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Scrubbing the Blood: Tucker Carlson and the Rewriting of January 6
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Eventually this was going to happen. Of that, there is no doubt. The message has been synthesized and honed since the very moment insurrectionists broke into the Capitol on January 6th, 2021.
Maybe even before that.
Likely even before that.
What Tucker Carlson is now peddling to the viewers of Fox News is just a reiteration and new edition of a lie he has pushed for years. He was quick to adopt the “honeypot” theory that federal authorities had created the situations on January 6th in order to “imprison patriots” and create a new federally-backed crackdown on political enemies. This conspiracy theory was crafted on the outskirts of Right Wing media, within independent and irresponsible blogs and websites, and then trumpeted by the likes of Alex Jones and others that Carlson and his producers rely on for their rhetorical tactics.
This new push, and this new front, coincides with the Republicans retaking the House of Representatives and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy seeking to fortify his own control over the Far Right members of his own party, as well as an attempt to sway firebombers like Carlson to his side, and his release of mountains of footage to Carlson and his team for aggressive editing and reframing. But the timing goes even further than that.
We are dealing with this for a variety of reasons, including the January 6th Commission’s complete failure and unwillingness to investigate the attempted coup in full. Again, this was an operation funded, strategized, and carried out on behalf of the billionaire donors who wield the GOP and its base like a weapon. Instead of focusing on Donald Trump as the lone responsible party, the commission could have presented an accurate portrayal of what happened instead of sweeping their own complicity under the rug and attempting to protect the donors, the parties, and themselves. Instead, we got a political presentation that left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth, which is how conspiracy theories are allowed to grow and fester.
And that is where Fox News, and Tucker Carlson specifically, come into play.
Tucker and Transplanting MAGA
To begin, let us define Carlson’s role within Fox News, the GOP, and the growing authoritarian movement.
Carlson is an establishment Republican. Originating from old money and long a part of the GOP’s framework of magazines, publications, and traditional organizations, Carlson has spent the vast majority of his career partnering with economic libertarians and country-club Republicans. His talent has always been his ability to adapt. It’s easy to forget, with his current gig, that he has hosted shows on all three of the major networks and in virtually every major political space imaginable.
Throughout it all, the constant has been Carlson’s sneering anger and underlying classism, which has tinged every position he’s ever taken. At times his casual racism has come through, but this new turn at Fox has turned every aspect up to its maximum level.
This is important. Carlson’s adaptability leaves him serving as a weather vane. His opportunism reveals, from time to time, where the political weather is heading, and his turn as a white nationalist dead-set on destroying democracy and creating a Hungarian-style theocratic illiberal order gives insight to prevailing trends. To watch the Swanson frozen food heir build a media empire on mainstreaming neo-fascism and peddling faux-populism to the masses has been a halting development, but it speaks volumes about where we are and certainly where we are heading.
As the revelations from the Dominion Voting defamation case continue to roll in, we have gotten an excellent look at just how Carlson feels about Donald Trump and the movement he helms. It isn’t shocking that the Fox News rank and file despise Trump or understand his claims were warrant-less and crazy. Republicans used Trump starting in 2010 to peddle a Birtherism conspiracy theory they knew was bogus, but also recognized the usefulness in stoking nativism, racism, and paranoia in their audience was an easy way to undermine President Barack Obama. When Trump entered the 2016 fray, they excitedly counted their profits and waited for the buffoon to exit the stage. Then, to everyone’s chagrin, he conquered them and brought the entire GOP along for the ride.
The GOP has used MAGA-like conspiracy theories and ideas for its benefit for decades, and, as discussed here in previous articles and THE MIDNIGHT KINGDOM: A HISTORY OF POWER, PARANOIA, AND THE COMING CRISIS, Conservatives would like to believe they are somehow detached from these absurdities but have been defined by them since their origins.
During Trump’s unlikely presidency, traditional Republican organs like the Heritage Foundation were able to snake their way into power. Trump’s lack of interest in actual governance and obsession instead with the glories of power made it easy. As a result, the same neoliberalism Trump promised to battle was instead championed by its beneficiaries, including cabinet members like Betsy DeVos, who used her position as Secretary of Education to actively destroy the public education system in America. It was a useful relationship, this symbiotic partnership with Trumpism, but Republicans were still left shaking their heads whenever Trump would blow his top or court some unnecessary controversy. Perhaps no individual represents this fraught relationship more than Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House who partnered with Trump to get his beloved tax cuts before leaving the public stage and finding a home with Fox News, where he continues to try and pry the GOP from Trump and his circle.
Tucker is a key figure in this developing story. There is a worsening civil war within the Republican Party to define itself in a (hopefully) post-Trump era, and Carlson’s influence is needed to complete what amounts to an organ transfer of MAGA within the GOP’s control. That control, which rested for decades on the intelligentsia and elite-set of Republicans keeping wackadoodle movements like the John Birch Society just under the radar but in their thrall, is absolutely vital should the party and its donors hold onto the necessary energy and faux-populism of Trumpism while exorcising its leader.
This is a delicate operation. Difficult as hell. But there is plenty of money to be made and power to be had. January 6th is one of the main focuses of this attempt, and revising it, reforming it, turning it into something besides what we all watched and witnessed - a violent, attempted coup - is absolutely necessary should this Right Wing alchemy ever come to pass.
The New Story
It’s no coincidence that Tucker’s introduction to his new narrative of January 6th opens with a brief shot of Alex Jones. In it, Jones is outside with the crowd and warning them not to breach the Capitol. Out of context, it is a rhetorical masterstroke that memory-holes the fact that Jones, with his conspiracy theory empire, has created an alternate reality that helped make the attempted coup possible in the first place. Here, it sends a message: even the Far Right was against the assault on the Capitol.
Jones is an incredibly useful figure for Carlson and has been an ally for years now. The two exchange messages - which we learned following the lawsuit against Alex Jones by Sandy Hook parents - and Carlson has often spoken highly of the Infowars host, calling him a “far better guide to reality” than mainstream journalists.
Over the past few years, as Tucker has embraced this new direction, his show has consistently relied on Jones’s productions to test content for his audience and see which conspiracy theory narratives find purchase on the internet and then migrate to a larger audience. There is a definitive pipeline of information and misinformation for the two which has been politically and financially beneficial for both parties. That feedback loop looks something like the following:
This relationship has led to the mainstreaming of a whole host of wild, baseless, white supremacist conspiracy theories, all of them antisemitic stories scrubbed of their explicit nature, to then air on Fox News nearly twenty-four hours a day. Besides Tucker’s protection of Jones, what we are now watching is the mainstreaming of a larger conspiracy theory narrative that Carlson and Fox News, and the Republican Party beyond them, will use to both launder January 6th while transferring the MAGA Movement to the “responsible” members of the party and apparatus.
What Tucker has fixated on since the early aftermath of January 6th has been this story: Trump’s supporters were angered by an illegitimate election, traveled to Washington, D.C. to support their leader, marched legally to the Capitol, and were then incited by undercover federal agents in order to arrest them and subsequently crack down on their political movement.
The rhetorical trick here is very subtle but incredibly useful. To be clear, it has already been shown that law enforcement officers had infiltrated certain groups like the Three Percenters and the Proud Boys. This is nothing new. Our intelligence and law enforcement bodies have been up to these tricks for decades, including inside the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement, and every other left-leaning group in the modern history of the United States. It is a problem we should address. Everyone, whether Democrat or Republican, should be in favor of reining these bodies in. But that’s far from what happened on January 6th.
Again, the Commission’s insistence - forwarded by Liz Cheney, the Republicans, and the Democrats alike - that Trump was solely responsible for the attempted coup created this scenario and made this new strategy possible. Rather than focusing on a concentrated attack on democracy that has been going for years now, it makes the entire situation the result of one man’s speech and intentions and what the people there intended to do. It completely ignores how they arrived there, what was happening behind the scenes, what was intended, and ultimately, again, what was actually going on.
In this new arrangement, according to Tucker and his conspiracy theory brethren, January 6th is actually no longer about Trump. It’s about a Deep State conspiracy that intends to undermine any challenge against it, whether that’s Trump or his supporters or anyone who might even casually support Trump but wants to look elsewhere. It extends the need for this movement beyond Trump and toward a larger, more sustainable goal.
The message is clear: they went after these people. They’ll come after you.
Again, it’s subtle, but it advances the story and makes it possible to move beyond Trump while still allowing for the spirit of Trump. If the transplant can take place, and the GOP can retake the flame of Trumpism and harness it for their control, then the institution-destroying, authoritarian energy can be focused and guided in a controlled destruction of liberal democracy and, in the ideology that Tucker and others of his ilk find most desirable, possibly recreate Orbán’s illiberal theocracy within the United States.
And that, as they say, is only the beginning.
Unfortunately, analysis of the larger picture of what’s happening here is largely missing in coverage of this debacle. Media continues to roll its eyes and just ask passively what Tucker is doing and then move on as if it holds no weight, as if the entire political spectrum isn’t being shaken and controlled. We’re in a heavy, heavy time where reactionary forces are moving and changing constantly, and many are still unwilling or unable to recognize what is taking shape.