Neither Liar nor Martyr: AOC and the Capitol Breach

A Narrative Analysis

On February 1st, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez hosted an Instagram live-stream where she discussed her experience during the Capitol breach of January 6th. This morning the hashtag #AOClied began trending on Twitter.

In the live-stream, she recounts her experience hiding behind a door in her office bathroom thinking she was going to die, while someone banged on her door and searched for her, yelling “Where is she!” 

To the right, it appears the Congresswoman lied about this experience, as she wasn’t in the Capitol building that was breached, and the intruder in her office was not an attacker, but a police officer attempting to assist her. She was evacuated from the Cannon House Office Building to the Longworth House Office Building, but has given the impression that she was in the middle of the breach and in immediate danger.

To the left, the right is intentionally misconstruing her account. She doesn’t say a rioter breached her office, only that she was scared by an officer that failed to identify himself. In addition, rioters were not only focused on the Capitol building but were all over the Capitol complex, which includes her office building and the building she evacuated to. In fact, it is a lie to suggest she wasn’t in any danger when there were bombs planted mere blocks from her building.

Others on the left, however, believed that the Congresswoman’s office actually had been breached by rioters.

In the above clip, the Congresswoman recounts hiding in her office bathroom from what she believed to be an attacker. In the full video of the stream, this clip ends at 47:38. At 49:38, exactly two minutes after this clip ends, she tells her viewers that the person was a Capitol police officer. 

The Congresswoman was candidly telling the story from the perspective she had at the time, which, as far as we can know, included the genuine belief that her office had been breached by a violent rioter.

However, the decision to tell the story this way—only revealing that the intruder was a police officer two minutes later—left viewers on both the left and right with the immediate impression that she had been close to being attacked or killed.

Here’s part of the transcript*

*with filler words removed

And I go back to scrolling through lunch options for what we're gonna order, when all the sudden I hear "Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!" on my door. And then I hear these huge violent bangs on my door and then every door going into my office. Just "Bang! Bang!" [phone falls down] Shoot, see look I'm banging it over again [laughs]. "Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!" like someone was trying to break the door down. And there were, there was no voices, there were no yells, no one saying who they were, nobody identifying themselves, and just "Boom! Boom! Boom!" And I just get up like this and I run over to the legislative office, and I run over to Gee [the legislative assistant]. And Gee just looks at me back, and he just goes "Hide! Hide! Run and Hide!" And so I, I run back into my office, I slam my door, there's another kind of like back area to my office, and I, I open it and there's a closet and a bathroom, and I jump into my bathroom and I close the door, and I just keep hearing these "Bang! Bang! Bang!" and I jump into my bathroom and I close the door and then I realize that I, the bathroom was the wrong choice, I, I should've jumped into the closet and so I start opening the the, the, I start opening the door to the bathroom so that I can—oh sorry you guys can't hear me [adjusts phone].

So I start, I hear these "bang bang bangs" and I start opening the door to my office and I start opening the door to my bathroom and I'm gonna run across to the closet—sorry you guys said I was a little bit muffled so let me repeat this part a little bit over again. Sorry this is a little bit hard to hear guys I'm trying to like, as you know my phone keeps falling.

And so basically I go into the back and there's a bathroom and then there's a closet, and I jump into the bathroom and I immediately realize that I shouldn't have gone into the bathroom I should've jump in the closet, and so I, I open the door when all of the sudden I hear that whoever was trying to get inside got into my office. And then I realized that it's too late, that it's too late for me to get into the closet, and so, I tried to kind of, I go back in and I, I hide back in, in the bathroom behind the door and then i just start to hear these yells of "Where is she?! Where is she?!" And I just thought to myself, "They got inside." And so I hide behind my door [stands up against the wall] like this. Like I'm here, and the bathroom starts going like this [gestures to her front] like the bathroom door's behind me or rather in front of me and I'm like this, and the door hinge is right here [sits back down]. And I just hear "Where is she?! Where is she?!" And this was the moment where I thought everything was over.

And the weird thing about moments like these is that you lose all sense of time. In retrospect, maybe it was 4 seconds. Maybe it was 5 seconds, maybe it was 10 seconds, maybe it was 1 second, I don't know. It felt like my brain was able to have so many thoughts in that moment between these screams and these yells of "where is she, where is she" and so I go down and I just. I mean I thought I was going to die. And I had a lot of thoughts. You have a lot of thoughts [laughs] I think when you're in a situation like that, and also one of those thoughts that I had was—I just happen to be a spiritual person and be raised in that context and I really just felt like if this is the plan for me, then people will be able to take it from hear. I had a lot of thoughts, but that was the thought that I had about you all. I felt that [voice wavers] if this was the journey that my life was taking, that I felt that things were going to be ok. And that I had fulfilled my purpose.

So far, this account sounds like a violent attacker is hunting the Congresswoman, and that she was within inches of her life. However, she continues:

Anyways, sorry you guys [wipes both eyes]. So anyways, as I'm hiding in this bathroom. I'm hiding in this bathroom, hearing these yells of these men, or just this a man. Just one man going "where is she, where is she," I start to look through the door hinge to see if I can see anything, and there's like a door here and like another door here so I'm like, I'm like trying to look through like two door hinges and so I look through this door hinge and I see this white man in a black beanie bump just open the door of personal office and come inside the personal office and yell again "Where is she?!"

And. I have never been quieter in my entire life. I was just, I don't even know if I held my breath but I was just, here, behind there [gestures door hinge] and I just start sliding down. And then all of a sudden my staffer Gee yelled out, and he, he's like, "Hey hey hey hey it's ok, come out! Come out!" So, I'm like, I don't know so deeply rattled, I'm still processing the end of my life when I come out, and I come out, and this man is a Capitol police officer.

The second part of this account clarifies that the Congresswoman was incorrect in thinking it was an intruder. However, it is not the part of the story that people have focused on. This is because “I incorrectly thought I was in danger” is a much less compelling story than “I was moments from being murdered.”

Bloodier stories are better stories.

That a mob of face-painted, pelt-wearing, bomb-planting terrorists stormed the Capitol building and hunted politicians through the halls of Congress is a fantastic story. It’s so compelling that even in the face of any contrary or nuanced information, many will still be inclined to believe it in its reduced and astounding form. 

And to the left, that people on the right deny that it happened makes for an even more believable story. The right denied the reality of the election, and so of course those Fox-news cultists will believe any misinformation about Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, even when faced with obvious facts.

And on the right, this is such a far-fetched fiction that only someone on the left could believe it. Just as the left believed that Russia had hacked voting machines and that President Trump was compromised by the Kremlin, this is the kind of absurd fantasy that only a leftist could believe. 

Indeed, both sides are so convinced that their contra-partisans are brainwashed deceptors that it’s easier to believe one’s opposition is lying than consider that there may be some nuance to the issue or something lost in transmission. 

And in this case, it looks like it’s both. While the Congresswoman did clarify that the intruder was an officer, the way she told the story gave an incorrect impression to people on both the right and the left regardless of her intention. 

So I suppose we’re all wrong on this one. 

Nevertheless, the ensuing fight between politicians on Twitter has been particularly vitriolic, and so I’m afraid this misunderstanding-turned-fistfight may be unsalvageable. But I hope not.

That’s all for now.

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