Republican Tina Forte is running in 2022 to claim the New York seat in Congress currently held by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ocasio-Cortez, better known as AOC, is a Democrat. During a recent investigation into QAnon activity on Facebook, our research led us to social media accounts managed by Forte, which included heavy promotion of the deadly Jan. 6 "Save America" rally, the event that resulted in the Capitol riot that left law enforcement officers bloodied. Five people died just before, during, or after the riot, and dozens were injured.
We found Forte repeatedly used hashtags related to QAnon conspiracy theories. The QAnon mentions even included cries of "Save the Children,” referring to the debunked conspiracy theory that makes claims of mass pedophilia and "Satanic blood-drinking" by Democrats. She took multiple photographs in October, November, and December 2020 with far-right Proud Boys leader Henry "Enrique" Tarrio. Further, we uncovered evidence that Forte pushed false election conspiracy theories, including the phrase "Stop the Steal.”
Forte's accounts that pushed potentially dangerous content were still active months later on Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), Twitter, and YouTube. Even more striking was the fact that Forte herself attended the Capitol riot, where she livestreamed on Facebook. She took selfies with a number of attendees who considered her a "superstar." In a live video, she urged people at then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s rally on the Ellipse to make their way to the Capitol. We even found that she entered a restricted area after the crowd knocked down barriers that law enforcement installed. All of her posts promoting the date in the weeks before Jan. 6 appeared to reach at least tens of thousands of people, but likely many more.
Her live videos from the Capitol riot were still available on Facebook more than seven months after the deadly insurrection. Forte also used Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's platform to promote T-shirts, hoodies, and other "patriot gear” merchandise.
We reached out to Forte for comment on her actions and received a statement after this story was published. We also contacted the social media platforms. All statements and answers appear lower in this story.
Jan. 6 Capitol Riot
"How are you doing everybody? I'm in front of the Capitol right now."
In a livestreamed video, Forte stood in front of a massive poster of artwork that she brought with her. The art depicted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It was created by Scott LoBaido and purportedly measured 40 feet by 30 feet. Forte and others laid it out on the ground. The poster altered Pelosi's appearance, giving her fangs and a somewhat menacing appearance. "Hey just let us know when we can walk across this c - - -," one man off-camera said. Earlier that morning, Forte had unfurled it at the Lincoln Memorial, according to a Twitter video that received 5,350 retweets, 851 quote tweets, and 12,700 likes. Newsmax correspondent Mike Carter also recorded a video of Forte early in the day at the same place. He then appeared to show her the tweet while she was livestreaming.
After Forte left the Lincoln Memorial, she made her way toward the Capitol. When she arrived in front of the building, she said in a Facebook Live video: "Get your asses to the Capitol." She was speaking to viewers who were watching from the Ellipse, where Trump was speaking. "We need to fight for our freedom, fight for our country, fight for our president, fight for our Constitution." After this moment, one of several people who wanted a picture with Forte asked her: "Quick pic?" He then called her a "superstar."
"So we're out here in front of the Capitol right now, waiting for everybody who's at the rally at the Ellipse to head over," she said. After another person asked for a selfie with her, Forte told her viewers: "People need to leave the Ellipse and get to the Capitol. So if anybody who has service over there and is watching this, get your ass to the Capitol."
Yet again, a third fan recognized Forte from social media and seemed happy to see her. She then told viewers of her livestream: "Do not comply.” A man on a bullhorn then asked that vulgar language be toned down because of the presence of "young children.” Forte responded: "Please, if you’re sensitive, go home." She then added: "If I want to fucking curse, I’ll fucking curse.” Before the video ended, she claimed to be wearing a bulletproof vest.
Despite initially unfurling the Pelosi poster in a public space, Forte and others carried the artwork into a restricted area on the lawn in front of the Capitol. To reach the lawn, the crowd knocked down fencing that read: "AREA CLOSED. By order of the United States Capitol Police Board." The video was reposted by the Twitter user @DianthaSol.
The original upload of the video by Forte received at least 46,000 views. It was tweeted at 1:58 p.m. EDT in D.C., just eight minutes after the event was officially declared a riot. It has since been either deleted by her or removed by Twitter.
In the clip, she agrees with the idea of the rioters "storming the Capitol." Forte also referred to artist Scott LoBaido's flag, saying, "we came with Scott's flag and shit happened," which might have been Forte's way of crediting the massive flag of Pelosi with helping, in part, in the effort to incite the mob.
Seven minutes before the scene was officially declared a riot by the Washington, D.C., police department, Forte tweeted a link to her Cameo account, an apparent effort to earn money based on what was unfolding at the Capitol.
Further, on the afternoon of Jan. 6, Forte said in a new Twitter video: "We spoke today, and we spoke loud and proud, and we're not violent." However, as of Aug. 24, The Associated Press reported that "nearly 600 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riots in the six months since the siege," and that "dozens have been charged with assaulting police officers who were trying to protect the Capitol." The Washington Post reported that 140 law enforcement officers were injured in the Capitol riot. Further, CNBC published that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died the day after the riot, and four other officers also later died by suicide.
In another video also tweeted late in the day on Jan. 6, Forte wrote in the caption: "We the warriors have come out to play ... now what?"
On Jan. 7, a quote tweet from Forte appeared to show she had been emboldened by the violent riot, an event that perhaps forever scarred the lives of so many law enforcement officers who defended the building from the conspiracy theory-fueled mob.
Promoting Jan. 6 on Facebook
As of August 2021, Forte’s personal Facebook profile had more than 56,600 followers. She also posted to pages named The Real Tina 40, which had nearly 37,000 followers, as well as a page created months later: Real Tina for Congress.
Even more noteworthy than Forte's attendance at the Capitol riot was the fact that her social media posts promoting Jan. 6 beforehand were perhaps displayed to hundreds of thousands of users.
On Dec. 27, 2020, she reposted a video that promoted the Jan. 6 "Save America” rally, the same rally that took place before the riot at the Capitol. Her post was shared 2,800 times, meaning that at least tens of thousands of Facebook users likely saw that single post. "Get ready because we are coming," Forte said. "I'll be there!!," one man said in the comments. "I'll see you there ... message me when you're on your way Jan. 6," another person commented.
Forte’s repost of the video was shared several times in the Facebook group named Trump/Pence 2020 Reelection Group, a group that appeared to have three accounts under a similar name: Marc Minori, Mark Todd Minor, and Mark T. Minor. The three accounts appeared to exist as backups in case Facebook were to remove one or more of the accounts. We also uncovered examples of the Facebook group being used as a place to organize and promote attendance leading up to Jan. 6. It did not appear that Forte herself had any involvement in managing that Facebook group.
On Jan. 2, Forte shared to her followers a schedule showing when they could board a bus from various cities for Jan. 6. In another post, a video posted by Forte featured a "January 6th" caption with a scene from the end of the Mel Gibson film "The Patriot.” In the scene, Americans charge the British to gain victory. On Jan. 6, rather than the British, Americans violently brutalized their own law enforcement officers. A second post and tweet was also made by Forte the same day, where she wrote: "Trump will be speaking directly to us on 1/6. He will be giving directions of where and when to be leading up to the events. His directions will be the only ones to follow, if you want to win.”
On Jan. 3, she posted a meme that said: "Stand by. Shit is about to get real." On the same day, she shared a digital artwork creation showing the calm before "the storm" that was to come on Jan. 6. "My friends and I are heading over from Texas," one commenter posted.
On Jan. 5, she uploaded a meme that said: "It’s time.” That night, a man identified as Will Johnson spoke at a dinner Forte attended, just hours before the Capitol riot began. In the video, which was hosted by Facebook and remained available months later, Johnson said: "I would rather die a free man for this country and every single person in this country and God almighty. Be safe, and get ready for a fight."
Forte’s posts that promoted Jan. 6 did not simply receive a few likes. Nearly all received extensive engagement. The posts often had hundreds or thousands of likes, comments, and shares in total. In one of the posts prior to Jan. 6, she shared one of her appearances on Newsmax. In fact, Newsmax also spoke with Forte over the phone on the day of the Capitol riot. Slate.com reported on the interview, quoting Forte saying the words "we are in our house."
At one point, [Rob] Schmitt did a phone interview with an “influencer” named Tina Forte, on the scene on Capitol Hill, who in a thick New York/New Jersey accent announced that “this is our house, and we have the right to be here. … We are in our house, OK? And we have a right to be heard.” You could almost hear the rage spittle in her voice.
Despite her having said "We are in our house," there was no direct evidence in Forte's posts placing her inside the Capitol building. We asked her if she entered the building. She answered, in a full statement provided after this article was first published, as follows: “I absolutely did NOT enter the Capitol building. In fact, myself and my group were there well before 12:30pm and we were basically the only ones in front of the Reflection Pool with our flag. We stood there for about one hour and then saw masses coming toward the building. Before that there was a group of about 100 people who passed us but continued on which wound up being the front of The Capitol, as we later found out. We immediately left and walked back to our hotel. All of this documented and pinned because we were looking for a friend who was doing a news show I was supposed to be a guest on.”
On Twitter, Forte tweeted multiple times to promote the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Five of the tweets were retweeted and liked more than 40,000 times. One of the tweets from Dec. 29 read: "I do not trust Republicans to do the right thing on January 6th but We The People have your back @realDonaldTrump and we will be there ! #FightForTrump.” Two days later, she tweeted: "If the Constitution is not upheld on January 6th ......we are no longer the United States of America.” That tweet alone was retweeted more than 3,000 times and received well over 17,000 likes.
On Jan. 2, she posted a Twitter video where she said of Trump and Jan. 6: "If you want to win this, follow the president's lead." Another video promoting the rally was also shared and viewed thousands of times, as was this clip on Jan. 4 that documented her travels to Washington, D.C.
It appears that Forte’s original Instagram account (@realtina40) may have been removed. On Jan. 23, Forte posted to a brand new Instagram account: "I will not be silenced." According to one of her Facebook posts, Instagram removed her original account when she had around 80,000 followers.
As for Forte’s YouTube channel, the most recent video was uploaded on Nov. 30, 2020. It’s possible that several videos related to the Capitol riot were removed, or that she received a suspension of some sort. However, we were unable to find any data to confirm this.
'Stop the Steal'
In a video on Twitter, Forte tweeted "NYC STOP THE STEAL" and claimed falsely "they stole the election."
On YouTube, she posted a video titled "This was stolen." In another clip on YouTube, Forte said, without evidence, that "they're trying to steal the election." We also found evidence of "Stop the Steal" on her merchandise website.
Posts with misleading information about the election, first ignited by Trump, were taken to heart and led, in part, to the events that unfolded at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
On Facebook, Forte twice posted the same photograph of her wearing a "WWG1WGA” hat. The acronym stands for "Where We Go One, We Go All.” It’s one of the slogans associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Facebook had previously announced, on Oct. 6, 2020, that it would "remove any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content." The company's policy updates are available on the Facebook Newsroom website.
Two days after this policy update, Forte appeared in a video with Proud Boys leader Henry "Enrique" Tarrio. The Proud Boys are described by The Associated Press as a "far right fascist group." In August 2021, Axios reported that Tarrio was sentenced to five months in jail for burning a Black Lives Matter flag in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12, 2020. Forte appeared in a photograph with Tarrio on the very same day.
Quite a few of Forte's posts shortened "#WWG1WGA" to just "#WW1WGA," which may have been a purposeful attempt to evade detection by Facebook. We also found posts mentioning "#redpill" and "awakening," which also appear to be references to QAnon.
A video posted across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and perhaps also Instagram, included the words "save the children," which refer to the conspiracy theory about pedophilia and the drinking of children's blood. She claimed that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram wanted to "censor the truth about what's going on with the child trafficking."
We contacted media relations representatives for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google, with questions about this content in relation to their policies. We also asked Instagram about her previous account.
In our correspondence with Facebook, we asked if the company had a statement it would like to give on the platform being used to both heavily promote Jan. 6 and as a place where content was livestreamed by Forte the same day. We asked about the Facebook group that had duplicate accounts by similar names. We inquired about Forte's old Instagram account, as well as the policies of creating a new account when an older one broke the rules. Lastly, we asked if Facebook gives any exemptions or special treatment to users if they are running for Congress, or if the rules apply evenly to all users.
In response, Facebook provided this statement: "We have removed several posts for violating our Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policies. Our teams are continuing to investigate the content, Pages, and accounts and will remove any further content that violates our policies."
A Facebook spokesperson told us after we sent over our questions and data that several posts were removed for the promotion of "Stop the Steal," as was a photo of her praising the Proud Boys leader. The platform appeared to take action on the duplicate accounts of the same name administering the Trump group. They told us that all users, even if they are politicians or are running for office, are subject to the company's Community Standards.
Hours after this story was published, Forte's Instagram account, @officialrealtina40, was no longer available. It appeared to have been removed by the platform. Forte had advertised in her bio that her previous account had also been removed.
We also received a response from Twitter. A company spokesperson said: "The account you referenced is not currently in violation of the Twitter Rules." They also included a link to a summary of how they handled Jan. 6 content. As for the fact that Forte is running for Congress, they told us that they are still evaluating their world leader policy. However, they said there are no exemptions or special treatments in place for candidates to political office.
We did not receive a response from YouTube.
After uncovering the data in this report, we reached out to Forte at the email address listed on her campaign website and social media pages. We asked her if she went into the Capitol building on Jan. 6 and if she is a QAnon believer. We also asked if she believes her social media activity may have contributed in any way to the events that unfolded on Jan. 6. Finally, we asked her about her thoughts on the Capitol riot, now that several months have passed.
After this story was published, Forte’s team reached out to us with a full statement from the candidate herself. A PDF is available or it can be found below:
No, I was not a part of the Capitol Riot on January 6th. I was there for a flag drop of Nancy Pelosi for artist Scott Lobaido. That was planned for 2 weeks prior to January 6th. We had a plan of unveiling first at the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and ending at the Capitol. I didn’t even go to Trump’s speech, which I was invited to.
I absolutely did NOT enter the Capitol building. In fact, myself and my group were there well before 12:30pm and we were basically the only ones in front of the Reflection Pool with our flag. We stood there for about one hour and then saw masses coming toward the building. Before that there was a group of about 100 people who passed us but continued on which wound up being the front of The Capitol, as we later found out. We immediately left and walked back to our hotel. All of this documented and pinned because we were looking for a friend who was doing a news show I was supposed to be a guest on.
I have said it again and again, what happened at the Capitol is disgusting. I do not condone violence or destruction on either side. I am not nor will I ever be a part of that. As far as Stop The Steal, do I believe there was voter fraud? Absolutely. That’s my opinion. There is fraud in every election.
QAnon is a group of right-wing conspiracy theorists. I do not associate with them and I never will. I am a Republican who is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I believe that everyone can have an opinion and I never condone violence on either side. I was sent a hat once by a fan and wore it to post a photo. I had zero clue the phrase was a QAnon phrase because I don’t follow that ridiculousness.
As for alleged photos with certain individuals, I have fans and supporters all over the world from social media, flag drops and rallies. I get asked for photos routinely and do not have taxpayer funded private security like AOC to screen everyone who wants to greet or get a photo with me. These are in no way an endorsement or condemnation of any group or individual.
Recently, Forte made an appearance at a school board meeting where she interrupted the proceedings to rant about not wanting children to wear masks for protection against the COVID-19 virus. Her objections were lodged at the same time that children's hospitals in several states were overwhelmed with sick kids who had been infected during the global pandemic. Children under the age of 12 were not yet eligible for the vaccine.
According to The Associated Press, on Feb. 2, AOC "opened up about the Capitol attack and her past sexual assault in an Instagram Live video." Despite the alarming and tragic nature of the events of Jan. 6, this led to claims from internet commenters and right-wing bloggers who said she exaggerated the danger she was in during the riot. However, as we previously reported, these claims by the right-wing voices were highly misleading.
We reached out to Ocasio-Cortez to seek her comment about Forte's posts that we uncovered. However, we did not receive a response. This story will be updated should we receive any additional information.