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National Review
National Review
11 Mar 2023
Wilfred Reilly

NextImg:Sorting the January 6 Legends from the Truth

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE T he January 6 riot remains what I called it two years ago: a big, embarrassing brawl that was not a political coup. However, we now know that many of the more prominent media narratives about “J6” were basically lies, and that matters very much because it is part of a national trend. 

First, it is important to admit — especially for those of us on the honest right — that new revelations drawn from the 41,000 hours of uncensored video just released to Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy do not change many things we know about a notably unpleasant day. January 6 was not simply a hastily arranged tour of the U.S. Capitol Building, put together for a bunch of weary travelers who for some reason happened to be carrying batons and zip ties. Fighting between police and rioters lasted more than an hour, according to the documents I have seen, and injured dozens of officers. 

Rioters briefly occupied the office of then-speaker Nancy Pelosi — stealing a laptop computer full of classified material — and stole the damned speaker’s lectern from the congressional chamber. Some idiot rubbed human feces on the walls: a tempting gesture, perhaps, inside the sanctum sanctorum of the people who keep taxing you, but an unacceptable one. More seriously, quite a few people died: At least three rioters had fatal heart attacks or passed away after scuffling with police, and 5-foot-1 female military veteran Ashley Babbitt was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer defending members of Congress. I’ve gone on walk-throughs of D.C. myself, as a cheery tourist from Chicago and Louisville, and this would be an atypical one indeed. 

At the same time, despite frantic claims from major players like CNN, the Capitol riot was not “a coup” that almost ended modern American democracy. Speaking as a political scientist, coups are almost invariably military in nature. The most basic search definition to return on Google refers to “an army coup,” or “a military coup.” The primary online Wikipedia and Britannica lists of historical coups and insurrections consist almost entirely of violent military affairs. 

Even should we accept, for the sake of whimsy, that a largely unarmed riot involving perhaps 200 real fighters could constitute a serious attempt to take over the U.S. government, one minimum requirement for this to qualify as a coup try on behalf of Trump would surely be that Big Orange himself were aware of it beforehand. However, as the hardly pro-Trump FBI of 2021 has noted, there is no evidence of this. We have seen one or two successful sedition claims brought against droogs who saw themselves as patriots, but Trump himself almost certainly did not expect the violence before it occurred, and “violence was not centrally coordinated by far-right groups or prominent supporters of then-President Donald Trump.” As I once noted for Spiked UK: “If the guy in the buffalo horns dreamed of toppling the U.S. . . . he dreamed alone.” 

But, here’s the thing — we now know that Buffalo Shaman Guy probably didn’t have any such dark dreams. And, with that, I can move on from the rehashing and get to the point. Prior to Tucker’s revelations, most sane people already knew that January 6 was an unpleasant riot and not a campus tour, but also that the mostly chubby and weaponless rioters (exactly one gun appears to have been seized at the Capitol on 01/06/21) were not going to take over the country. Now, we also know exactly how stage-managed several of the major story lines about that day were, and this matters a whole lot. 

Two narratives truly stick out, in terms of having been presented falsely and constantly for years: the anointing of Jacob Chansley (aka “Q-Anon Shaman”) as the head of the rioters, and the alleged brutal murder of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick. Virtually since the date of the riot, selected pictures of Chansley — who wore an unforgettable outfit including American-flag war paint, a fur bonnet, and bison horns — have been used to illustrate the theme of an organized mass of near-savages, breaking police lines in medieval combat and storming into a conquered Capitol. However, as it turns out, reality was very different. 

New footage reveals that Chansley and his first line of protesters/rioters were heavily outnumbered — at one point nine to one — by Capitol force officers with semi-automatic sidearms once inside the building. No fighting of any kind involving Chansley appears to have taken place, and policemen (perhaps as a professional de-escalation technique, to be fair) guided him and a few friends around the building, on several occasions politely opening shut or locked doors. On one surreal occasion, Chansley gave a public prayer of thanks for law enforcement in general and the Capitol cops in particular. For this, he received four years in prison. In a jailhouse interview, the admittedly not very perceptive 33-year-old noted: “The one very serious regret I have is . . . believing that, when we were waved in by police officers, that it was acceptable.” 

More even than Chansley, who drove the perception of J6 rioters as well-organized barbarians and prompted the famous call of “SHOOT him!” from the Lincoln Project’s Steve Schmidt, Officer Brian Sicknick became the face of January 6 after allegedly being beaten to death by thugs with flagpoles and a fire extinguisher. However, this did not happen either. While most heavy news consumers by now know that the New York Times took down its initial Sicknick story six to seven weeks after the brave officer’s passing, and that Sicknick’s actual point of death was late on January 7, the majority of the tweets and stories attributing his death to violence on 01/06 remain up. 

In this context, it must have been genuinely shocking to many good-faith citizens to see video of a healthy-looking Sicknick in a well-fitted helmet briskly escorting people out of the Capitol hours after his first reported death. More broadly, “They killed cops” seems to be another largely or entirely false J6 narrative. I may personally suspect that a day of outdoor scuffling in a cloud of poison spray did Officer Sicknick’s health no good, but his literal cause of death was given by the D.C. medical examiner as “natural causes.” Other names of police officers sometimes added to the January 6 tally include individuals who died of suicide months later — and often one policeman killed by a Black Lives Matter radical, on the exact opposite side of the political spectrum, during a vehicle attack on the Capitol almost two months later. 

The sort of information curation we saw after the January 6 riot is increasingly common and (to use a word I usually hate) problematic. One of my first articles for National Review covered the Twitter Files, in which the billionaire owner of a top-five social-media platform casually revealed that the company’s prior leadership silenced virtually everyone it disagreed with, using a range of techniques with names straight out of Orwell: “shadow-banning” and “ghost-banning” and so forth. In the specific case of J6, the congressional commission hearings adjudicating what was supposedly a serious pseudo-legal case were in fact a (literal) made-for-TV production, managed by the former president of ABC News and full of cherry-picked moments like the now-famous clipped video of Senator Josh Hawley running. 

As a direct result of that sort of thing, trust in the media and in regime-approved experts is currently at near-record lows. At present, only 11 percent of Pachyderms and 31 percent of political independents trust the mainstream national media even a fair amount. Frankly, that sounds about right — and Fox’s coverage of the Capitol riot is almost certain to move that needle even lower. 

Importantly, pointing out all of this is not “excusing the rioters.” As with discussions of almost anything else — parts of American history, say — it is not denying that a thing was bad if you object to its being falsely presented as 200 to 300 percent worse than it was, while things that did more harm (the BLM riots, the Arab slave trade) go almost totally ignored. “No excuses” is a good rule — and one that should extend to the lap-dog mainstream media, which often embarrassingly refuse to do their job. 

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