Fact check: Progressive Super PAC falsely claims Marco Rubio refuses to condemn Capitol attack
Posted February 2, 2021 2:42 p.m. EST
CNN — A progressive Super PAC, MeidasTouch, is running an online video that claims Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has refused to condemn the insurrection at the US Capitol.
"Why won't Marco Rubio condemn the terrorist attack on the US Capitol? Because he is a co-conspirator," the video begins.
The video goes on to say that Rubio applauded the convoy of Donald Trump supporters that was filmed surrounding a Joe Biden campaign bus on an interstate highway in Texas in October. (The FBI is investigating the highway incident.) The video suggests that Rubio's November comments in support of the harassment of the bus make him "responsible" for the death and violence at the Capitol, more than two months later, since the Capitol insurrectionists "heard the message, loud and clear."
By Tuesday morning, the video had been viewed 1.1 million times on Twitter since it was posted last Thursday. But it is inaccurate.
Facts First: It's not true that Rubio refuses to condemn the January attack on the Capitol. He has repeatedly denounced the insurrection, saying it was "inexcusable," "disgusting," "unpatriotic," and "anti-American anarchy." And while the video is reasonable in claiming Rubio endorsed the Trump supporters' hassling of the Biden campaign bus in Texas, there is no hard evidence as of Tuesday for the video's insinuation that Rubio's comments motivated the actions of insurrection participants.
Rubio's comments about the bus incident
The video's description of Rubio's comments about the bus incident is fair enough. Though Rubio spokesman Nick Iacovella argued Monday that it's clear in context that Rubio was applauding pro-Trump convoys and boat parades in general, not applauding harassment of campaign buses -- Rubio opposes "any violence" or "any aggressive tactic" on behalf of any candidate, Iacovella said -- we don't think Rubio actually made that clear at the time. He said:
"I saw yesterday a video of these people in Texas. Did you see it? All the cars on the road with the -- we love what they did. But here's the thing they don't know: we do that in Florida every day. I love seeing the boat parades; you've seen the boat parades. We thank all the great patriots in those boat parades on behalf of the President. But we want them to know: we've been doing them for four years!"
The question of responsibility for the Capitol insurrection is complex; we can't definitively say whether Rubio's words had some role or not. But it's important to note that the FBI had not alleged in court documents as of Tuesday that this Rubio comment or any other Rubio comment was a motivating factor for any of the insurrectionists it had charged so far. And it's also worth noting that Trump, whose words allegedly did inspire the acts of some of the people in the mob, himself defended the Texas convoy in tweets to a giant audience.
Meiselas told CNN in his email that there is an "indisputable direct line" between Rubio's words about the bus incident and "the conditions that led to the attack" on the Capitol. This claim, about Rubio contributing to harmful political "conditions," is a more nuanced and defensible claim than the suggestion in the video that insurrectionists heard and acted on Rubio's words.
Rubio's comments about the insurrection
MeidasTouch was founded last year by brothers Brett Meiselas, Ben Meiselas and Jordan Meiselas. A slogan featured on the Super PAC's Twitter account and website is "Because truth is golden."
But Brett Meiselas defended the ad, including its inaccurate opening claim.
He argued in an email to CNN on Monday that Rubio has offered merely "performative" concern about the Capitol attack rather than a "true" condemnation. He said Rubio has demonstrated a lack of seriousness about the attack by opposing the impeachment of Trump, by turning from criticism of the attack to criticism of Democrats, and by drawing a false equivalence between the Capitol insurrection and summer racial justice protests (which were largely peaceful but involved some rioting).
The video itself, however, doesn't offer this kind of nuanced criticism of the strength of Rubio's responses to the attack. Rather, the video starts by asking why Rubio won't condemn the insurrection at all.
And that's just wrong. Rubio has issued condemnation after condemnation.
While the insurrection was ongoing on January 6, Rubio tweeted, "There is nothing patriotic about what is occurring on Capitol Hill. This is 3rd world style anti-American anarchy."
That night on Fox News, Rubio said to host Tucker Carlson that the insurrection was "completely, a hundred percent inexcusable" no matter what the participants' motivations.
In another Fox News interview, with Maria Bartiromo on January 10, Rubio said of the insurrection: "It's disgusting. It's unpatriotic. It runs counter to everything we stand for." He said the participants were a "rogues' gallery," specifically calling out white supremacists, adherents of the QAnon conspiracy movement, and Proud Boys.
In a Tampa Bay Times guest column for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Rubio wrote, "The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. carries special meaning today as our nation wrestles with the unthinkable acts carried about by a violent, conspiratorial mob opposed to foundational elements of our democracy."
Rubio's other criticism
Rubio certainly left himself open to criticism for not speaking out more forcefully or frequently to reject Trump's lies about the election. While he did not join some of his Senate colleagues in objecting to Biden's electoral votes or join Trump in making baseless claims about mass fraud, he also offered a sympathetic, Democrat-bashing explanation for why some Americans believe these claims.
On January 8, Rubio posted a video statement on Twitter that mixed criticism of the insurrection with criticism of others. He began: "The events that we saw this week should sicken every single one of us. Mob violence of the kind that you see in Third World countries happened not just in America, but in your Capitol building. I don't care what hat they wear, I don't care what banner they're carrying -- riots should be rejected by everyone, every single time."
He then switched gears.
He criticized "the left," which he argued was hypocritical for condemning the insurrection after "justifying" rioting during the summer. He argued that many Americans are convinced the election was unfair because of pro-Democratic bias among media outlets, social media companies and the state officials in charge of election laws. He claimed that, of the people who came to Washington, DC, to protest the election, "99%" had "nothing to do with that mob" at the Capitol.
This is all questionable at best -- and Rubio declined to explain in the video that the election was, in fact, entirely legitimate. Still, though, he indisputably condemned the insurrection the MeidasTouch video claims he did not condemn.