Fox News host Sean Hannity has repeatedly undermined the gravity of the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by downplaying then-President Donald Trump’s role and suggesting that pro-Trump rioters were justified in their concerns about the 2020 presidential election results. However, newly released documents from the House select committee investigating the January 6 riot show how closely Hannity worked with then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany around that time to persuade Trump to stop talking about election fraud. Hannity also reportedly urged McEnany to keep Trump away from “crazy people.”
These documents, along with revelations in the House committee’s January 4 letter to Hannity seeking information about his communications with Trump and his staff, reveal the contrast between Hannity’s text messages and his radio and television rhetoric and illuminate the Fox host’s willingness to peddle false narratives while being aware of the damage caused by the Capitol riot.
In a text exchange on the evening prior to the riot, Hannity wrote he was “very worried about the next 48 hours.” At the same time, he enthusiastically spoke of plans for the next day on Fox, saying “big day tomorrow, big crowds” and that “all kicks off in the morning.”
The next day during the Capitol riot, Hannity, along with Fox hosts Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade, texted White House chief of staff Mark Meadows urging Trump to speak out against the violence. Hannity’s message read, “Can he make a statement?...Ask people to leave the Capitol." Meanwhile on his radio program, Hannity falsely suggested anti-fascists were storming the Capitol, and he endorsed election skepticism on his Fox show.
Now, new documents show that the day after the attack, Hannity sent McEnany a text “describing a five-point plan for approaching conversations” with Trump, which included advice on “no more stolen election talk.” McEnany reportedly responded, “Love that. Thank you. That is the playbook. I will help reinforce.” In another exchange, Hannity wrote, “Key now. No more crazy people,” apparently urging McEnany to keep Trump away from potential extremists following the Capitol riot. McEnany replied, “Yes 100%.”
Texts made public earlier this month also reveal what Hannity was thinking about Trump himself. The Fox host wrote to Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH): “Guys, we have a clear path to land the plane in 9 days. He can’t mention the election again. Ever. I did not have a good call with him today. And worse, I’m not sure what is left to do or say, and I don’t like not knowing if it’s truly understood. Ideas?”
But even though Hannity clearly knew of the chaos unfolding in the Trump White House and the potential consequences of the January 6 attacks, he instead chose to downplay and dismiss them to his conservative audience:
Hannity downplayed the Capitol violence
- One large refrain from Hannity on January 6, 2021, was the claim that “99%” of the people at the Capitol were not violent: “Why was that massive crowd in Washington, D.C., today? Does anybody in the media, anybody on the left -- do they want to understand how hundreds of thousands of Americans, what motivated them to leave their homes and towns and cities and often fly or come long-distances to be at the massive rally today? In other words, understand why they felt their need to be there today. The law-abiding citizens, very big distinction, the overwhelming, the 99%.”
- The same day, Hannity defended Trump supporters at the rally and the Captiol rioters for their skepticism around the 2020 presidential election: “Why is there a complete lack of curiosity when you have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of eye witnesses that signed affidavits under the penalty of perjury? Why it is nobody except for very few of us in the media that would even allow them to tell their story about what they saw in terms of November 3 and the counting that extended even beyond that date?”
- The following day, Hannity repeated the claim that rioters were largely peaceful, saying, “According to Democrats, in the media all conservatives, all Trump supporters are to blame for yesterday’s Capitol breach. No, they’re not. And especially 99% were peaceful people protesting and we went through the list of reasons last night.” He continued to compare the Capitol riot to a sit-in by protesters against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation 2018.
- On January 8, Hannity once again repeated the claim that 99% of attendees were peacefully protesting, saying, “The vast majority of the Trump supporters at the rally, 99% of them -- well guess what -- are good, law-abiding, taxpaying, hardworking American citizens that raise their kids, and they were there to have a peaceful protest. And 99% were peaceful. So as usual -- we on this program, we never paint with a broad brush. We never will.”
- On his radio show the same day, he casted doubt that the Trump supporters initiated the push into the Capitol, “I saw one moment, a video that went viral on Twitter where literally the people that were at the gate, they just -- they opened it themselves to let people in. I saw it with my own eyes. … We’re beginning to get a good picture and idea of people that were there to purposely agitate, that had agendas, and some, no, they weren't MAGA people.”
Hannity obscured Trump’s role in January 6 while boosting his delayed calls for peace
After Hannity sent Meadows a text asking for Trump to make a statement, his programming prominently featured Trump’s delayed calls for peace, which still expressed sympathy and understanding for the rioters.
Trump spoke at a rally at the Ellipse around noon, telling the audience, “We’re going to the Capitol. … We’re going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” Soon after his speech ended, the crowd outside the Capitol started clashing with the police, eventually breaching the building. Though Trump tweeted that afternoon for his followers to respect the police on the scene and stay peaceful, he did not call for people to leave till after 4 p.m. -- almost three hours after the violence started at the Capitol. His final tweet from the day claimed, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.
During his coverage, Hannity made a great effort to focus on what Trump said after the riot, while downplaying Trump’s prominent role in encouraging the violence.
- The day of the riots, Hannity highlighted Trump’s statement after he had requested it from Meadows.
- On his radio show earlier the same day, Hannity pointed to the statement from Trump while distancing him and his supporters from the violence at the Capitol: “People that were marching at the rally for Trump today, literally going into the US Capitol. The president tweeting, ‘I’m asking,’ rightly so, ‘I’m asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful, no violence. Remember, we are the party of law and order.’ ... Unfortunately, you get big crowds you're always going to have a few lunatics. But I did see a lot of families. I did see you know -- people that just seem like your next-door neighbor. And I know the mob and the media would want to paint this with a broad brush and say, ‘See, this is what the Trump supporter people really are like.’ Put that aside.”
- Later on during that same show, Hannity repeated Trump’s delayed statement for peace while endorsing the conspiracy theory that the election was unfair: “The president has asked people to leave the Capitol, those that had in fact gone in there. There has been reports of a shooting and Biden is out there blaming, of course, President Trump for all of this today. Hannity went on, claiming that “nobody [paid] attention” to concerns over election integrity.
Hannity continued to host Trump's election lies
Despite the “playbook” he gave to McEnany about “no more election talk,” Hannity has continued to provide a space on his show for Trump to tell lies about the election with no pushback.
- On April 23, Hannity aired clips of his interview in which Trump claimed, “We have to get good governors in. We have to get governors that are going to fight for voter integrity because again, I said it before and I say it all the time, the No. 1 question I get after the horrible, horrible -- it is not the result -- the cheating and all of the things that went on. The lack of waiting and getting legislative approval. And the Supreme Court that was afraid to act. And they knew they were wrong. A Supreme Court that had no guts. The number one question I get is will my vote count?” Hannity provided no pushback.
- While discussing China’s reaction to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan during an August 17 interview on Hannity, Trump claimed that China was “so happy to see a rigged election. They might have helped it along, actually.” Hannity again provided no pushback.
- During a November 23 phone appearance on Hannity, Trump and Hannity discussed supposed “Big Tech censorship” and Trump accused CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook of rigging the 2020 election, saying, “It's just not a fair thing for our country what is happening. It’s rigging the election. Mollie Hemingway wrote a fantastic book called Rigged. … Her book was fantastic. And you look at what he’s done and she’s exactly right. Very unfair for our country, very unfair for the world actually.”
- Hannity hosted Trump for an interview one year after Biden’s inauguration as president and discussed the activities of the House select committee. Trump addressed the events of January 6, 2021, saying, “The fact is I knew it was going to be a massive rally, because this was a protest rally against the election which they considered to be totally rigged. They were right. And this was a protest against the election.”