On June 15, about 3 million people were watching Fox News when Tucker Carlson was promoting a conspiracy theory that the January 6 riot was an inside job organized by the FBI. His case was based on an interpretation of court documents that was exposed almost immediately.
But the fact that Carlson's theory quickly turned out to be wrong didn't matter. To illustrate how the right-wing disinformation pipeline works, Republican Congressmen spent the following days supporting Carlson's unsubstantiated claims rather than correcting the record.
Carlson highlighted a case involving Thomas Caldwell, a veteran who was part of a group of Oath Keepers charged with conspiracy related to the riot. He suggested that Caldwell was captured by an unidentified "Person Two" referred to in the indictment.
"Person Two and Person Three were the organizers of the uprising," said Carlson. “The government knows who they are. But the government did not charge them. Why this? You know why – you almost certainly worked for the FBI. "
As a Carlson comment published later that week by Fox News made clear, this truthful claim is intended to show that "the FBI may have helped organize the January 6th Capitol Riot." It represents an attempt to remodel the insurrection as some sort of inside job led by the FBI, rather than what it really was – an attempt by Donald Trump supporters to intimidate Congress into overthrowing the election results.
The uprising itself was caused by a similar type of disinformation – big lies about massive fraud that tainted Joe Biden's victory over Trump. Rather than accept responsibility for their role in inciting Trump supporters into a violent uprising, many Republicans have chosen to shift the blame on the Antifa or downplay the looting of the Capitol as mere tourism.
Now Carlson and Co. have given Capitol attack deniers a new way to evade responsibility for the insurrection by constructing an alternate story in which Trump supporters have been trapped by shrewd provocateurs from the deep state.
Carlson's conspiracy theory makes no sense. And it doesn't have to.
There's only one problem – the idea that Caldwell was captured by the FBI doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
As national security blogger Marcy Wheeler detailed, a comparative examination of court documents in which names are blacked out – such as that quoted by Carlson – with those in which the names are visible makes it clear that "Person Two" is indeed Caldwell's wife, Sharon Caldwell is.
"Later submissions to the terms of publication confirm that the selfies posted on Facebook were from Thomas' wife, describe Thomas, who agrees to be accompanied by his wife Sharon to the mass from Easter, and expresses concern that his Wife has to do all chores in her 30s -morning farm which has resulted in loss of farm income and describes how he rarely goes anywhere without his wife Sharon Caldwell and she is willing to go with him every time he visits their property leaves “, writes Wheeler.
So Carlson accused Caldwell's wife of capturing him. The absurdity of this conspiracy theory is demonstrated by the fact that Sharon Caldwell voted for Thomas & # 39; Release from prison began in March.
Carlson's conspiracy theory is not based solely on the Caldwell case, however. During his June 15 monologue, he suggested that other unproven co-conspirators mentioned in the indictment documents regarding the insurrection were potential FBI agents.
"Oddly enough, some of the key people who attended January 6th were not charged," Carlson said. “Look at the document. The government calls these people "unindicted co-conspirators". What does that mean? Well, it means they were FBI agents in potentially every single case. "
It is unlikely. Instead, Carlson's interpretation is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of legal terminology. Ryan Goodman, former Department of Defense Special Counsel, told me that federal law enforcement agencies would not label informants as "unindicted co-conspirators."
"It's completely far-fetched to imagine that the Department of Justice's use of the term refers to anyone working with the FBI at the time," Goodman said on a direct message. “Such individuals would not have the requisite state of mind to commit the crime and, accordingly, could never be called co-conspirators. It is plausible that an unindicted co-conspirator is now working with federal authorities, but certainly not on January 6th even with regard to the behavior alleged in these (indictment) documents. "
Carlson's conspiracy theory leaked from far-right fringe media to MAGA members of Congress
Carlson's conspiracy theory is based on an article published June 14 by right-wing Revolver News and edited by former Trump White House speechwriter Darren Beattie. As CNN's Marshall Cohen pointed out, the revolver piece is "carefully fused" with allegations being "asked as questions." Notably, Carlson's monologue went further than the article on which it was based. He made unequivocal claims that "FBI agents organized the January 6th attack on the Capitol," although evidence does not support this.
But for Trump supporters, it doesn't matter whether the idea that the Capitol attack was an inside job is justified. And after Carlson gave the deniers of the facts a glimmer of legitimacy – despite the total lack of evidence – Republican Congressmen like Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia began promoting it on Twitter.
BREAKING: Congressman Matt Gaetz urges FBI Director Christopher Wray to fully disclose the role and involvement of FBI agents during the January 6th Capitol riot.
More details are coming. pic.twitter.com/lviUHfhLyW
– MP Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) June 16, 2021
We need names and answers about the FBI agents who helped organize and run the January 6th Capitol Rising.
First they had a "back-up plan" to stop Trump's witch hunt in Russia.
Deep state. https://t.co/q8jKFQwVAJ
– Marjorie Taylor Greene (@mtgreenee) June 16, 2021
Another House Republican, Paul Gosar of Arizona, went further and entered the Revolver News article on Congressional records, falsely claiming that he had information about "infiltration and incitement to the March 6 protests.
While Republicans are adopting flimsy conspiracy theories to blame the attack on Nov. Greene, Gaetz and Gosar all voted against, as did a critical mass of Senate Republicans.
But the MAGA Republicans and their media echo chamber don't let facts get in the way. On June 16, Carlson responded to Twitter tagging a tweet he had posted with a misinformation warning – promoting the January 6th truth – by suggesting that it was evidence that he was right all along.
"In an effort to shut us down, Twitter just confirmed what we suggested," said Carlson. “Thanks, Twitter. They are idiots!"