Michael Biesecker, Michael Kunzelman, Gillian Flaccus and Jim Mustian led an effort to dig into the backgrounds of more than 120 people who were either arrested or emerged on social media after storming the U.S. Capitol, finding they were overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials and donors and far-right militants.
AP’s fast-breaking team effort to review social media posts, voter registrations, court files and other public records was the most comprehensive look yet at those involved in the riot, giving lie to claims by right-wing pundits that the violence was perpetrated by left-wing antifa activists rather than supporters of the president.
Washington investigative reporter Biesecker began the effort within minutes of the Jan. 6 uprising and was soon joined by a team that included reporter Kunzelman; Portland, Oregon, reporter Flaccus; and New York federal law enforcement reporter Mustian, as well as reporters Michael Sisak, Rebecca Boone, Jake Bleiberg and Heather Hollingsworth, all of whom have deep experience covering protests and law enforcement. Their detailed background work included calls, and in some cases even doorknocks, to nearly all whose names emerged from the Jan. 6 takeover.
The AP found that many of the rioters were adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory as well as claims by Trump that the vote had been stolen in a vast international conspiracy. Several had openly threatened violence against Democrats and Republicans they considered insufficiently loyal to the president.
The team’s story, accompanied by AP photos taken inside the Capitol, scored huge play and was featured prominently on major websites. It also ranked in the Top 5 on APNews for two straight days.