorists who are angry that Black voters have delivered the Democrats victory in the White House and in Congress."
In other words, critics of law enforcement saw the alleged selfie video (which we examine in detail below) as proof of USCP's allegedly lackadaisical or hypocritical approach to the mob that included neo-Confederates, when so many Black or Brown Americans risk injuries or death when interacting with police on a daily basis.
We should note at the outset: Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers pledged to investigate the police department's actions before and during the siege, as of this report.
Meanwhile, USCP Chief Steven Sund initially defended his officers' response, saying in statement obtained by Snopes that officers "responded valiantly when faced with thousands of individuals involved in a violent riotous actions" and were "heroic given the situation they faced." Several hours after that, however, The Associated Press reported the Sund announced his resignation after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked him to step down.
Based on our frame-by-frame analysis of the viral video, which we learned was a clip of a livestream by a known white nationalist who documented his crimes during the siege, the viral tweets' allegation was true: The video showed a USCP officer apparently pausing for a selfie with someone who broke into the Capitol.
We'll break down our evidence. At roughly the four-second mark, the video clip showed a man wearing a red stocking hat with a Philadelphia Phillies logo extend his arm with his phone in his hand to take a front-facing photograph. He was surrounded by other men wearing Trump hats and holding flags in an entrance to the Capitol.
While the man's exact motivation was unknown, as well as his individual allegiances or potential relationship to the officer, no evidence showed he was anyone other than a member of the far-right mob trying to halt a Congressional vote to affirm Joe Biden's presidency. Lawmakers and Capitol employees were hiding for their safety at the time of the lockdown, according to news reports.
Then, wearing a black facial covering, USCP badge, and bright yellow vest labeled "POLICE," the clip showed another man look directly at the cell phone camera and seemingly pause. The screen on the cell phone briefly blinked, indicating that a photograph was taken.
We have not been able to identify the man with a USCP badge who paused for the camera. But Getty Images' database included multiple photos of officers wearing the same outfit. Considering that evidence, and no proof to support the contrary, it was accurate to consider him a USCP officer.
The police agency did not respond to Snopes' request for an interview, which specifically included questions about the viral video and if, or to what extent, the officer faced disciplinary action. The news release from the police department (mentioned above) said just one employee was placed on administration leave, and that action was a result of the fatal police shooting of a 35-year-old woman, Ashli E. Babbitt.
We will update this report when or if we hear from a USCP representative.
On Jan. 11, however, Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio who oversees Capitol Police funding, said the officer who took the selfie was suspended from his duties, according to a Politico reporter. Another officer who wore Trump's "Make America Great Again" cap during the riot also faced suspension.
Snopes also reached out to Timothy Burke, a former videographer for The Daily Beast and Deadspin, who authored a tweet about the selfie moment that went viral.
He said he retrieved the video from a livestream by Tim Gionet (known as "Baked Alaska" and considered a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)) on DLive, a hub of online conspiracies and far-right ideologies. Gionet recorded the mayhem inside the Capitol, per numerous tweets and a report by Business Insider, and then later deleted the footage. A senior researcher at SPLC tweeted:
Burke sent Snopes a longer version of the video he captured from Gionet's livestream. It not only included the selfie moment but also showed (at about the 53-second mark and shown via the below screenshot) two USCP officers approaching a member of the far-right mob who was yelling, "We did our job! Let's go!" The officers exchanged a handshake and elbow bump with him.
After the selfie moment, the video recorded the following exchange between the officer and the video's narrator:
Narrator: 1776 — we'll commence again, brother.
Officer: I think we already have, my friend.
Narrator: It already has, that's right. [...]
Officer: You guys are obstructing justice. [...]
Later, a different member of the mob in the video described officers as "cool with us."
A longer video of the livestream that originally appeared in this article was removed from Streamable and no longer embeddable here. A shorter clip of the selfie moment can be watched here.