In the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot in the U.S. Capitol, conspiracy theorists and supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump rushed to claim that the mob who forcibly entered Congressional offices and the chamber of the U.S. Senate had been infiltrated by “antifa,” anti-fascist agitators seeking to discredit the movement to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory.
Snopes has debunked several strands of that conspiracy theory, including false claims that facial recognition technology had been used to positively identify some individuals seen at the Capitol on Jan. 6 as known antifa instigators.
In particular, conspiracy theorists claimed that Jake Angeli, an Arizona resident who appeared in many photographs and videos of the riots, shirtless and wearing horns and furs, was in fact a “leftist” agent provocateur who had taken part in a Black Lives Matter march months earlier. Those claims were grossly misleading, as we have outlined, and Angeli is in fact a long-standing and enthusiastic supporter of Trump, and a proponent of the “QAnon” cluster of conspiracy theories.
A separate but related claim involved the Dutch-American journalist Michiel Vos, who is married to Alexandra Pelosi, a documentary filmmaker and daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. On social media, users shared what appeared to be a photograph of Vos standing next to Angeli. One tweet read:
“What do we have here? Viking guy [Angeli] photographed this morning with Voss [sic], married to Pelosi’s daughter Alexandria [sic].”
On Facebook, one user wrote:
“HEY AMERICA!! I wonder why Michiel VOS, Nancy Pelosi’s son in law was in front of the Capital Building taking SELFIES with ‘VIKING MAN’ fake Trump supporter Since they have nothing in common .. wink wink.”
On Parler, another conspiracy theorist shared the same photograph of Vos and Angeli, adding: “I’m sure this is all just a coincidence.”
The logic of this particular conspiracy theory was as follows: Angeli was photographed standing next to Vos; Vos is married to Alexandra Pelosi; her mother, Nancy Pelosi, is a critic of Trump; Vos’s standing next to Angeli meant they were mutually ideologically sympathetic; therefore, Angeli was in fact an instigator in the Capitol riot, intent on discrediting Trump’s supporters, rather than a Trump supporter and QAnon promoter himself.
This theory collapses when tested. Firstly, it’s true that Vos is married to Speaker Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra. That much is not in dispute. However, Vos is also a documentary filmmaker and journalist. On Jan. 6, 2021, he was a correspondent for the Dutch television network RTL 4, reporting from the Capitol riot. One of his dispatches, which included the photograph of Vos and Angeli, can be watched on RTL 4’s website. Here’s the photograph in its proper, original context:
So while conspiracy theorists presented only one possible explanation for Angeli’s standing next to Vos, another innocuous, more plausible, and vastly simpler one was available — Vos encountered Angeli, a striking figure amid any crowd of people, while doing his job and reporting from the riot. No deeper relationship or ideological sympathy was required in order to explain the photograph.
In light of the fact that the photograph originated in Vos’s own news report for RTL 4, and Angeli has a long track record of supporting Trump and promoting QAnon, the conspiracy theory makes even less sense.
Supporters of the theory are required to simultaneously assert as true the propositions that: Vos and Angeli were co-conspirators, along with the Speaker of the House and her daughter, in an elaborate, secret, months-long plot to cultivate Angeli’s public persona and then unleash him as an agent provocateur at the Jan. 6 riots; and that, for no explainable reason, Vos decided to voluntarily and unnecessarily make public his sinister connection with Angeli by submitting to RTL 4 a photograph of the two of them, for use as a background visual during one of his telephone dispatches.
Those are two mutually contradictory assertions, and reveal the extent to which the Vos/Angeli conspiracy theory was egregious nonsense.