After House Republicans failed to gain any traction from holding hours of hearings in which they berated former Twitter executives for briefly suppressing a half-baked story about Hunter Biden in 2020, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy launched another attempt to use government power to boost right-wing conspiracy theories by giving Fox host Tucker Carlson unlimited access to more than 14,000 hours of footage recorded in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Carlson, is one of many elite Republican figures who have tried to shift blame for the violent attack of that date from supporters of disgraced ex-president Donald Trump to unspecified “agents provocateur” supposedly working for the FBI. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and other far-right members of Congress have long sought to release all surveillance video in the desperate hope to find anyone they could accuse of being a federal manipulator.
In remarks last month, McCarthy stated that he was inclined to release the footage to the public. “I think the public should see what has happened on that day,” he said.
Fox representatives confirmed the arrangement after it was initially disclosed by Axios. CNN reported that McCarthy had not consulted beforehand with other Republican House leaders or with Democratic Minority Leader, Hakeem Jeffries.
Concocting falsehoods about law enforcement officials on Jan. 6 is right-wing media figures’ second attempt at blame deflection for the Capitol riot. Initially, Fox hosts claimed that leftist “antifa” protesters organized the mob, even though they privately acknowledged that the group was comprised of Trump supporters.
But Republican politicians and their media allies are not the only parties who have sought the release of the surveillance footage. Since early 2021, a number of news organizations have filed legal briefs seeking all videos recorded by the federal government on the day of the attack.
In multiple court filings, the U.S. Capitol Police has sought to prevent the release of the surveillance footage. In one brief, the agency told a judge that the videos could reveal important security details about the building complex, “being collected, exposed, and passed on to those who might wish to interfere with the security of the Capitol and Congress in the future.”
Federal prosecutors have also sought to block release on the grounds that it could harm prosecution efforts against people accused of crimes committed on Jan. 6 and also potentially prevent them from receiving a fair trial.
Thus far, courts have not been persuaded by arguments to release closed-circuit footage captured by the U.S. Capitol Police, but the disbanded House select committee assigned to investigate the attack did release several specific videos during its public hearings. In response to media lawsuits, some federal judges have been allowing videos presented in court hearings to be released to the public as well.
Several Democratic former members of Jan. 6 select committee condemned McCarthy for giving Carlson unrestricted access to the security footage.
“It’s hard to overstate the potential security risks if this material were to be used irresponsibly,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement. “If Speaker McCarthy has indeed granted Tucker Carlson – a Fox host who routinely spreads misinformation and Putin’s poisonous propaganda – and his producers access to this sensitive footage, he owes the American people an explanation of why he has done so and what steps he has taken to address the significant security concerns at stake.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., another former select committee member blasted McCarthy’s decision.
“What security precautions were taken to keep this from becoming a roadmap for 2024 insurrection?” he wrote on Twitter. “Why isn’t it available to all media & public? Smell the MAGA propaganda coming.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., blasted McCarthy and Carlson in a statement posted to Twitter.
“Make no mistake: This isn’t about transparency, it’s about fueling dangerous conspiracy theories,” he wrote.”
Just what Carlson and his staff will do with the more than 14,000 hours of footage is unclear, but his rhetoric and actions in recent months provide some clues.
In a text message sent to his producer Alex Pfeiffer shortly after the Capitol attack revealed in a lawsuit filed by election machine company Dominion Voting Systems, the host blasted Trump as “a demonic force” an “a destroyer” who could potentially take down Fox if he turned his fanbase against the network. But in the intervening months and years, Carlson has sought to reframe the riot—in which Trump supporters assaulted police, erected gallows to hang people, and sought to kill then-vice president Mike Pence—through lies told by far-right activists who have been trying to avoid jail time for their actions. Carlson collaborated heavily with them to release a three-part online series called “Patriot Purge” which falsely claimed that federal law enforcement officials staged the Capitol siege to make Republicans look bad.
Several Jan. 6 defendants have tried similar arguments in court but their defenses have all failed.
Carlson might also take a similar approach to one that was used by several right-leaning online commentators who were given exclusive private access to emails and records kept by Twitter by its new owner, Republican activist Elon Musk. Seeking to boost the GOP’s fortunes, Musk’s commentator allies took an extremely selective approach to their data trove and used their reports to focus entirely on Twitter’s actions against right-wing figures and utterly ignore the company’s many actions supportive of Republicans or government of other countries.
Outsourcing the GOP’s Jan. 6 argument to a controversial Fox News anchor isn’t likely to produce anything of legal or political consequence, but that isn’t the point. High-level Republican politicians like McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are desperate to talk about anything other than the first mass attack on the U.S. Capitol since the War of 1812. Letting Tucker Carlson concoct elaborate conspiracy theories is a way of keeping the far-right base happy while also allowing McCarthy and other elite Republicans to keep their distance from the topic.
The Capitol surveillance footage is going to become the new Hunter Biden laptop.