Fact-check: Fox News and Republican lawmakers push new false flag conspiracy that FBI orchestrated US Capitol insurrection
Several Republican lawmakers quickly piled on. They entered the article into the congressional record, tweeted about the Fox News segment, condemned the FBI agents who supposedly “organized and participated” in the Capitol attack, and demanded answers from the FBI director.
But here’s the problem: The underlying article was nothing more than a conspiratorial web of unproven claims, half-truths and inaccurate drivel about perceived bombshells in court filings.
A so-called ‘seismic exposé’
Here’s the crux of the conspiracy: Several indictments against Capitol rioters who are accused of planning the attack with extremist groups include references to unindicted co-conspirators. The article claimed these co-conspirators could actually be FBI informants or undercover agents who infiltrated the groups, played a leading role in planning the attack, and stormed the Capitol.
But there is no evidence that these co-conspirators are secretly working for the FBI. An FBI spokesperson declined to comment about the false-flag theory. Legal experts say the article’s conclusions are based on a deeply flawed misunderstanding of how legal writing works and the definition of an unindicted co-conspirator.
This theory “makes the erroneous assumption that unindicted co-conspirators are government agents,” said Ross Garber, a Tulane University law professor and former CNN legal analyst. “Federal agents acting within the scope of their duties are never considered unindicted co-conspirators because by definition they aren’t conspiring with the alleged bad guys.”
The 9,500-word Revolver article, which the site called “seismic exposé,” was carefully hedged. Many of the claims were posed as questions. Others were preceded by caveats like, “if it turns out that…”
But many people who picked up the story ignored these guardrails as they amplified the allegations.
Front-and-center on Fox News
“FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol on January 6,” Carlson said without evidence. “… It turns out that this ‘white supremacist insurrection’ was — again, by the government’s own admission in these documents — was organized at least in part by government agents.”
He later claimed there were “FBI operatives that rioted on January 6.” The on-screen graphic for part of the segment read, “LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS PARTICIPATED IN JAN 6.”
Over and over, Carlson went farther than the original article with his direct and explicit claims against the FBI.
Garber said that there are legitimate questions to ask about law enforcement activities before the attack, including whether any FBI operatives infiltrated the groups that breached the Capitol.
“But the designation of unindicted co-conspirators has nothing to do with that,” Garber said.
CNN’s senior legal analyst Elie Honig agreed that the labels don’t indicate FBI operatives.
“In fact, prosecutors use those generic labels for a variety of reasons, most commonly to refer to people who participated in the conspiracy but have not yet been publicly charged,” Honig said.
“The government knows who they are, but the government has not charged them,” Carlson said. “Why is that? You know why. They were almost certainly working for the FBI.”
Prosecutors said Caldwell stayed with “Person Two” at a hotel in northern Virginia before the insurrection. His attorneys said in court filings he was only accompanied by his wife during the trip. Text messages from another defendant also indicate that Caldwell lives with “Person Two” at his home in rural Virginia, and Caldwell’s lawyers have said he lives with his wife on a farm.
“Essentially all of Carlson’s legal assertions and assumptions are wrong,” Honig said.
GOP lawmakers latch on
The Fox News segment was an instant hit with some Republican lawmakers and right-wing influencers.
Other right-wing figures hopped on the bandwagon, including personalities with big followings that routinely push “deep state” lies and dominate the disinformation echo-chamber.
Despite all the attention, there is no evidence that the false flag theory has any credence.