A legion of conservative activists, media personalities and elected officials are seeking to rewrite the story of what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, hoping to undermine the clear picture of the attack that has emerged from video and photo evidence, law enforcement officials, journalistic accounts and the testimonials of the rioters themselves: that a pro-Trump mob, mobilized by the former president’s false claims of a stolen election, stormed the seat of American government to keep Trump in power through violent means.
Six weeks after the attack, some are taking advantage of fading memories and unanswered questions to portray the riot in a different, more benign light. The effort comes as federal authorities begin prosecuting scores of alleged marauders, congressional committees seek to plug obvious security failures, and lawmakers consider establishing an outside commission to examine the matter.
On his top-rated Fox News Channel program last week, commentator Tucker Carlson told his audience that the attack did not constitute an “armed insurrection” and accused Democrats of a “relentless and coordinated” campaign to misrepresent the riot.
The next day, during the first public appearance of top Capitol security officials in charge during the riot at a Tuesday hearing, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) spent much of his allotted time reading a firsthand account from Jan. 6 suggesting the violence was perpetrated by a small cadre — including left-wing extremists — who were out of character in an otherwise jovial crowd.
Later in the week, scores of Republican lawmakers criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats for maintaining a razor-wire perimeter for blocks around the Capitol, saying it was more about sending a political message than security, even as the acting chief of the Capitol Police described ongoing threats to lawmakers.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Democrats never want to let an opportunity go to waste to try to attack conservatives, and so they want to try to besmirch, smear, demean all conservatives in the name of a handful of people who did the wrong thing on Jan. 6,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.).
The campaign to minimize or deny the events of Jan. 6 has been weeks in the making, with the efforts to muddy the waters about what happened and who participated taking shape on pro-Trump television networks while rioters were still on the grounds of the Capitol.
On the afternoon of Jan. 6, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who said he spent $450,000 on rallies contesting the results of the election, appeared on Newsmax and made a baseless claim that would set the tone for other early efforts by conservatives in media to deflect blame for the violence.
“There were probably some undercover antifa people that dressed as Trump people,” Lindell said, a claim that went unchallenged, if not supported, by host Chris Salcedo. Later in the day, Newsmax’s star host, Greg Kelly, offered a conspiracy theory, asking hypothetically, “Did someone want this to happen?”
By the evening of Jan. 6, the most influential voices on the Fox News Channel also seemed to latch onto the theory that outside…