The Republican Party’s anti-reality caucus has a new theory about how the Capitol riots weren’t really their fault, and it involves the “deep state.”
A new conspiracy theory, formed by a former speechwriter for ex-President Trump and pushed by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and a handful of GOP elected officials, contends that the Capitol insurrection was really a false flag operation conducted by the FBI.
The theory alleges that Capitol rioters who haven’t been arrested are still free because they must be working with the FBI, and suggests that the bureau intentionally orchestrated the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
The conspiracy theory comes from a “report” from Darren Beattie, a former Trump speechwriter and policy aide who left the White House in 2018 when CNN reported that he’d spoken at a 2016 conference of white nationalists.
Beattie’s wild claims that there are “disturbing questions of federal foreknowledge” of the Capitol attack and suggestions that FBI agents were in the crowd have been quickly mainstreamed on the right.
“How about rounding up the FBI operatives that rioted on January 6? Why not identify the guy who shot Ashli Babbitt to death?” Carlson declared on his primetime show Tuesday night, falsely claiming that the “unindicted co-conspirators” who have yet to be charged with their crimes might in “every single case” be active FBI operatives while painting Babbitt, an insurrectionist who was killed in the Capitol and has become a martyr on the far-right, as a victim of police brutality.
Carlson then brought Beattie on the air and asked him if the report showed “the FBI was organizing the riots of January 6.”
“It certainly suggests that possibility,” Beattie replied.
That’s facially ridiculous: Beattie’s argument is because some unindicted co-conspirators haven’t been charged, they must be federal informants or undercover FBI agents. But unindicted conspirators don’t face charges for a multitude of reasons. The most famous was President Richard Nixon, who was unindicted in the Watergate scandal while his minions served jail time because the presidency protected him from prosecution. In other cases, people may not be indicted because they agree to plea deals to provide information against their co-conspirators. And some may simply have not been charged yet.
The conspiracy theory was quickly picked up on the far right—including by elected Republican officials.
Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted the segment, saying it shows FBI agents “organized and participated in the January 6th Capitol riot.”
He was quickly retweeted by Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
“We need names and answers about the FBI operatives, who were involved in organizing and carrying out the Jan 6th Capitol riot,” she said. “First they had a ‘back up plan’ to stop Trump in Russia Collusion witch hunt, now we are finding out they were deeply involved in Jan 6th. Deep State.”
Gaetz, who faces his own mounting legal problems, quickly followed up with a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray demanding to know how many FBI agents were at the Capitol siege and how many of the unindicted co-conspirators were FBI agents.
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon had Beattie on his podcast Wednesday morning to discuss the theory as well.
The conspiracy theory is the latest attempt by a faction of Republicans to hide the plain facts of the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol: that a pro-Trump mob, spurred on by the then-president’s lies that the election was stolen from him, ransacked Congress and injured scores of police in the process.
Gaetz famously, and falsely, tried to blame left-wing antifa activists rather than his own side during a House floor speech the very night of the riots. That’s become a standard view on the right: A recent Yahoo/YouGov poll found that 82% of people who voted for Trump blamed left-wing protesters for the violent riots, while just 39% blamed the actual Trump supporters who attacked the Capitol.
And the new theory marries two of the extremist right’s favorite motifs: the claim that the deep state is really behind any facts they don’t like, and an argument that they’re the real victims.
Earlier on Wednesday, 21 House Republicans including Gaetz and Greene voted against honoring the Capitol police and others who responded to help defend the Capitol and save their lives.
And in a hearing on the Capitol riot the same day, multiple Republicans demanded that all video footage of the attacks be released by the Justice Department, a push that buttresses the idea that the DOJ and FBI are hiding something. The footage hasn’t all been released because it’s part of an ongoing investigation.
During that hearing, hard-right Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar claimed the Capitol officer who shot Babbit was “lying in wait” to “execute” her, even though she ignored repeated commands to stop trying to climb through a broken window at a last-ditch barricade police officers had erected as they tried to rush House members from the floor before the violent mob closed off all exits.
Georgia Republican Rep. Jody Hice also used the hearing to express deep concern about the treatment of the rioters facing charges. He questioned why most who are behind bars awaiting trial are being held in “restrictive housing” and kept separate from the general prison population, a move police say is to protect them but some defendants' lawyers have argued is punitive and akin to solitary confinement. The American Civil Liberties Union and some Democrats have voiced concern about this as well.
Hice is running with Trump’s backing for Georgia secretary of state, seeking to oust a Republican who refused to try to help Trump overturn his election loss in Georgia. While his specific concern may be valid it was notable that he didn’t raise any actual concerns about the riots themselves, just the treatment of the rioters.
“It is disgusting and despicable to see Gosar lie about that day and smear the men and women who defended us,” tweeted Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, who was booted from House GOP leadership for standing up to President Trump for his role in inciting the insurrection.