Reuters ran a misleading story on Friday, claiming the FBI had found “scant evidence” of a coordinated effort behind the January 6 attack on the Capitol, when a mob of Trump supporters rioted in an effort to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election over former President Donald Trump.
“Ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases,” said an unnamed source, referred to by Reuters as “a former senior law enforcement official with knowledge” of the investigations. “Then you have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.”
The problem with this take is that it is far too simplistic in terms of what really happened in the lead-up to January 6 — and it is already being misused by right-wing extremists who helped cause the events that day, in order to spread further lies.
The lies about the 2020 election were themselves the coordination
But as many others have pointed out, the idea of a singular coordination of the attack has never been the central issue, compared to the vast pattern of incitement and the harmful propaganda about the 2020 election that sincerely motivated those people to go to the Capitol.
The Big Lie was also the product of a right-wing media campaign to subvert the 2020 election, which created a self-contained information bubble in service of Trump’s failed efforts to remain in power.
And it was only in the 14th paragraph of the Reuters article that it even remotely acknowledged this factor: “Trump made an incendiary speech at a nearby rally shortly before the riot, repeating false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and urging supporters to march on the Capitol to pressure lawmakers to reject Biden's victory.”
Furthermore, the spread of the Big Lie continues to have consequences. This week, a man allegedly parked his pickup truck near the Capitol and claimed to have a bomb. The suspect livestreamed video of himself ranting about a number of right-wing conspiracy theories, including false claims about the 2020 election — a fact that was also covered up by right-wing media.
And yes, violent extremists were involved
The new Reuters article also contained some further information on the degree of coordination that did occur between far-right extremists:
FBI investigators did find that cells of protesters, including followers of the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys groups, had aimed to break into the Capitol. But they found no evidence that the groups had serious plans about what to do if they made it inside, the sources said.
Prosecutors have filed conspiracy charges against 40 of those defendants, alleging that they engaged in some degree of planning before the attack.
They alleged that one Proud Boy leader recruited members and urged them to stockpile bulletproof vests and other military-style equipment in the weeks before the attack and on Jan. 6 sent members forward with a plan to split into groups and make multiple entries to the Capitol.
For another example, a Reuters article nearly three months ago covered the indictments of a total of 16 members of the Oath Keepers militia group for conspiring to attack the Capitol. Three members have pleaded guilty since then, a fact that is now causing tension in the far-right organization. Members of neo-fascist street gang the Proud Boys have also been charged, while the group’s leader has complained that they are being punished too harshly.
Steve Bannon helped to incite January 6. Now he calls the Reuters story “another massive win” — and claims the FBI “actually did it.”
On Friday, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon called the Reuters story “another massive win,” while discussing it with guest Darren Beattie, who has been promoting his own elaborate conspiracy theory about January 6.
Beattie, a former Trump White House staffer who previously left his job after reports surfaced that he had attended a white nationalist conference, has since advanced the idea that January 6 was a false-flag operation organized by the FBI — promoting the theory with the help of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, as well as Bannon and Alex Jones — based on government charging documents against insurrectionists that also refer to “unindicted co-conspirators,” which Beattie claims is a reference to undercover agents. (Legal experts have explained the many ways this could not possibly be true and that the terms used in the documents can refer to “people who have been arrested and then cooperated later.”)
On Friday, Beattie told Bannon that the FBI had a “very sinister” motive to release this story, calling it a “cover-your-ass ploy” to distract from what would have been the discovery of FBI involvement in militia groups and January 6 itself, after having already publicly tagged Trump supporters as “terrorists.”
“Brilliant,” Bannon replied. “And this is what you’re saying — hey, this is not an intelligence failure, this is a failed intelligence operation. … They don’t now want to be forced to cough up who the government agents are, and how they infiltrated these groups, and how they actually did it.”
But as for the question who “did it,” it is worth looking over the record of Bannon’s vast pattern of incitement and election lies that helped lead to January 6. As just a few examples:
- On November 11, 2020, Bannon’s co-host Jack Maxey recited an excerpt of 19th-century poetry to liken the election to a cause worth fighting and dying for. “This prairie fire is going to burn right up to the first week of December,” Bannon replied, adding: We’re going to need a couple of Horatius at the gate in the first week of December — places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia. It’s all coming.”
- On November 20, 2020, Bannon declared: “We are in a war right now.”
- On November 21, 2020, Bannon hosted pro-Trump lawyer and conspiracy theorist Lin Wood, who exhorted the audience: “I think the audience has to do what the people that were our Founding Fathers did in 1776. I think you've got to pledge your life, your money, and your sacred honor so that generations that come after us can live in freedom.” Bannon replied that Wood made “me proud to be an American and a Southerner.”
- On December 14, 2020, Bannon posited scenarios by which Trump could become president even after the constitutionally mandated Inauguration Day.
- On the very morning of January 6, hours before the violence began at the Capitol, Bannon asked his audience: “What's going to happen today is going to happen. The question you have to ask yourself, have you pushed yourself as far as you possibly have pushed?”