The founder of Grace Chapel in Franklin, Pastor Steve Berger, apologized for comments he made last week in which he claimed that "for a fact," members of Antifa were identified as masquerading as Trump supporters during the Jan. 6 riot at the nation's Capitol.
On Friday, the Department of Justice said that there has been no evidence that members of Antifa played a role in the riot.
Released on Saturday, Berger wrote in a statement that he apologizes for "sharing things that were wrongly reported," however, lambasted the media coverage of his comments as "distorted at best and completely fabricated at worst."
Having caught the attention of leaders across the world, the Washington, D.C. riot has resulted in at least five deaths, including one police officer.
"There was incorrect reporting that a facial recognition system had identified Antifa activists in the Capitol," reads the statement. "That report has since been shown to be false. Also, there was reporting about Antifa being bussed into the Capitol, a report that has now been retracted."
Berger wrote that he had traveled to the Capitol on Jan. 4 for meetings unrelated to the "Save America March," the pro-Trump rally that eventually devolved into chaos. On the morning of the riot, Berger wrote that he had "walked through the National Mall praying for [America]," and that he was back at his hotel by 11 a.m., well before the Capitol building was breached.
Berger went on to describe the challenges in "trying to accurately share information while events are rapidly unfolding," and wrote that in light of new evidence, he needed to "right the wrong."
"Therefore, I apologize for sharing things that were wrong being reported by multiple outlets," the statement reads. "I, in no way, intentionally misled or would mislead anyone. Unfortunately, there are news stories, posts and tweets about my time in D.C. that are distorted at best and completely fabricated at worst."
"They are intended to mislead people about me and my activities in D.C. There has been threatening, hateful accusations hurled at me that have no basis in reality, even by other church leaders, and not a single one of them reached out to me to verify the reports about me."
On Sunday, Berger spoke further about the matter to church-goers at Grace Chapel, alleging the media to have "lied through their teeth," asking one reporter what was their "motive for tarnishing the reputation and character of a local pastor who has served this community for over 26 years?"
"I am pleading with followers of Jesus to not believe lies, distortions and deceptions that a far too often corrupt, secular media says about our family," Berger said.
"It is a shame to me that pastors in this community who know me jumped on the bandwagon, they accused me of falsehoods and not one of them has called me to apologize. I'm telling you right now, if we continue this type of back-biting, devouring, jumping on the bandwagon for our own 15 seconds of fame while we sacrifice one another, the church is in trouble."
1/11/21 Update: Facebook has flagged a video of Steve Berger in which he criticized the media coverage of his comments as containing "false information." An online petition has also been created calling for Berger's resignation.