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Jan. 6 wasn’t a laughing matter to many—but it still gave us many iconic memes

There were definitely some icons in the crowd.


Tricia Crimmins


On Jan. 6, 2021, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. and demanded that the results of the 2020 presidential election—which they believed was won by former President Donald Trump—be overturned. 

During the riot, participants broke into the building and ransacked it. One rioter, Ashli Babbit, was shot and killed by Capitol Police while trying to enter the House chamber where members of Congress were taking refuge. Additionally, after being injured in clashes with protestors, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick had a stroke and died.

A year after the riot, a Democrat-led House of Representatives panel on the events found that Trump incited the event by using phrases like “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” during a speech he made right before protestors marched to the Capitol.

The Jan. 6 insurrection is considered unprecedented and unconscionable by many. 

But, as the internet is prone to do, it is often the butt of many jokes. 

Best January 6 Memes: The QAnon Shaman

One of the most memorable insurrectionists is Jacob Chansley, who showed up to the riot shirtless wearing a fur pelt with horns on his head. His face was painted red, white, and blue and he carried a spear with a sign on it that said “Q SENT ME,” referring to QAnon, the conspiracy-fueled political movement.

Thanks to his get-up and sign, Chansley had been dubbed the QAnon Shaman. And when he was inside the Capitol, Chansley made his way to the House floor where he seized an American flag

Both his look and his behavior have been inserted into many common meme premises.

“When you order QAnon Shaman online vs. when it arrives,” one meme reads, showing Chansley decked out in his fur pelt next to a photo of him wearing a polo shirt in front of a nondescript wall.

“My kids sneaking downstairs after bedtime,” one meme says under a photo of Chansley at the riot, smiling. The next photo shows him yelling inside the Capitol: “My kids in timeout 1 minute later.”

“Face Paint – $5 Viking Horns – $10 Metal Spear – $15 DC Bus Ticket – $20,” another meme says. “25 years in jail for sedition after snapping selfies in the Senate: Priceless!”

As memes often are, that last one was exaggerated: Chansley was sentenced to 41 months (approximately three and a half years) in jail for “​​obstructing an official proceeding” as one of the first rioters who entered the Capitol.

But he was released from prison early in March 2023.

Chansley then submitted paperwork to run for Congress in Arizona. He never made it onto the actual ballot.

Capitol MeeMaw

Another character that emerged from discussion of the insurrection was Capitol MeeMaw, an elderly woman pictured holding an American flag, smiling vacantly in a government building on January 6. 

However, Capitol MeeMaw wasn’t actually at the insurrection: She was at a protest in support of the insurrection at the Capitol building in Topeka, Kansas. She told BuzzFeed News in 2021 that she went to the Kansas State Capitol to “pray for the country” and that she’s not actually anyone’s MeeMaw because she doesn’t have kids or grandkids.

But memes don’t have to be factually accurate to be funny—or go majorly viral.

One of the main themes of Capitol MeeMaw memes is the contrast between her grandmotherly presence and the concept of her being at the insurrection. 

“Domestic terrorist wanted,” one meme reads. “Dangerous! Will bake the cookies of political division and anarchy with the oven of insurrection and undermining democracy.”

“She called them names. Really really really bad names,” another states. “FBI Most Wanted 2021.”

Others joked that because the woman looks so unassuming, she couldn’t possibly be aware that she’s even at the insurrection. 


National Treasure memes

Speaking of someone else who wasn’t actually in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Nicolas Cage is also prominently featured in many memes. That’s because his 2004 movie, National Treasure, is about his character, Ben Gates, looking for a treasure map hidden on the Declaration of Independence. 

The movie takes place partly in D.C, at the National Archives and involves Cage’s character attempting to steal the artifact.

Naturally, many online joked that the insurrection was all just part of a National Treasure plotline—one where Cage’s character uses the riot as a distraction to accomplish his heist. Many of the memes center on Cage’s famous line: “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence.”

“When you notice that all the cops in Washington DC are distracted by rioters,” one meme read, with a photo of Cage saying the line. 

Others photoshopped Cage holding the document into the back of crowded insurrection photos, too. 

And one meme-maker took it even further: Using the photoshopped picture, they created a movie poster for the fictitious film National Treasure: Capitol Building.

Angry Trump Supporter meme

One angry Trump supporter, captured pointing and yelling at the camera, has also risen to fame as a popular insurrection meme.

The man is usually used to express the irony of the Jan. 6 riot.

“The same people who yell ‘you can’t get over the fact you lost in 2016’ can’t get over the fact they lost in 2020,” one meme reads.

Another meme highlights the hypocrisy of attendees.

“Writing in a new court filing, federal prosecutors say the intention of the Capitol seizure was to capture and assassinate elected officials,” another meme says, showing the man looking angry and referring to Trump supporters’ frequent defense of the day.

“It was a peaceful demonstration!’” 

Meme-d into history

Some meme creators said insurrection memes would have a lasting legacy while they were first going viral in the immediate aftermath of the riot—and they were right.

“I’ll be you anything that January 6 will become a meme day soon,” one memer said in a post showing rioters storming the Capitol. “Just like 9/11 or 4/20.”

“Are Capitol riot memes over?” another meme reads. “Never!”

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