Joe Biden marked the first anniversary of 6 January with a powerful, ideological speech about the choice between democracy and autocracy. It began a day of reflection in which Democratic Congress members and police officers spoke of the fear they felt for their lives.
Every major news network opted for somber programming and roundtable discussions about the fragile nature of American democracy.
Except for one.
Fox News’s primetime lineup of rightwing hosts used rock guitar licks to introduce a different narrative: one of hysterical Democrats “jilling up noise” and crying “crocodile tears”. Hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingram pushed conspiracy theories that undercover FBI agents or Capitol police were responsible for the breach of the Capitol and spent most of the night claiming Congress should be focused on investigating the “real rioters”, Black Lives Matter protesters.
Carlson began his show in incendiary style. While Biden and the press agreed 6 January was one of the most significant dates in recent history, Carlson said it “barely rates as a footnote”, arguing that because “not a single elected official was killed” and “none of the insurrectionists had guns” that the effort to overthrow the government was “embarrassingly tepid”.
“Not a lot happened that day,” he said in an almost disappointed tone. He said he accepted it was a riot, “but really only just a riot, maybe just barely”.
In a night of endless false equivalencies, Carlson got his in early. Was what happened on 6 January a greater risk to America than inflation? Why were the protesters rotting in jail while the Sacklers walk free? Why were “unarmed protesters” being demonized?
If he had watched the day’s coverage on any other channel, Carlson would have seen that investigations and video evidence have proven that the Capitol mob was incredibly violent. Objects used to attack police officers included bricks, pepper spray, pipes, bats and Tasers. Prosecutors have charged 187 of the rioters with violent acts. Michael Fanone, a Metropolitan police department officer who voted for Trump in 2016, was shocked on his neck with a Taser several times, which led to a heart attack. Rioters threatened to take his weapon and shoot him with it, shouting “Kill him with his own gun!”
Threats to life were not mentioned by the three hosts. Instead Carlson quickly moved on to conspiracy theories, in particular his baseless claim that riots were stoked by Ray Epps, a Trump supporter from Arizona who Carlson falsely believes is an undercover FBI agent. He showed clips from his documentary series Patriot Purge which led to the resignation of two Fox News contributors who said the documentary was “incoherent conspiracy-mongering”.
But his biggest strut was to invite Senator Ted Cruz on the program, who on Wednesday had accurately described 6 January as “a violent terrorist attack”. Carlson was appalled at this language and demanded that Cruz explain himself.
Cruz first attempted to wheedle his way out, calling his choice of words “sloppy and dumb” but Carlson continued to berate him, making him walk back and continually apologize for his language. Carlson was dishing out a humiliation, reminding Cruz of his status as a Republican kingmaker.
As a final punishment Carlson asked Cruz what he thought about Ray Epps, pushing him to join him in a nonsense conspiracy theory, which Cruz did for the first time, saying “for [Epps] to appear on the FBI’s most wanted list and come off it certainly suggests he was working for the FBI. That’s not conclusive, but that’s the obvious implication.”
Later in the evening, Sean Hannity took the baton railing against the “rank hypocrisy”, “lying” and “grandstanding” by the Democrats – ignoring the hypocrisy that his on-screen opinions are entirely opposed to the feelings he shared with the Trump administration as the attack was taking place.
Hannity called Biden a liar, playing a clip from his speech in which he says that Donald Trump did nothing during the attack but watch TV. But Hannity’s own texts, revealed by the congressional committee investigating the attack, show he was perturbed by the former president’s lack of action on that day.
Hannity’s texts at the time show he was “very worried about the next 48 hours”, that he begged the chief of staff that Trump “make a statement” and “ask people to leave the Capitol” and that Trump “can’t mention the election again. Ever.” Hannity has repeated Trump’s lie that the election was rigged almost daily since November.
Instead of a mea culpa, Hannity claimed Trump had wanted to send 10,000 national guard troops to protect the Capitol and was blocked from getting them by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. This has been disproven. He made no direct order and was not concerned about securing the Capitol.
The night finished with Ingraham returning to the network’s central theme, that Black Lives Matter protesters were to blame for the real violence.
“If the Democrats were truly worried about political violence, they would have condemned it in summer of 2020,” she told her viewers. Ingraham’s own texts, also revealed by the committee, show too she was deeply worried about political violence on 6 January. She texted the White House chief of staff saying, “Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol this is hurting all of us – he is destroying his legacy”.