The haywire theory originated from an article published Monday by Revolver News, a right-wing website. From there, it was picked up by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who used his opening segment
on Tuesday night to slam the FBI, saying it played a role in the January 6 attack.
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.
Legal experts laughed off Carlson’s convoluted breakdown of how court documents supposedly revealed that “FBI operatives were organizing the attack.” Twitter even fact-checked
Carlson’s comments on Wednesday afternoon, calling them a “baseless suggestion.” But the right-wing disinformation echo-chamber was already at full blast, and the false flag theory went viral.
These theories are just the latest example of right-wing figures deflecting responsibility for the deadly Capitol riot away from former President Donald Trump and his supporters. Many GOP officials and conservative outlets have promoted false theories that the attack was instigated by Democrats, supporters of Black Lives Matter, or members of the far-left Antifa movement
A so-called ‘seismic exposé’
Revolver News published its story on Monday. The article fit the site’s bent toward conservative clickbait — their homepage Wednesday featured alleged horror stories from people who took the Covid-19 vaccine, and also said First Lady Jill Biden spoke to her husband in a “b*tchily” fashion
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.
It’s true that some indictments against members of extremist groups like the Oath Keepers
and Proud Boys
mention anonymous co-conspirators who haven’t been charged yet. And the FBI routinely uses undercover agents, and government operatives may have been embedded in right-wing groups before January 6.
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 Justice Department’s internal manual
explains when and how unindicted co-conspirators should be mentioned in court filings. The manual doesn’t say these anonymized terms like “PERSON ONE” should be used to refer to FBI agents. And in Capitol riot cases where there were informants who helped prosecutors, they were clearly identified as confidential sources.
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
The story found a home on Fox News, whose hosts and guests pushed false voter fraud claims after the 2020 election,
Read More: Fact-check: Fox News and Republican lawmakers push new false flag conspiracy that FBI orchestrated US Capitol insurrection