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Fox’s Tucker Carlson Pushes Conspiracy Theory Blaming FBI for Capitol Riot

Television presenter Tucker Carlson pushed another far right conspiracy theory downplaying the rioters who attacked the United States Capitol in January 2021, suggesting on his show that the attack was orchestrated by federal “operatives.”

Carlson claimed on his Fox News show on June 15 2021 that court filings show that law enforcement officers took part in the attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump. Authorities have charged 521 people in connection with the attack, which caused the deaths of five people.

Carlson said:

The government has thrown the book at most people who were present in the Capitol on January 6. There was a nationwide dragnet to find them. Many of them are still in solitary confinement tonight. But strangely, some of the key people who participated on January 6 have not been charged. Look at the documents; the government calls those people unindicted co-conspirators. What does that mean? Well, it means that in potentially every single case they were FBI operatives. Really? In the Capitol on January 6?

Footage of Carlson’s claim quickly spread online:

Carlson claimed that individuals identified as “Person Two” and “Person Three” in court filings were not charged because they were “almost certainly” working for the FBI.

“So it turns out that this ‘white supremacist’ insurrection was, again by the government’s own admission in these documents, organized at least in part by government agents,” he said.

Both “Person Two” and “Person Three” were listed as part of a federal indictment against Thomas Caldwell, a member of the extremist gang the “Oath Keepers” — one of several such groups and other right-wing personalities spotted during the attack. Carlson’s remarks were his latest attempt to minimize their involvement in that incident.

In September 2020 a federal judge dismissed a defamation case against Carlson, saying that attorneys for Fox News “persuasively” argued that Carlson’s commentary should be taken with “an appropriate amount of skepticism.” Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil — who was appointed by Trump — wrote:

As Defendant notes, Mr. Carlson himself aims to “challenge political correctness and media bias.” This “general tenor” of the show should then inform a viewer that he is not “stating actual facts” about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in “exaggeration” and “non-literal commentary.”

The ruling came two months after Carlson sold his stake in the right-wing blog the Daily Caller; a subsidiary of that site, Check Your Fact, is still identified as a partner in Facebook’s “fact-checking” program. It was reportedly included in that initiative at the behest of a high-ranking Facebook official, Joel Kaplan.

As the Washington Post reported, Carlson’s claims fail to stand up to legal scrutiny:

“There are many reasons why an indictment would reference unindicted co-conspirators, but their status as FBI agents is not one of them,” said Jens David Ohlin, a criminal law professor at Cornell Law School.

Added Lisa Kern Griffin of Duke University Law School: “Undercover officers and informants can’t be ‘co-conspirators’ for the purposes of establishing an agreement to violate the law, because they are only pretending to agree to do so. … An unindicted co-conspirator has committed the crime of conspiracy, and investigative agents doing their jobs undercover are not committing crimes.”

Among the other possible reasons someone might be listed as an unindicted co-conspirator:

  • The government doesn’t know who they are.

  • The government doesn’t have sufficient evidence to indict them and wants to avoid impugning their reputations or compromising ongoing investigations.

  • They have secured leniency from the government for cooperation with investigations into others.

Media Matters For America reported that conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, claimed that he supplied “other folks” with the (false) information that fueled Carlson’s segment.

“Tucker did a really good job,” said Jones, who has been sued for claiming on air that the 2012 fatal mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was fabricated. In April 2021, the Supreme Court denied Jones’ appeal of a court-issued penalty for a verbal attack against an attorney representing some of the families bereaved in that shooting.