Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has been mocked and criticized by some Republicans and conservatives over a vivid story she told on Instagram Live on Monday about her experiences and emotions during the Capitol insurrection on January 6.
We fact-checked three of her critics’ attacks. One was false, one was missing essential context and one was misleading.
We also fact-checked two of the claims Ocasio-Cortez herself has made about the Capitol insurrection. One was unproven and one was false.
The 2018 photos of Ocasio-Cortez
Calling into question Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram remarks about fearing for her life during the insurrection, conservative commentator and activist Candace Owens tweeted Wednesday that people should “please never forget the time that @AOC staged a photo shoot dressed in all white at a parking lot to spread lies about immigrant children in cages.”
Facts First: Owens’ false claims were debunked in 2019, when they were made by others. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t stage a phony photo shoot. She was photographed, by photojournalists, as she participated in a 2018 protest on a road outside a tent city shelter in Texas that was used to detain migrant children, including some the Trump administration had separated from their parents. While the protesters – many of whom wore all white – were not permitted to walk right up to the tents at the Tornillo facility, it is inaccurate to say they were “at a parking lot.”
Ocasio-Cortez made the trip to Texas days before she became a national name by defeating a high-ranking incumbent congressman in a Democratic primary in New York. The photos of Ocasio-Cortez looking emotional during the protest did not go viral until a year later, when Texas photojournalist Ivan Pierre Aguirre tweeted some of his shots from his work that day.
“For (Owens) to say it was a staged photo shoot makes me upset because that questions me as a professional photojournalist. To this day I have never spoken to AOC. I didn’t talk to her that day or before the photos. I just saw a moment and started to make photos as I am wired to do,” Aguirre said in an email to CNN on Thursday.
Aguirre also emphasized that they were not standing beside a “parking lot.” Another photojournalist said the same to PolitiFact in 2019.
Owens is not the only conservative media figure to mock or challenge Ocasio-Cortez’s account of being scared for her life during the insurrection. Some of the critics have pointedly noted that Ocasio-Cortez was in her office in the Cannon House Office Building at the time, not in the Capitol itself.
Facts First: These claims from Ocasio-Cortez critics leave out key context. First, the Cannon building is connected to the Capitol via an underground walkway that is frequently used by legislators, aides, journalists and others; the Cannon building is considered part of the Capitol complex. Second, Ocasio-Cortez did not mislead about where she was during the insurrection; she explicitly explained on Instagram Live that her office is in a building near the Capitol.
Third, the Capitol Police instructed people to evacuate the Cannon building amid the Capitol attack. (The all-clear was announced less than an hour after the evacuation announcement.)
Fourth, a pipe bomb was found that day outside the office of the Republican National Committee, which is just down the street from the Cannon building. Google Maps puts the walking distance between the two buildings at 260 feet.
“As the Capitol complex was stormed and people were being killed, none of us knew in the moment what areas were compromised,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Thursday in response to criticism from Republican Rep. Nancy Mace.
What Ocasio-Cortez said
Mace, a South Carolina congresswoman, appeared to challenge Ocasio-Cortez’s claims about what happened at the Cannon building. “I’m two doors down from @aoc and no insurrectionists stormed our hallway…” Mace tweeted Thursday.
Mace then responded: “*FACT CHECK* I have not once discounted your fear. We were ALL terrified that day. I’m stating the fact that insurrectionists were never in our hallway… because they weren’t. I deal in facts. Unlike you, apparently.”
Facts First: Mace’s “FACT CHECK” is misleading. Ocasio-Cortez never said that insurrectionists were in their hallway. Rather, in Ocasio-Cortez’s telling of the story on Instagram, she said she had been scared that day by a man in her office she had thought was a rioter but turned out to be a Capitol Police officer. She said the officer had not initially identified himself as a member of law enforcement, had been shouting, “Where is she?” and had looked at her “with a tremendous amount of anger and hostility.”
Mace might have been confused because some journalists’ initial tweets about Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram story did not correctly convey what Ocasio-Cortez had said about the police officer she had thought was a rioter. But there is no basis to suggest Ocasio-Cortez claimed an actual rioter had been near her in the Cannon building. (Ocasio-Cortez’s accusations about the officer’s behavior have not been verified.)
While rejecting the accusation that she exaggerated the threat to her safety, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Wednesday, “The bombs Trump supporters planted surrounded our offices too.”
Facts First: The assertion that Trump supporters planted the bombs has not been proved. We don’t yet know the identity or motivation of the person the FBI believes placed pipe bombs outside the offices of the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee the night before the insurrection. The FBI is still seeking information on a suspect whose appearance was obscured by a face mask and hooded sweatshirt.
Trump supporters were responsible for the Capitol insurrection, so Ocasio-Cortez has an obvious basis for assuming that Trump supporters were also responsible for the bombs. But it is indeed an assumption at this point. (Ocasio-Cortez’s staff did not respond to our request for comment for this article.)
Ted Cruz’s role
Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted last week that he agreed with an Ocasio-Cortez tweet criticizing the Robinhood stock trading app company and floating the idea of a congressional committee hearing. Ocasio-Cortez responded, “I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out. Happy to work w/ almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed. In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign.”
Facts First: There is no evidence for the accusation that Cruz was “trying” to get Ocasio-Cortez killed. While Ocasio-Cortez can mount a reasonable argument that the Texas Republican’s actions had the effect of fueling the violent insurrection, that’s different than saying he actually tried to achieve the killing of any member of Congress. Cruz did not advocate violence against Ocasio-Cortez, much less call for her murder.
There is a distinction between Ocasio-Cortez’s two accusations in the tweet.
Her claim that Cruz “almost had me murdered” can perhaps be defended as a subjective argument about the impact of Cruz’s behavior, independent of his intentions. Ocasio-Cortez was not exaggerating when she suggested the violent mob posed a threat to her life; at least one member of the mob allegedly called for her to be assassinated. And it’s fair enough to argue, as Ocasio-Cortez spokeswoman Lauren Hitt did in an email to CNN on Thursday, that Cruz’s words “definitely encouraged” the mob. Cruz, citing “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud,” was a leader of the effort to challenge the certification of Joe Biden’s entirely legitimate victory.
But it’s still baseless to claim that Cruz was “trying” to get Ocasio-Cortez killed. There is just no evidence that he tried to cause physical harm to her.
“Sen. Cruz calling for a debate in the world’s greatest deliberative body is not attempted murder,” Cruz spokeswoman Maria Jeffrey Reynolds told CNN in a Thursday email.
Hitt said Ocasio-Cortez stands by her tweet as a reasonable comment. Hitt argued that since Cruz continued to make his incendiary false claims about the election “even after it was clear the mob had violent intentions” and did not try to step in to prevent the violence, he “bears direct responsibility for the murders and attempted murders carried out that day. To absolve him of intentionality is to suggest that he had no knowledge that this mob could be violent, which more than strains credulity.”
We say there’s a substantial difference between claiming that Cruz bears responsibility for the violence (again, subjective) and claiming he actually sought Ocasio-Cortez’s death (again, groundless).