Recent revelations during a vote by the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection have exposed prominent Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Brian Kilmeade for privately trying to get then-President Donald Trump to stop the insurrection – while publicly doing damage control by spreading baseless theories about the identity of the insurrectionists and validating their motivations.
During a referral vote to hold Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) revealed scores of text messages people sent to Meadows pleading with him to get Trump to stop the ongoing insurrection on January 6. Some of these texts were sent by Ingraham, Hannity, and Kilmeade, who pleaded with Meadows to get Trump to address his supporters and tell them to leave the Capitol.
- Hannity texted Meadows: “Can he make a statement. Ask people to leave the Capitol.”
- Ingraham messaged: “Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”
- Kilmeade wrote: “Please, get him on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
In stark contrast to these messages, Ingraham, Hannity, and Kilmeade spent some of their on-air time during the attack and in its immediate aftermath deflecting from the riots by drawing parallels with last year’s racial justice protests, spreading unsubstantiated (and ultimately false) rumors about infiltration of antifascist protesters among the insurrectionists, making sympathetic statements about the motivations of the rioters, or suggesting that Democrats had somehow provoked the insurrection.
Here are some of their cable and radio comments from January 6 and 7:
- Around 4 p.m. EST on January 6, as the violence inside the Capitol continued, Ingraham called into Fox News’ Your World with Neil Cavuto and condemned the insurrection, calling it an “intrusion in the Capitol, which is by all accounts unacceptable.” But she quickly pivoted to comparing what was happening to the “chaotic" Memorial Day Black Lives Matter protests and shifting blame to “people on both sides,” saying, “We all have to be, as Americans, concerned when the system of government is not trusted by tens of millions of people on both sides. In 2016, the left tried to take down a duly elected president, and in 2020 we had tens of millions of Americans who believed that state legislatures and state officials didn’t follow their own rules and laws and did not properly account for votes, and that needs to be addressed.”
- Later that night on her show, Ingraham claimed that she had “never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets, black helmets, brown helmets” as some of the people at the Capitol were supposedly wearing.
- The next evening, Ingraham downplayed the attack on the Capitol and warned her viewers: “As jarring as the actions and images were from yesterday, it appears that the incoming administration's response to all of that will be freedom crushing, from social media censorship to a punitive Justice Department.” She went on to claim that “the left is using every crisis to try to gain leverage [and] control over the lives of innocent Americans.”
- Ingraham was among the many right-wing media personalities to push a fake story that a facial recognition technology company had identified “antifa” members among the insurrectionists.
- Hannity’s initial reaction to the Capitol insurrection was to say on his radio show that although every “good, decent, honorable American would condemn all violence,” the siege was “not something that has happened here in a vacuum” and had been “building and building for a long period of time,” before referencing false allegations of election fraud on “November 3 and the counting that extended even beyond that date.”
- Later in the show, Hannity said that “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people” were there to “peacefully protest” and that he had heard reports of groups like “antifa, other radical groups -- I don't know the names of all of them -- that they were there to cause trouble.”
- On his Fox show later that night, Hannity also seemingly validated the supposed concerns of the mob at the Capitol and suggested that the media handle the story with empathy and understanding, saying, “Now, does anybody in the media, anybody in the left, do they want to understand how hundreds of thousands of Americans, what motivated them to leave their homes and their towns and their cities and often fly or come long distances to be at the massive rally today?”
Kilmeade was the most vocal of the three Fox hosts to initially criticize Trump for the events of January 6, saying that Trump had “basically told everyone to march down to the Capitol and protest, and it became a riot.” But at the same time, Kilmeade also pushed “antifa” infiltration rumors and tried to deflect by hypothesizing why the insurrection happened and shifting the blame onto Democratic congressional leaders.
- On January 6, while appearing on Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, Kilmeade said that Democrats were to blame for the insurrection, which was “a culmination of four years of them denying the president won the election and claiming the Russians flipped votes. This is four years of investigation, and there was four years now of a very frustrated electorate -- 75 million had voted and feel they haven’t had their day in court, let alone lost in court.”
- On the January 7 edition of Fox and Friends, Kilmeade tried to paint those condemning the violence of the insurrection as having a double standard, asking, “Where are you for 200-plus days in Portland? Where were you in Oregon, that’s still existing, as the CHOP zone took root?”
- That same day, Kilmeade pushed back on a radio caller for arguing against the rumors of “antifa” involvement, saying, “But they did have some pipe bombs, and they did find Molotov cocktails. They did wear helmets and they did have rope, but that could be other groups.” A moment later he added, “There's no doubt there was probably some infiltration there. But so much went wrong leading there."
- Kilmeade again criticized Trump and his supporters on his radio show, but also stated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) “are more culpable than any Mitch McConnell line and almost any Donald Trump tweet.” He also repeated conspiracy theories about 2020 mail-in voting, which he said was “inherently corrupt” and “breeds this distrust.”