Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
As the nation approaches the one-year anniversary of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a disturbing trend has emerged in the right-wing media ecosystem: the open approval and valorization of the event.
Such thoughts first emerged that very day, when far-right commentators like former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka and right-wing site The Gateway Pundit cheered on the “patriots” who had “taken over Capitol Hill.” But after the coup attempt failed, right-wing media proceeded in the following days and months to come up with other explanations of what had happened. While they painted various conspiracy theories of left-wing infiltration or claimed there had been no insurrection at all, they also urged strongly against any attempts to investigate the event further — which did not exactly demonstrate much confidence in the alternative hypotheses.
But more and more, conservative media outlets are collectively ending up right back where they started, with a full embrace of the event, consistent with former President Donald Trump’s claims that “the insurrection took place on November 3rd,” and that January 6 was a “protest of the rigged election.” (This has also spread through official Republican circles, such as the local Republican Party in suburban Cobb County, Georgia, which is preparing to hold a “Candlelight Vigil for J6 Patriots.”)
This right-wing media campaign to excuse the Capitol attack is seemingly reflected by views among the rank-and-file GOP: A recent CBS News/YouGov poll finds that Republican voters have become less disapproving of the events of January 6 than they once were. While the vast majority still say they disapprove, a deeper look finds that this opinion has become spread between those who “strongly disapprove” and a plurality who only “somewhat disapprove.” Moreover, only 21 percent of Republicans will describe the riot as an “insurrection,” while 47 percent describe the people who entered the Capitol as having been motivated by “patriotism,” and 56 percent say they had been “defending freedom.” Moreover, 38 percent of Republicans say that political violence could be justified over election results.
Indeed, much of the response to January 6 has depended on the source’s view about whether such an event could succeed — or only result in ignominious defeat. Far-right activist and talk show host Charlie Kirk, in the days following January 6, deleted a tweet in which he had boasted that his organizations were sending “80+ buses full of patriots” to Washington in order to “fight for this president.” A Turning Point Action spokesperson claimed that the organization had sent only seven buses, but it also later emerged that at least one suspect in the Capitol insurrection had traveled to D.C. on one of Turning Point Action’s buses.
It is also worth looking at what Kirk now has to say about political violence. When an audience member at one of Kirk’s events asked this past October, “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?” Kirk responded that the questioner was “playing into all their plans,” because their opponents were “trying to make you do something that will be violent that will justify a takeover of your freedoms and liberties.” (Others pointed out that Kirk’s supposed objection to violence was based on its high probability of failure instead of any moral qualms.)
Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has created a propaganda series claiming that the attack was a false flag operation mounted by government elements in order to persecute conservatives, has also for long time cultivated a parallel narrative in which the insurrectionists were just regular citizens who “talked about the Constitution, and something called their rights.” Moreover, Carlson has claimed, they “were correct” that the 2020 presidential election had been rigged against Trump — and “if a mass of people show up angry at the Capitol, you should at least pause for a second,” and “maybe we should address their concerns.”
And on New Year’s Eve, right-wing site American Greatness — whose contributors have spread lies about the 2020 election and attacked Capitol Police officers — upped the ante with a piece titled “Of Reichstags and Bastilles.” Repeating a series of false claims that there was “overwhelming evidence of widespread voter fraud in multiple swing states,” contributor Eric Lendrum declared that “thus, the protesters were justified.”
The piece also claimed that Ashli Babbitt, the QAnon conspiracy theorist who was killed by a Capitol Police officer as she attempted to climb through a broken window leading to the Speaker’s Lobby, was “an actual hero … who was willing to give her life for her country—and ultimately did just that, albeit in a far more tragic way.” (Babbitt had posted online the day before the Capitol attack that “Nothing will stop us,” further adding: “They can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours… dark to light!”)
Lendrum concluded his piece with a declaration that conservatives should “stop trying to qualify their stances on January 6 with an obligatory disavowal,” and instead openly celebrate the actions of that day as “a reaction to a long train of abuses and usurpations perpetrated against the American people by an entrenched elite class that has infected our institutions.”
"The only course of action at this point is to be just as firm in our stance as the Left is. If they truly want to address January 6 by making dramatic historical comparisons, then so should we. If their aim is to make January 6 their Reichstag Fire, then we should go forward celebrating the events of that day as our Storming of the Bastille; a day where a symbol of the degeneration of our ruling class into total corruption and tyranny was challenged, and the elites were shown just what happens when millions of freedom-loving citizens finally grow sick and tired of a boot perpetually stomping on their necks."
Another peculiar set of visuals and commentary came Monday night on the far-right One America News.
OAN host Natalie Harp interviewed right-wing author Lee Smith about how the events of January 6 had supposedly been used to defame Trump supporters in general, with Harp calling the date a “plot against the people.” (This phrasing was in contrast to a book that Smith published in 2019, The Plot Against the President, denouncing the Trump-Russia investigations.)
While OAN aired B-roll photos and video of the January 6 attack itself, Smith claimed that the investigations were “effectively the demonization and in some cases the criminalization of opposition” to the Obama and Biden “faction” in American politics. “It’s despicable, but that's what we're up against. We're up against a very, a very ugly faction of the American public sphere.”