Tucker Carlson’s commentary and affect often provoke the question: Is he one of the stupidest people in American public life, or a shameless liar who treats his audience with the utmost contempt? So it is with his Tuesday night’s widely-mocked claim that QAnon, the violent mythology whose adherents participated in the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, does not exist.
“We spent all day trying to locate the famous QAnon, which, in the end, we learned is not even a website,” Carlson snarked while arguing that the left and the media are engaged in the true “disinformation campaign” in this country. “If it's out there, we could not find it.” Last month, Carlson similarly criticized journalists focusing on the “forbidden idea” of “something called QAnon.”
Carlson’s comments are part of a broader pattern in the right-wing media and the Republican Party to recast the horrors of January 6 in a manner less disastrous for their movement. Their lies have helped ensure that a large portion of the party’s base believe a variety of falsehoods and conspiracy theories about that day's events.
It’s worth reviewing Carlson’s take in particular because of his standing as perhaps the most powerful and most-watched Fox host -- and because his show is dedicated to alternately excusing, validating, and denying the existence of the most extreme elements of the right.
Carlson told his viewers on the night of the insurrection, “If you don’t bother to pause and learn a single thing from it, from your citizens storming your Capitol building, then you’re a fool.” Ever since, he’s kept his audience from learning exactly what happened that day. Dumb or insidious? It’s impossible to say for sure.
It was an insurrection.
On January 6, a riotous mob of Trump supporters, many of them armed, overwhelmed law enforcement and stormed the Capitol. They had been drawn to Washington, D.C., by Trump, who had urged them to rally that day against the purportedly rigged election, and spurred on by his speech near the White House denouncing the “theft” and urging the assembled crowd to march on Congress.
Many rioters acknowledged they were trying to prevent the counting of electors under way at the time in order to overturn the election results and keep Trump in office. They breached the building, forcing both the Senate and House to evacuate their chambers; the legislators and then-Vice President Mike Pence narrowly avoided confrontations with the rioters.
More than 250 people have been charged in connection with the attack, which left about 140 law enforcement officers injured. Four people died during the storming, while Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, who participated in the response, passed away the following day; another Capitol Police officer and one D.C. police officer who also responded to the attack have since died by suicide.
In short, it was an armed insurrection which came perilously close to succeeding.
But not according to Carlson.
It was “a political protest got out of hand after the president recklessly encouraged it,” he told his audience the night after the attack, sneering about how “CNN describes it as an insurrection.”
“It was not an insurrection,” he reiterated to his audience on January 14. “It wasn't an armed invasion by a brigade of dangerous white supremacists. It wasn't. Those are lies.” He also mocked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for saying she feared for her life that day.
White supremacists were involved.
At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, top current and former Capitol security officials confirmed that “this attack involved white supremacists and extremist groups.”
Their testimony was consistent with a wealth of reporting about white supremacist partication in the January 6 insurrection. As my colleague Eric Kleefeld noted:
Numerous white supremacist emblems were seen during the Capitol siege, ranging from Confederate battle flags to one man who wore a sweatshirt bearing the title of “Camp Auschwitz,” as well as a variety of far-right militias. Even since January, soon after the riot itself, there has been extensive reporting on how far-right elements had planned online to storm the Capitol. And last week, a new indictment alleged a conspiracy by members of the Oath Keepers militia who allegedly planned and trained for the event, with messages showing that the participants believed that Trump “wants us to make it WILD. … He called us all to the Capitol.”
Carlson ignores all of that. The Fox host said in 2019 that people who argue that white supremacists are “a real problem in America” are pushing a “hoax” and a “conspiracy theory used to divide the country.” He’s since extended that falsehood to the insurrection.
“There is no evidence that white supremacists are responsible for what happened on January 6, that's a lie,” he said on Monday, either ignoring the evidence or lying about it.
So were Proud Boys.
When D.C. police arrested Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the violent right-wing street gang known as the Proud Boys, two days before the Capitol insurrection, they found him in possession of two high-capacity firearms magazines.
It was a sign of things to come.
A Wall Street Journal video investigation revealed that Proud Boys were “key instigators” who were “at the forefront” of the attack. At least 16 people affiliated with the far-right gang have since been charged in connection with the storming. Some have been charged with conspiring to block congressional certification of the electoral college vote.
But none of that is relevant or important, according to Carlson. “Other channels fill their air with attacks on so-called Proud Boys, whoever they are,” he sneered on January 20.
He knows who they are.
There is no war on Carlson’s viewers.
Downplaying the danger posed by the rioters and the violent extremism of their ideologies allows Carlson to easily pivot to the notion that his viewers’ lives and freedoms are endangered by the Democratic response that he claims is secretly targeting them.
“What happened today will be used by the people taking power to justify stripping you of the rights you were born with as an American,” he said on the night of the attack. “Your right to speak without being censored, your right to assemble, to not be spied upon, to make a living, to defend your family, most critically.”
Democrats, Carlson claims, are calling for a “new war against our own population,” one that he stresses is “not, by the way, a metaphorical war, but an actual one.” They want “an actual war, a war on our own people,” he says, one intended to "root out” Trump supporters.
It’s easy to predict that this sort of frenzied paranoia won't end well.