GOP Attacks on AOC Are Cheap. But Whether She's Telling the Truth Matters | Opinion

Of all Democratic politicians, none has been as consistently dismissed by Republicans as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 31-year-old New York darling of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Since her surprise upset election in 2018, the Congresswoman has consistently come in for the harshest criticism from the right, and Wednesday night was the latest installment. In response to an emotional Instagram video on Monday night, in which AOC gave a chilling account of what happened to her during the Capitol riot in early January, the hashtag #AOClied began trending on Twitter, along with #AlexandriaOcasioSmollett, a nod to Jussie Smollett, the disgraced actor who perpetrated a hate crime hoax. In tweets that racked up thousands of likes and shares, critics from the right alleged that the Congresswoman had lied about the events of January 6, claiming she was in danger when she was actually far removed from the scene of the riot.

This aggressive commentary is both ignorant and cynical. Her story revolves around her time spent in her personal office, the location of which is a matter of public record. That she was scared for her life is a subjective claim and one she should dwell on for as long as she needs.

However, the Congresswoman did make other dubious claims about that day, ones which do require investigation. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez accused her fellow elected officials of trying to have her killed. When Ted Cruz tweeted his agreement with her about GameStop trading over Twitter recently, AOC tweeted back, "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." She also said she had a "very close encounter" with the insurrectionists, which turned out not to be the case.

Perhaps most problematic were her hints that Capitol Police were involved or complicit in the whole affair. "To run in the Capitol, in our nation's capital, and not know if an officer is there to help you or to harm you - it's also quite traumatizing," she said last month, a view she reiterated in her most recent video, where she describes a man shouting "Where is she?!" and banging on her door, who turned out to be a Capitol Police officer trying to get her to leave the building. "We couldn't read if this was a good situation or a bad situation," she said. "Was he trying to actually put us in a vulnerable situation?"

These are enormous allegations. If Capitol Police or elected Republicans were actively engaged in the riot at the Capitol, it would be hard to overstate the significance.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends a press conference on February 6, 2020 Samuel Corum/Getty Images

But if these claims aren't true, it would mean that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez had not only deliberately spread harmful misinformation about her fellows but impugned the honor of those who bled and died to keep her and her colleagues safe. To have that hurtful conspiracy promoted by an elected member of Congress is unconscionable.

And Rep. Ocasio-Cortez isn't simply reflecting on what happened to her: She's using what she contends is her experience to drive policy and punishment. She has publicly urged both Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley to resign and called on the Senate to remove them for their roles in the riot if they refuse. We need to know if the basis for what she recommends is legitimate. If it isn't, then the measures that she has proposed are illegitimate, too.

Countless Republicans conducted themselves poorly before, during, and after the Capitol riot. The frustration that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats express given the shameful way their Republican colleagues cultivated and fomented the riot is understandable; most haven't–and many likely won't–face any measure of accountability from a Republican Party that has made a habit of tolerating the intolerable and an American body politic apathetic toward their behavior.

But these sins don't give Rep. Ocasio-Cortez creative license to make inflammatory statements unmoored from both the facts and the prospect of criticism. While the actions of Congressional Republicans were contemptible, there's an enormous difference between helping stoke a frustrated mob and actively attempting to get one of your colleagues killed. And it's grossly irresponsible to throw out these claims at a time where everyone would benefit from the temperature being taken down, not falsely ratcheted up.

Many of the claims made by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez are falsifiable, either by a journalist committed to getting to the bottom of the story, or from a Congressional inquiry about the riot that is already in motion. Either the Capitol Police were in on it or not. Either her Republican colleagues tried to get her killed or they didn't.

During the Trump years, the media showed us their ability and willingness to parse truth from fiction, speculation, and hyperbole. It's high time that same incredulity was brought to bear on the ways that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has made uninterrogated claims about what happened on the Capitol on January 6th.

While the right has over-criticized Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, the left has lionized her, to the point that there is no serious conversation about her words, which do have a penchant for descending into misrepresentation.

Taking the stateswoman seriously–something both the political left and right have failed to do to their own peril–requires that we unpack all of her contentions about the day in question, including strong statements about who may be responsible, directly or indirectly, for what happened.

Drew Holden (@DrewHolden360) is a public affairs consultant in Washington, D.C., and a former Republican congressional staff member.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.