Fox News’ top star Tucker Carlson devoted his opening monologue on June 29 to mischaracterizing a wide array of criminal investigations into far-right figures, arguing that the Department of Justice is targeting political opponents for speech and acts protected by the Constitution. “The signature tactic of the Biden administration … has been the criminalizing of American politics,” Carlson said.
The segment was filled with overt lies and deliberately misleading sleights of hand, and it omitted important information and context from each supposed case of persecution. Carlson’s objective was to paint President Joe Biden as a totalitarian who had unleashed his private state militia on his enemies. Crucially, nearly every person Carlson defended in the process is connected in some way to the attempted coup on January 6, and his segment needs to be understood in that context. He’s not opposed to draconian law enforcement per se, he’s opposed to any attempts to prevent another fascist insurrection.
It’s worth underlining at the outset that claims by the DOJ, FBI, and police should be treated with skepticism in all cases, including those below. But that’s not what Carlson was doing in his Wednesday segment. He was manufacturing a narrative out of whole cloth that the DOJ is in reality a secret police force bent on repressing and persecuting conservatives. Both historically and currently, the opposite is true. Police at the local and federal level are far more likely to infiltrate, investigate, and prosecute leftist activists than conservatives. But Carlson wants to convince his viewers they’re a persecuted, oppressed group to justify their grievances and stoke election denialism.
Carlson’s first example of political persecution was Douglass Mackey, known online by the pseudonym Ricky Vaughn. “He was arrested. For what? A crime? No, for creating internet memes that made fun of Hillary Clinton,” said Carlson. “But according to the Justice Department, those memes, quote, ‘deprived individuals of their constitutional right to vote,’ so he went to jail.”
In reality, Mackey engaged in a prolific online disinformation campaign in 2016 “designed to encourage supporters” of Clinton “to ‘vote’ via text message or social media, a legally invalid method of voting,” according to the Justice Department. Mackey’s stated goal, as detailed in the complaint, was to “limit black turnout."
Carlson then moved on to Russell Taylor and Alan Hostetter. “What did they do wrong? Well, they organized a lawful political rally on January 6. They even had a permit for the rally,” Carlson said. "Taylor also committed the grave offense of being seen with Roger Stone in the days before January 6. That is now a crime, too.”
It’s not clear what rally Carlson is referring to, but the idea that Taylor and Hostetter were arrested simply for holding a permitted event and standing next to Roger Stone is absurd. They're both facing charges related to their activities during the insurrection on January 6. Hostetter was charged with “conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds,” and Taylor was charged “with obstructing law enforcement during a civil disorder and unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon on Capitol grounds.” The two are being charged alongside four members of the far-right Three Percenters militia, whom they coordinated with prior to the insurrection, though Hostetter is trying to get an individual trial. (Hostetter has accused Taylor of being a “government operative of some sort,” though there’s no public evidence to support that claim.)
Carlson’s next subject was former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, one of the architects of Trump’s attempted coup.
“On April 28, 2021, the Feds seized the cell phones and computers belonging to the president's former lawyer Rudy Giuliani. That didn’t used to be allowed. You can’t seize the records of someone's attorney. Those are confidential lawyer-client communication. Now at the time, we are told that Rudy Giuliani had done something illegal in Ukraine — the walls were closing in. He was never charged with anything like that, because it was all fake. But they got his privileged communications anyway.”
Carlson left out one crucial bit of information here. The court appointed a former federal judge to oversee a privilege review of the devices and files to ensure that protected information was kept confidential. Privilege review is common, and Giuliani’s lawyer agreed to the judge’s appointment at the time. So the idea that “they” — an amorphous, all-powerful government — got all of Giuliani’s “privileged communications” is completely misleading.
Next was Giuliani associate George Dickson. “The FBI never explained the purpose of that raid but Dickson was working on a documentary about Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and their business dealings in Ukraine, and that is no longer allowed,” said Carlson. Little is known about the FBI’s interest in Dickson, but the “investigation appears tied to an ongoing federal probe into whether Giuliani violated foreign lobbying laws by working on behalf of a Ukrainian prosecutor,” according to Mother Jones, who broke the story.
Carlson then moved on to Infowars provocateur Owen Shroyer. “According to the federal complaint, Shroyer told the crowd on January 6, quote, ‘Today, we March for the Capitol because on this historic January 6, 2021, we have to let our congressmen and women know and we have to let Mike Pence know that they stole the election,’ end quote. Now you may not agree with that or maybe you do, it doesn’t matter. That is protected speech under our Constitution,” Carlson said. “But under Joe Biden, it is a crime."
Contrary to the deliberately misleading impression that Carlson left his viewers with, Shroyer was not charged with a crime for what he said, like incitement to riot. He is instead facing two misdemeanor counts for his actions during the riot, one for “knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority” and one for “violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.";
Next, Carlson went to right-wing propagandist James O’Keefe and his colleagues at disinformation hub Project Veritas. Carlson claimed the FBI raided their houses because “they reported on a diary written by Joe Biden's daughter Ashley. And in that diary, Biden’s daughter writes, [and] reveals to the rest of us, that Joe Biden showered with her in a way that she described as inappropriate and that she blames for making her sexually compulsive in later life."
The O’Keefe raid is a complicated, confusing story, but Carlson is wrong on basic facts. Crucially, Project Veritas did not report on the diary. Its contents were instead published by an obscure, right-wing blog and went almost entirely unnoticed at the time. Carlson’s decision to repeat the alleged contents of the diary on his show betrays his true motivation: to disseminate information he thinks will be damaging to Biden as widely as possible.
There is still a significant amount of information about this case that remains unknown to the public. In general, the DOJ is prohibited from targeting reporters, including for publishing stolen information, unless the journalist was actively involved in committing the illegal acts. In the immediate aftermath of the raid, the Committee to Protect Journalists “expressed concern” over the DOJ’s actions, and the ACLU urged the court to appoint a “special master” to determine whether the raid was justified. In the following months, however, The New York Times reported that a Project Veritas employee attempted to verify the authenticity of the diary by misrepresenting themselves, which may harm the group’s claims that it acted in accordance with standard journalistic practices and ethics.
Carlson then moved on to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. “Bannon's crime was that he didn’t bend the knee for the January 6 committee. He cited executive privilege,” Carlson said. “According to Nancy Pelosi, that means Steve Bannon belongs in jail.”
Although the House did find Bannon in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena for records related to the attempted coup, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) does not determine who goes to jail. Shortly after the House vote, the DOJ issued a two-count indictment against him for his failure to comply with a subpoena issued by the January 6 committee.
Carlson then described the cases of Tina Peters, a Colorado elections clerk, and her associate Sherronna Bishop, former campaign manager to the far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO). The FBI executed searches on both women’s houses on November 16, 2021. Carlson said “the FBI gave no reason” for the Bishop raid, and that the “DOJ said Peters raised doubts about the legitimacy of the last election.”
Again, Carlson is deliberately misleading his viewers here. Both raids appear to stem from an incident in May 2020, during which election data Peters was in charge of was leaked to far-right extremist Ron Watkins, according to the Daily Beast. Watkins is the founder of the extremist QAnon-hosting site 8Kun, where he posted the stolen data. In March, Peters was indicted on 10 felony and misdemeanor charges related to those events — the kind of election breach that she claimed to be fighting against.
Next was Peter Navarro, Trump’s former top trade adviser. “He sued the January 6 committee. He claimed executive privilege with his communications with the president,” Carlson said, by way of explaining why Navarro was arrested. “And rather than go to court, the January 6 committee simply had him arrested at the airport and sent to jail in irons."
Like Bannon, Navarro was charged with contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena for materials related to the January 6 attempted coup. The idea that he was arrested as a shortcut — or in retaliation for suing the committee — is totally unsubstantiated.
Moving on to Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley, Carlson played a clip of Kelley explaining his arrest, in which he claimed, “There was no crime committed, Tucker, no; never entered the Capitol building, exercising my First Amendment.” According to Carlson, this was indicative of a pattern that if you “speak up against Joe Biden, dare to organize other people to speak up against Joe Biden, dare to run for office against Joe Biden, … you raise your chances of the FBI showing up at your house exponentially.”
In reality, according to NPR, Kelley was charged with four misdemeanors related to his activity at the Capitol on January 6 that allege that he “knowingly entered and engaged in disorderly conduct in restricted buildings or grounds and engaged in an act of physical violence against a person or property."
Carlson then moved to former Trump lawyer John Eastman. “On June 22 of this month, the feds cornered former Trump attorney John Eastman in a parking lot and seized his phone. They didn’t even provide a warrant before they did that.” After showing the clip of Eastman being given the warrant immediately after his phone was seized, Carlson gave his own recap: “Put your hands up, no warrant for you. What’d that man do wrong? We still don’t know."
Exact details on why Eastman’s phone was confiscated have not been released, but it is clear that Eastman was heavily involved in helping Trump engineer preposterous, pseudo-legal mechanisms with the goal of “disrupting the congressional certification of the election’s outcome,” according to the New York Times. Carlson’s claim that “we still don’t know” what Eastman did wrong is blatantly incorrect. In March, a federal judge determined “that Eastman and Trump ‘likely’ entered into a criminal conspiracy to obstruct Congress,” calling it “a coup in search of a legal theory."
Carlson’s final example was former Trump DOJ official Jeffrey Clark. “There’s no suggestion he committed any crime of anything, that he did anything wrong,” Carlson said. “What he did was say things that Joe Biden and Joe Biden’s Justice Department didn’t like, so he was hauled out of his home in his pajamas for maximum public humiliation."
While it is still unclear what investigators were looking for in Clark’s home, the New York Times reported that the raid was likely related to his role in trying to subvert the results of the 2020 election, specifically, his “proposing to send a letter to state officials in Georgia falsely stating that the department had evidence that could lead Georgia to rescind its certification of Mr. Biden’s victory in that key swing state."
Again, approaching DOJ and FBI claims with skepticism is good practice; pretending that they’re a secret police force persecuting conservatives is not. Such rhetoric just serves as groundwork for the next coup, insurrection, or other form of reactionary lawlessness.