Tucker Carlson falsely claims police 'helped' Trump supporter
Fox News host Tucker Carlson claims video footage shows that police officers "helped" and acted as "tour guides" for the so-called "QAnon Shaman" who stormed the US Capitol while wearing a horned headdress on January 6, 2021. This is false; Jacob Anthony Chansley pleaded guilty to a felony crime after videos showed him disobeying police orders, and he is serving prison time. The Capitol Police chief, meanwhile, said Carlson's apparent attempt to play down Chansley's conduct was "outrageous and false."
"To this day, there is dispute over how he got into the Capitol building," Carlson said March 6, 2023 on his primetime television show, one of the most-watched cable news programs in the United States. "The tapes show the Capitol Police never stopped Jacob Chansley. They helped him. They acted as his tour guides."
The Fox News host continued: "Not one of them even tried to slow him down. Jacob Chansley understood that Capitol Police were his allies."
The videos, which do not include audio, show Chansley wandering around the Capitol as officers trail him. Carlson noted in the broadcast that he had received the tapes from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, whose decision to hand over the footage has been criticized by many as an attempt to inflame political tensions more than two years since the failed insurrection at the home of US democracy.
The footage shot across social media after Carlson's segment was promoted by conservative figures such as Donald Trump Jr.
Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, meanwhile, demanded a retrial for Chansley, even though he pleaded guilty in September 2021.
One tweet shared tens of thousands of times and re-posted to other platforms says: "Never before seen video of January 6 shows Jacob Chansley, the QAnon Shaman, being led through the Capitol by police the entire time that he was in the building."
The claims come as Fox News faces a defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, which alleges the network knowingly aired false allegations of ballot tampering after the 2020 US presidential election. Private messages and sworn depositions made public in recent weeks showed that Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch as well as some of the network's producers and presenters knew the fraud claims they were airing were inaccurate.
The broadcasts were part of a surge in election misinformation that culminated in the riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, the date for Congress to certify the election results. Since then, Carlson has repeatedly misrepresented the attack; in a three-part series aired in late 2021, he suggested that the event was a "false-flag" operation coordinated by the FBI and anti-fascist activists to entrap supporters of former president Donald Trump.
Carlson's depiction of Chansley -- and other rioters he described as "sightseers" -- further misrepresents what happened at the Capitol.
"Last night an opinion program aired commentary that was filled with offensive and misleading conclusions about the January 6 attack," said Capitol Police Chief J Thomas Manger in a March 7 internal memo, which AFP independently verified. "One false allegation is that our officers helped the rioters and acted as 'tour guides.' This is outrageous and false."
Manger added: "The program conveniently cherry-picked from the calmer moments of our 41,000 hours of video. The commentary fails to provide context about the chaos and violence that happened before or during these less tense moments."
Several congressional Republicans also issued statements lambasting the Fox News segment. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Carlson's framing of the footage a "mistake" and said Manger's response "correctly describes what most of us witnessed first hand on January 6."
AFP reached out to Fox News for comment, but a response was not forthcoming.
Rioter broke in, disobeyed officers
Chansley -- a supporter of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory whose bare chest, face paint and horned cap saw him portrayed as the face of the Capitol assault -- was indicted on six charges shortly after the insurrection.
The so-called "QAnon Shaman" later pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing an official proceeding, a felony carrying a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, in September 2021. He was sentenced to 41 months in jail in November of that year.
The prosecution's statement in support of Chansley's guilty plea describes how he climbed a media tower erected for Joe Biden's inauguration, pushed past police lines and entered the US Capitol through a door other rioters broke. He was one of the first 30 people inside.
Chansley was "not legally authorized to enter or remain in the building," according to the statement. He signed the document to "agree that it is true and accurate."
The plea agreement says that when instructed by Capitol Police to depart, Chansley "challenged" officer Keith Robishaw "to let them pass, ultimately using his bullhorn to rile up the crowd and demand that lawmakers be brought out." Chansley then moved to another floor "instead of obeying the instructions of the US Capitol Police to leave the building" and "entered the Gallery of the Senate alone," where he "proceeded to scream obscenities."
As Chansley sought to visit the Senate floor, Robishaw again asked him to leave, according to the plea agreement. Once Chansley made it inside, Robishaw followed and asked him not to sit on the Senate dais that then-Vice President Mike Pence had occupied less than an hour earlier.
Chansley said Pence was a "traitor," according to the court documents, and scribbled a note that warned: "Justice Is Coming!"
Footage shows Chansley's actions
Chansley's entry to the Capitol was recorded; Carlson aired the clip seconds before claiming "there is dispute over how he got" inside. Other footage shows Chansley atop the media tower outside the building and amid a mob at the police line.
The interactions between Chansley and Robishaw were also captured in videos, some of which HBO featured in a documentary titled "Four Hours at the Capitol."
"They just had to fight their way in," Robishaw said during an interview in the documentary. "They're screaming things like, 'We're coming for you, Pence. You can't hide from us. We're going to find you.' If I said I wasn't scared, I'd be lying. I was terrified. I didn't know what to do."
The police officer specifically mentioned Chansley, noting the rioter held what appeared to be a spear with an American flag on it.
"Meeting violence with violence at this time would not be safe for me and my fellow officers. The sheer number of them compared to us, I knew in my head there was no way that we could all get physical with them, so I took it upon myself to try to talk to them," Robishaw said.
"I noticed the Shaman, and I walk in behind him, and that is when I realized I was alone now. I was by myself," he said. "He gets up on the podium -- and in my mind, I was like, 'I can't do anything,' you know. All I can do is shout orders and if they listen, great. If they don't, I can't force them."
The Capitol Police cited Robishaw's comments in a statement to AFP, adding that he was "vastly outnumbered by rioters" but still "trying to get everyone out of the Chamber."
Manger said in his internal memo that police were forced to "use de-escalation tactics to try to talk rioters into getting each other to leave the building."
At least 1,000 people had been arrested in connection with the Capitol riot as of March 6, according to the US Justice Department -- including approximately 326 charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers. About 140 officers were attacked while defending the building.
AFP has previously debunked misinformation about January 6 here and here.