Woman holding flag attended peaceful demonstration in Kansas
Donald Trump Jr and others on social media are sharing a photo of an elderly, grinning woman with an American flag, exploiting her image to suggest that the crowd that broke into the US Capitol two years ago was tame and nonviolent. But the picture has been misrepresented; AFP confirmed the woman was not a participant in the chaos in Washington, but a protester more than 1,000 miles away at a peaceful rally that same day in the state of Kansas.
"January 6th wasn't an insurrection! RT & pass it on," Trump Jr, former president Donald Trump's eldest son, wrote in posts sharing the image to Twitter and Truth Social on January 6, 2023, the anniversary of the deadly attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
A similar post from conservative comedian Terrence Williams also racked up thousands of engagements on Facebook.
The visual shows a woman wearing casual clothing and smiling as she carries a phone, a small American flag and a drinking cup. It stands in contrast to photos and videos of the many Capitol rioters who breached the building with military fatigues, protective gear or weapons, in an effort to derail certification of Joe Biden's November 2020 election victory.
The protester depicted in Trump Jr's tweet was not among the mob that overwhelmed the Capitol.
Photo taken from Kansas State Capitol
The original photo appeared in a January 6, 2021 Facebook post shared by KSN TV, a local television affiliate based in Wichita, Kansas.
The same rally-goer is visible from a different angle in a photo captured by KSNT, a different television station in Topeka. She can also be seen speaking with a security officer at the one-minute, 27-second mark of a video aired by WIBW, another Topeka station.
One clue that the photo of the protester is from the Kansas Statehouse, rather than the US Capitol: the painting on the wall behind her matches "Arrival of the Railroad," one of the murals displayed in the statehouse's rotunda, according to the Kansas Historical Society.
"That does appear to be the first floor rotunda of the Kansas State Capitol," said Bobbie Athon, director of communications for the Kansas Historical Society, who provided AFP with other photos from inside the statehouse.
Social media users have been falsely tying the picture to the US Capitol attack since hours after the violence broke out -- so much so that the image came to be known on the internet as "Capitol Meemaw," according to the meme encyclopedia Know Your Meme.
"She became the subject of misinformation memes on Jan 6, 2021 and her image was widely used as alleged proof that there was no riot," said Joan Donovan, research director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, in a tweet.
BuzzFeed News first spoke to the woman pictured on the condition of anonymity days after the US Capitol attack, confirming she spent January 6, 2021 rallying at the Kansas State Capitol.
Who does the photo show?
Sean and April McCoy, who were identified in photos and local news reports as leaders at the Kansas State Capitol rally, told AFP the woman in the photo is named Jane Apter.
They said Apter is a member of a Topeka-based conservative activist group called "Kansas Patriots," for which Sean McCoy is president and April McCoy is vice president. The group -- which was previously known as the "Kansas Red Wave," according to reports -- does not have a website but runs a private Facebook group.
AFP received access to the Facebook group and confirmed Apter is a member. She is pictured in at least one post shared within the group.
"She was at our peaceful rally at the Capitol in Topeka, Kansas on January 6th," Sean McCoy said in a text message, adding that he acquired a permit for the event. "We have many people that saw her at the Topeka capitol on January 6th."
In addition to the Facebook profile listed in the "Kansas Patriots" private Facebook group, AFP found online videos, a book for sale and a public Instagram profile in Apter's name. April McCoy confirmed the Instagram account was Apter's.
AFP reached out to Apter through her social media profiles and an email address, but a response was not forthcoming.
However, when entered into PimEyes, a facial recognition search engine, photos from Apter's Facebook and Instagram pages were matched to the same photo from the Kansas Statehouse.
Apter's husband Charles Apter, from whom she is now separated, confirmed she is the person shown in the posts circulating online.
"The pictured person is in fact Jane Apter," Charles Apter told AFP in an email. "And, yes, she is in the Kansas State House and not at the US Capitol."
Approximately 140 police officers were assaulted during the US Capitol siege, and more than 950 people have been arrested in relation to the attack, their charges ranging from entering a restricted building to seditious conspiracy, according to the Justice Department.
Jane Apter is not listed among those charged.
AFP has debunked other misinformation about the insurrection here.