Ever since a mob of pro-Trump fanatics attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Republicans and their propagandists have been frantically engaged in a gaslighting campaign to convince the public that it didn’t see what it watched unfold that day, primarily by claiming that someone, anyone else—their favorite concocted bogeymen, “antifa” or Black Lives Matter, or their favorite conspiracy theory, the “Deep State”—was responsible for the violence, other than the disinformation-fueled “Patriots” and their cohorts who turned out en masse to try to keep Congress from counting the Electoral College that day.
Tucker Carlson, of course, has been leading that gaslight brigade, primarily with a barrage of baldfaced lying, claiming that the people responsible were actually Deep State agents of the FBI, trying to set up hapless MAGA fans with a “false flag” operation. His latest iteration of this conspiracy theory, trotted out Tuesday on his Fox News show, tried to suggest that a seemingly unidentified man in the crowd, notable for his red face paint, was in fact one of these “agent provocateurs”—when a brief bit of digging by HuffPost’s Ryan J. Reilly revealed that in fact the man is a well-known St. Louis Cardinals fan, and an ardent Carlson devotee.
The claim was made by a regular guest (and featured contributor to his propaganda pseudo-documentary) named Joseph McBride, an attorney for several of the Jan. 6 defendants, while Carlson pumped the claims alongside him. The focus of the segment was a particular participant in the riot photographed and recorded in key locales outside the Capitol, distinguished by his bright red facepaint and matching MAGA hat, pseudonymously named “RedFace45” by online sleuths seeking to identify various actors in the mob that day.
Carlson claimed there were “people who, on tape, encourage illegality” but “who have not been charged,” and McBride then described RedFace45 as one of them:
He is clearly a law-enforcement officer. He interacts with uniformed personnel, he interacts with agents in the crowd. He passes out weapons—sledgehammers, poles, mace. Some of those things come into contact with other protesters who have subsequently been charged with possessing dangerous weapons and using dangerous weapons at the Capitol. That is clearly entrapment. It’s clearly the government creating conditions of dangerousness, and entrapping members of the crowd to possess weapons and possibly use them—for reasons that we cannot comprehend.
Carlson then demanded to know: “Who is this person, and why hasn’t he been charged? That’s a simple ask.” He suggested that someone in Congress should demand an investigation.
They needn’t bother. Reilly’s report at HuffPost reveals that in fact RedFace45 has been identified already and interviewed by the FBI, but apparently hasn’t been charged because there’s no evidence he participated in the day’s violence beyond yelling and encouraging people. In fact, he’s something of a well-known character in the St. Louis area, where he is known as “Rally Runner,” an ardent Cardinals fan who runs sprints around Busch Stadium during home games.
Rally Runner is somewhat of a local celebrity in St. Louis. A photo of him was featured in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in October 2013, when the Cardinals reached the World Series. The man, who did not provide a name, told the paper his running “strengthens the spirit for the Cardinals to get the energy to win.” (They lost to the Red Sox in six games that year.) He also told St. Louis magazine in 2016 that running around the stadium was “spiritual,” that his “memory is horrible,” and that he’d like to publish his journal as a book.
As it happens, in addition to being a rabid Trump supporter, Rally Runner’s social media posts have included posts and comments expressing his adoration for Carlson: “This is so true what he says.” “Tucker nails it again! So true!” “Look at my post from Tucker Carlson on my timeline recently, if Dems get Senate and President we are screwed. Everyone is screwed,” he wrote in November.
When Reilly confronted McBride with this evidence, he at first refused to acknowledge its veracity, then finally claimed that because it was his job to defend his client, he didn’t “need to be right” about the facts.
“If I’m wrong, so be it, bro. I don’t care,” McBride said. “I don’t give a shit about being wrong.”
Finally, McBride told Reilly he had just been “theorizing things,” but was “not publishing conclusive findings”—though apparently he had no compunction about making definitive assertions on national television.
Republicans have had an array of would-be scapegoats to blame for the right-wing mob’s violence on Jan. 6, beginning with the early claim that the instigators were actually “antifa” and Black Lives Matter that was trotted out by GOP members of Congress. One of their early favorites was to identify a young Black videographer from Utah, John J. Sullivan, who had been with the mobs inside the Capitol, as a secret agent provocateur from both antifa and Black Lives Matter.
There’s just one problem with this story: It has, once again, been thoroughly debunked. Sullivan, as The Washington Post reported in detail, is a man who initially attempted to organize Black Lives Matter protests in Utah outside of the existing African American protest community. In short order, a person was shot during one of his events and then Proud Boys began showing up to support his protests. Among Black Lives Matter activists, he was widely regarded as a duplicitous “double agent.” His last organized protest of the summer was a pro-gun rights rally featuring large numbers of far-right militiamen, including Oath Keepers.
Then there have been the sensational claims of right-wing propagandist Darren Beattie from Revolver News, who has been featured heavily in Carlson’s pseudo-documentary. Beattie’s badly flawed reportage—which, among other many factual errors, is based on conflating confidential informants with unindicted coconspirators, when in reality they are mutually exclusive under the law—has nonetheless continued to circulate with fresh iterations.
Beattie recently appeared on Glenn Beck’s talk show to claim that an Arizona Oath Keeper named Ray Epps was one of these Deep State informants for the FBI who had helped convince innocent “Patriots” to incriminate themselves (also the subject of a lengthy Revolver piece by Beattie). Beattie also suggests that Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes—around whom federal prosecutors have been circling for months—is somehow part of this plot with the FBI.
But as Politifact explains, Beattie doesn’t even confirm that Epps is an FBI informant, but rather speculates broadly that he is. His actions on Jan. 6, videos show, are wholly consistent with those of the outspoken Trump supporter he has been for years (notably as a spokesman for the Arizona Oath Keepers). And as with all of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who had informant relationships with the FBI, if Epps was also himself an informant, the information he was providing was intelligence on their “leftist” opponents, not on their own organization.
It also would not be a Carlson gaslighting episode without the requisite right-wing projection by which mainstream liberals defending democracy from the radical right, in classic “bloody shirt” style, are converted into nefarious bullies trying to destroy the country. This was the plea that McBride made to Carlson’s audience:
Our democracy and our way life is at stake, and unless you fulfill your oath to your constituents and to your country to stand up and do the right thing here, then our democracy will be lost, there is no doubt about it.
Sometimes they’re right, but not the way they think.