In a major development in the investigations of the January 6 insurrection, the Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it has charged Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers, with seditious conspiracy alongside 10 other defendants.
Until now, other defendants in the insurrection have faced lesser charges involving trespassing or disrupting government proceedings, after the violent mob attempted to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election win over then-President Donald Trump. And so, the new indictments pose a serious challenge for right-wing media outlets that have waged a long propaganda campaign to rewrite the history of the event and downplay its significance.
Aaron Blake at The Washington Post gathered a whole set of examples from Fox News hosts and commentators who had argued that because no one had yet been charged with sedition, that meant there had not been a real insurrection and the event’s significance had been vastly exaggerated.
“And that’s the point here: It takes time to build such cases,” Blake wrote. “Declaring the lack of big, early charges to be anything other than a symptom of the slow-moving cogs of justice and working small-to-big is a recipe for having egg on your face later on.”
So, now that there are some genuine charges of sedition, here’s how Fox News and other right-wing personalities are responding.
The New Line: This Clears Trump!
On Fox’s purported “straight news” program Special Report with Bret Baier, law professor and Fox News contributor Jonathan Turley remarked that there are seemingly few sedition charges: “Out of over 700 people indicted, thousands investigated, there really is only 11 thus far that have been tagged with a sort of seditious charge.”
Furthermore, he argued, Republicans might “make a big deal out of the fact that the indictment seems to sort of clear Trump in one respect” on the grounds that Rhodes complained in some messages that Trump was not doing anything more than just talk. “That may be played back by the other side to combat a broader conspiracy of sedition,” Turley added.
Turley was referring to the messages, included in the indictment, that Rhodes allegedly sent at just before 1:30 p.m. EST that day. “Pence is doing nothing. As I predicted,” Rhodes wrote, referring to Trump’s unconstitutional demand that then-Vice President Mike Pence unilaterally oppose Electoral College votes for Biden. Rhodes then added: “All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’ve had enough.” (About an hour after that, as the riot continued at the Capitol, Trump tweeted a continued verbal attack on Pence. Trump would later defend rioters who chanted for Pence to be lynched.)
But with that said, a significant part of the political (and potentially legal) case against Trump is precisely that he wasn’t doing anything. Reportedly, Trump initially resisted deploying the National Guard to defend the Capitol from the rioters and also “gleefully” watched the riot coverage twice.
Denying There Was An Insurrection At All
Fox News host Tucker Carlson has pushed an extensive propaganda campaign around the events of January 6, claiming that the attack on the Capitol was the result of a false-flag operation stirred up by government elements, in order to justify putting conservatives in gulags. (On other occasions, though, he has actively defended the rioters and claimed that they made some “correct” points about the 2020 election.)
On the Thursday night edition of his show, Carlson claimed that the indictment was suspiciously timed to deal with political embarrassment about the lack of sedition charges “48 hours after” such questions from Republicans during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Just to illustrate the absurdity of such a claim, the indictment document is 48 pages long and contains extensive allegations of evidence and investigations, which could not have been cobbled together from nothing just to satisfy a sudden political need.