Tucker Carlson Describes the Capitol Riot As ‘Mostly Peaceful Chaos.’ Is He Wrong?
During his Fox News show on Monday night, Tucker Carlson presented surveillance video from the U.S. Capitol on the day of the January 6 riot, which he obtained from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.), as evidence that the conventional depiction of that event is misleading. He noted that Democratic politicians, journalists, and commentators have routinely described the breach of the Capitol as “a deadly insurrection.” His assessment: “Everything about that phrase is a lie. Very little about January 6th was organized or violent. Surveillance video from inside the Capitol shows mostly peaceful chaos.”
According to a New York Times article about the controversy over that show, it is Carlson who is lying. The headline calls his claims about the riot “false,” while the subhead describes him as “falsely portraying the attack on the Capitol as a largely peaceful event.” The lead repeats that charge, saying Carlson “falsely portrayed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol as a largely peaceful gathering.” But if we take “peaceful” to mean “nonviolent,” the evidence, including the arrest numbers cited by the Times as well as the video record, supports that characterization.
Carlson did not pretend that none of the Donald Trump supporters who entered the Capitol that day were violent and/or destructive. He played familiar footage of rioters assaulting police officers, breaking windows, forcing an entrance open, and pushing past cops who tried to stop them. But he argued that such images did not accurately reflect how most of the crowd that invaded the Capitol behaved.
“Hundreds and hundreds of people, possibly thousands,” entered the Capitol over the course of two hours that day, Carlson said. “The crowd was enormous. A small percentage of them were hooligans. They committed vandalism. You’ve seen their pictures again and again. But the overwhelming majority weren’t. They were peaceful. They were orderly and meek. These were not insurrectionists. They were sightseers.”
That gloss is misleading in a few ways. Carlson mentioned vandalism but not violence against police officers, which indisputably occurred even if it was not typical. His characterization of the Capitol invaders as “orderly” is hard to reconcile with his description of the scene as “mostly peaceful chaos.” The adjective meek likewise seems inapt for people who entered the Capitol without permission as Congress was ratifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, precisely because they objected to that ceremony, which they erroneously saw as confirming an illegitimate result.
Even if they did not break anything, steal anything, or attack anyone, the protesters should have known they were not supposed to be in the building, and their unauthorized presence was itself a criminal offense, albeit a relatively minor one. Many of them did act more like curious “sightseers” than angry rioters, but they were still breaking the law and in some cases arguably intended to disrupt the electoral vote count, which is what in fact happened.
Still, it is accurate to say most of the protesters were not violent, a point confirmed by the numbers that the Times cites. Of the 1,000 or so people who have been arrested in connection with the Capitol invasion, it says, 326 “have been charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees.” That group includes “106 individuals who have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.” In other words, about two-thirds of the protesters who have been arrested were charged with nonviolent misdemeanors.
Consider Eduardo Nicolas Alvear Gonzalez, the dude in American flag pants who was famously recorded smoking pot in the Capitol Rotunda. Gonzalez originally was charged with four overlapping misdemeanors: 1) “entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds,” 2) “disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds,” 3) “disorderly conduct in a Capitol building,” and 4) “parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.”
Gonzalez pleaded guilty to that last offense, which is punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and/or up to six months in jail under 40 USC 5104. He was sentenced to two years of probation, including 200 hours of community service, plus a $1,000 fine and $500 in restitution. Since both the charges and the outcome were typical of these cases, it is accurate to say the protesters who entered the Capitol were “mostly peaceful” in the sense that their offenses generally were limited to entering the building and walking around it without permission.
The government came down much harder on Jacob Chansley, better known as the “QAnon Shaman.” In addition to several misdemeanor charges similar to the ones that Gonzalez faced, Chansley was charged with participating in “civil disorder,” a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, and obstructing an official proceeding, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to the latter charge and received a 41-month prison sentence.
The bare-chested Chansley was conspicuous because of what he wore (a fur hat with bison horns and red, white, and blue face paint), what he carried (an American flag affixed to a spear), and what he did. He not only walked around the Capitol but entered the Senate chamber after it had been evacuated in response to the riot and mounted the platform in front of Vice President Mike Pence’s chair. There he delivered a prayer in which he thanked the “heavenly father” for giving Capitol police officers “the inspiration needed…to allow us into the building.” He later told reporters, “The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors in office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win.”
Chansley, Carlson said, “became the face of January 6th, a dangerous conspiracy theorist dressed in outlandish costume who led the ‘violent insurrection’ to overthrow American democracy.” He emphasized that several officers tagged along with Chansley but “never stopped” him, at least insofar as the video shows.
In fact, Carlson said, “They helped him. They acted as his tour guides….Capitol police officers [took] him to multiple entrances and even [tried] to open locked doors for him. We counted at le
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