January 6, 2021, was a disaster for the American Right. Despite the emotional satisfaction some felt, the riot at the Capitol discredited President Donald Trump, allowed the Left to call conservatives rioters, justified yet more repression, and forced Republicans who had been investigating the 2020 election into full retreat.
It would have been far better if the activists had done nothing, and if President Trump had urged demonstrators — unequivocally — to be peaceful. In the chaos that did follow, what was the rioters’ plan? There probably wasn’t one.
Congress impeached the President for supposedly starting an insurrection, but if he had wanted a coup, he could have called on the crowd to take the Capitol. Instead, in addition to warning them, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he told them to “please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” “stay peaceful,” and then, finally, “go home with love & in peace.” Social media banned him, convicting him of the very charges for which the Senate acquitted him.
Was this an insurrection? We have prosecutions and even a few convictions for “seditious conspiracy,” but no level-headed person can possibly believe that the rioters who broke into the Capitol were part of plan to overthrow the United States government.
The seeming desperation of government officials, journalists, and politicians to make the January 6 riot seem like a fundamental threat to the republic have led some to suggest the entire thing was a hoax — an inside job by intelligence services. The truth is much more banal: It was a protest that got out of control. But no one seems to want to know what really happened and understand what went wrong: Why was there such poor security? Did the Capitol Police handle the crowd badly? What were the intent and motives of the people in the crowd? Were federal agents involved in any way?
Instead, government officials, journalists, and politicians from both parties seem eager to hide what happened — and this is exactly what radicalizes people and fuels “conspiracy theories.” It is the behavior of a paranoid regime that insists on a propagandized version of a historic event, not the government of a free people, bound by the rule of law, seeking the truth. The system that rules us — the federal government, intelligence agencies, federal law enforcement, and media that justify their behavior — are doing what rioters on January 6, 2021, failed to do. They are fatally undermining the regime’s legitimacy.
Tucker Carlson recently aired some never-before-made-public footage from January 6. It shows protesters, not rioters, walking calmly through the Capitol. The most prominent figure is Jacob Chansley, the “QAnon Shaman” who wore a Viking headdress. Law enforcement practically gave him an escort, and in a prayer on the Senate floor, he gave thanks that police “allow[ed] us into the building.”
The first people into the Capitol clearly broke in. Once that happened, Capitol Police must have realized there was no way they could keep others out. But giving up the fight is not the same thing as welcoming demonstrators into the building.
Some have called Tucker Carlson’s video selections just as tendentious as those of the Congressional “investigation,” which was nothing more than a case for the prosecution. But what should we make of the people who walked in after the violence? The Capitol is a big place, and some may not have seen anything untoward at all. If they entered an unguarded building, acted peacefully, and were arrested days and months later, do they deserve prison sentences?
Whatever happened that day, Jacob Chansley should have been given this footage before he pled guilty to obstructing a congressional proceeding and got 41 months in prison. The right of a defendant to see all the evidence — both good and bad — is fundamental to the American system. Andrew McCarthy wrote at National Review that Mr. Chansley’s attorneys would have “insisted on being shown any potentially exculpatory evidence prior to the guilty plea.” However, they probably couldn’t. His counsel didn’t know about the tapes, which were in the possession of Congress. The Justice Department could have said it didn’t have them and couldn’t produce them. “So Committee members and counsel buried footage that was clearly relevant to literally hundreds of people facing criminal sentencing across the country,” says legal analyst Jonathan Turley. “They did this while repeatedly referencing those cases in hearings as upholding the rule of law.”
Did the FBI or other agencies have people in the crowd who may have been urging it on? Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) wants to know all the federal agents who were there. “There’s some really strange behavior on those videos,” he said, “people behind the police lines in plain clothes, touching them on the shoulder, talking in their ear, around boundaries like they weren’t even there.” Rep. Massie pointed out that Attorney General Merrick Garland refused to answer his question about the number of federal agents on duty. If a congressman can’t get answers, how can we?
The footage also shows that a congressional investigation edited footage to make Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) look foolish, running away from the protesters. He was part of a group of other legislators — and he was at the back. This may seem a small point, but this was part of a hearing that was staged as entertainment and political propaganda.
Officer Brian Sicknick, whom some alleged died because he was attacked by Trump supporters, appears in the footage looking fine, even after the attack. Ray Epps, a man who called on the crowd to go into the Capitol and reportedly bragged about orchestrating the attack, is on video in the crowd about 30 minutes after the time he told the January 6 Committee that he had left.
Tucker Carlson points out that when there was an attack on the White House by antifa, Washington DC police refused to help Secret Service agents. He said both events were bad, but we remember only one — many people are now incredulous if you tell them the President had to be evacuated to a secure bunker — because the regime promotes one but not the other.
Almost every week, people on Twitter celebrate a black Capitol Police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt. I suspect that if an officer had shot a rioter trying to storm the Trump White House, he would be treated like Derek Chauvin, not given a worshipful interview by NBC news. Likewise, the New York Times wrote that President Trump had “shrunk back,” submitting to being hustled into the bunker. I’m not aware of any such description of fleeing senators and congressmen.
“Whataboutism” is a lazy form of argument, but we must use it in a media environment that so selectively whips up emotion. People passionately care about George Floyd because journalists told them to. They don’t care about Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, two young white people tortured to death in 2007 by blacks, because most never even heard about them. George Floyd was an excuse to push a political message about police wantonly killing black people. Collective media storylines are now central to American politics. Floyd’s death could have been a story about black crime, drug use, and the sometimes-fatal consequences of resisting arrest.
How did media react to Tucker Carlson’s report? Politicians, journalists, and late-night hosts — essentially the same class — are not happy. And, indeed, a strong case can be made against releasing tens of thousands of hours of video exclusively to a single partisan reporter who would surely use it selectively to make a case, just as the Jan 6 investigation did. Critics were joined by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who said that “it was a mistake, in my view, [for] Fox News to depict this in a way completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official in the Capitol” described.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had the most revealing response: “Rupert Murdoch has a special obligation to stop Tucker Carlson from going on tonight [and] from letting him go on again and again and again [because] our democracy depends on it.” If “our democracy” “depends” on a senator browbeating an oligarch to muzzle one dissenting voice, it’s not worth saving. The White House called Tucker Carlson’s report “shameful” because “we saw Capitol Police officers lose their lives or police officers lose their lives.” It’s probably too much to expect the black Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to know that’s not even true. How could she know? CNN celebrated her “extraordinary rebuke.”
“Our democracy” is not in danger and never was, even though President Biden said the January 6 riot was the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War,” and Kamala Harris compared it to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Such comparisons tell us more about the people making them than the event itself.
And what about the riots that swept the country in 2020? They resulted in $2 billion in insurance claims and the real costs were vastly higher. At least 25 Americans died. Americans saw a police station burned to the ground, priceless monuments destroyed, and leftists claim sovereignty for several days over part of a major American city. Thirty states and DC called out the National Guard and more than 200 cities imposed curfews. Murders increased at a record rate. In some ways, the revolt still hasn’t ended.
In 2020, policed backed away from rioters when they weren’t kneeling to them. Some protesters will be paid rather than punished. Defending yourself was dangerous. Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted, but he now faces a civil suit. Another man, Jake Gardner, committed suicide in 2020 after media and protesters successfully pushed a grand jury to indict him for manslaughter, even after he was initially cleared in a self-defense case. Law-abiding Americans of all races could be forgiven for thinking that their government had abandoned them. That’s the government we still have.
By contrast the only people who died at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, were Donald Trump supporters; media seem to care nothing about them. If it was an attack on “democracy,” so too was the antifa attack on the White House that few remember, but Jan 6 justified a sweeping crackdown in response to a supposed threat the government seems eager to exaggerate.
We can have few illusions that Tucker Carlson’s tapes will change Jan 6 prosecutions. “Equality before the law” has always been polite fiction. Rich defendants or those who can count on help from the National Lawyers Guild will always stand a better chance than conservative protesters with little money and no top-shelf lawyers eager to take their cases pro bono. Judges are political appointees or politicians themselves. A “jury of your peers” means little for a white conservative facing a non-white jury. The American legal system can ruin your life even if you are acquitted. It’s not surprising Jake Gardner committed suicide; it’s surprising more don’t.
Still, we expect certain norms to be followed. The “QAnon Shaman” never saw all the evidence. A trial of the Proud Boys hit a snag because the defense found “hidden” FBI messages, including an agent describing a supervisor’s order to “destroy 338 items of evidence.” During damaging cross-examination of witnesses, the Justice Department claimed that it had accidently “spilled” classified information into the trial, and a judge eventually ordered the defense to ignore it. There’s almost no way to know the truth, nor to find out what the FBI says is too “classified” for people on trial to see.
If you take unfashionable political positions, most media and politicians will cheer your persecution and threaten those who speak in your defense. The media are not a check on power. They are power.
Critical race theory is already within the legal system and those who think January 6 was as bad as Pearl Harbor will not shy from bending the rules to lock away people they think are that dangerous. This is the system whose uniformed officers knelt to BLM protesters and that is now awarding them damages.
January 6 was not a threat to the established order. The regime’s reaction is one of paranoia and weakness. Its desperation to defend an established, obviously slanted story means “our democracy” is becoming an arthritic autocracy that will defend its propaganda in the teeth of all evidence. It is no longer capable of subtlety. The system and its courtiers are shredding their credibility even when they don’t need to. It’s worse than a crime — it’s a mistake. For that, we can be grateful.