Tucker Carlson’s “Patriot Purge,” a revisionist history of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, clocks in at an easily binge-watchable 70 minutes, spread over three episodes. It’s produced with the aesthetics and narrative suspense of an action thriller. The good guys are the “patriots” who stormed the Capitol. The bad guys are those in the media and government who are persecuting them. “The left is hunting the right,” Carlson warns his viewers.
It is the most nakedly fascist piece of propaganda Carlson has ever produced. And it comes at a dangerous moment: The insurrection is on its way to becoming as noble an enterprise as the Boston Tea Party for large parts of the American right.
Former President Donald Trump is laying clear groundwork to fully embrace the events of Jan. 6, which he now calls “a very beautiful time,” during his potential upcoming presidential campaign. He claimed last month that “The insurrection took place on November 3, Election Day. January 6 was the Protest!” and has repeated the sentiment during recent rallies.
Trump also defended the chants of “Hang Mike Pence!” during an interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl. His valorization of the insurrection attempt is having a downstream effect on the entire Republican Party: Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) declined over the weekend to criticize Trump for defending those bloodthirsty chants.
And now, Carlson, through this three-part “documentary” as well as his nightly top-rated prime-time show on Fox News, is taking the argument to the masses.
Nicole Hemmer, author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics,” described “Patriot Purge” as “an overarching fantasy about the insurrection that goes like this: It was not an insurrection,” she wrote for CNN. “To the extent there was violence, it was stirred up by members of the government and left-wing agitators. All of it was orchestrated so that the full force of federal law enforcement could be unleashed against Trump supporters, marking them as enemies of the state.”
Carlson’s insurrection agitprop sparked a similar wave of warnings from many experts on fascism and misinformation: Propaganda like this, they argued, could one day render the shocking events of Jan. 6 as a mere preview of the right-wing violence to come.
A White Nationalist Whitewash
“Patriot Purge” is deeply conversant with far-right mythologies about Jan. 6 and broader fantasies about supposed persecution of far-right groups by the federal government. That’s not surprising, considering who worked on the series: Carlson co-wrote “Patriot Purge” with a man who previously produced white nationalist movies, and the series counts two white nationalists among its protagonists.
Carlson’s narration is shot through with coded terminology: In the first episode, he describes the arrest of Jan. 6 rioters as the precursor to a “purge” of “legacy Americans.”
Darren Beattie is the first person interviewed in “Patriot Purge,” warning the viewer that “the domestic war on terror is here. It’s coming after half the country.”
Beattie made headlines in 2018 after he was forced out of the Trump White House when CNN revealed he’d spoken at a white supremacist conference. Since then, Beattie has openly allied himself with white supremacists — most notably Nick Fuentes — frequently promoting them online. He once tweeted, “If white people are targeted as a group, they must learn to defend themselves as a group.”
None of this background is mentioned in “Patriot Purge.” Instead, Carlson says simply: “Darren Beattie, of Revolver News, is one of the few in media who’s done real reporting on what actually happened on Jan. 6.”
Elsewhere, “security analyst” J. Michael Waller is trotted out in Episode 1 to make the baseless claim that the violence on Jan. 6 was a “political warfare operation” orchestrated by “agent provocateurs.” Though Carlson mentions that Waller works for the Center for Security Policy, it goes unmentioned that the organization is one of the foremost anti-Muslim groups in the country.
Sliding these extreme voices into the show with the patina of expertise is in line with how Carlson routinely smuggles white nationalist talking points into the mainstream via his nightly cable show. For “Patriot Purge,” he had some extra help.
The co-writer for the docuseries is a man named Scooter Downey, who directed movies for white nationalists before joining Fox Nation as a writer. As reported by The Daily Beast, Downey directed a documentary called “Crossfire” starring Lauren Southern, the Canadian alt-right activist best known for teaming up with European neo-fascists on a cruel mission to stop boats from rescuing refugees stranded in the Mediterranean.
Downey has also directed a live-action movie called “Rebel’s Run” based on a comic book written by Theodore Robert Beale, aka Vox Day, an alt-right artist who once wrote that “Western civilization” rests on “white tribalism, white separatism, and especially white Christian masculine rule.”
Interview With An Insurrectionist
There’s an awkward, ultimately untenable tension at the heart of “Patriot Purge”: The core argument that Jan. 6 might have been a “false flag” operation orchestrated by the left is advanced by deeply unreliable narrators — the very people who planned the rally or took part in the Capitol invasion in the name of Trump and who have a vested interest in absolving themselves of that day’s events.
The series is also desperate to exonerate all of the Trump supporters in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, and the wider MAGA movement, for the horrifying violence of the siege. It was all a “set-up,” Carlson says. He blames antifa, agent provocateurs and the FBI separately for orchestrating the attack, all as a pretext for what he portrays as a brutal state crackdown.
Elijah Schaffer, a host for the far-right conspiracy site Blaze TV, declares at one point in “Patriot Purge” that “January 6th was a honey pot,” using the term for a trap set up by law enforcement. “They’re going to use this event for every bit of political persecution they can milk out of it.”
But Schaffer himself entered the Capitol building on Jan. 6, tweeting out videos and cheering on the riot. “BREAKING: I am inside Nancy Pelosi’s office with the thousands of revolutionaries who have stormed the building,” he tweeted. “To put into perspective how quickly staff evacuated, emails are still on the screen alongside a federal alert warning members of the current revolution.”
Schaffer later deleted the tweet and other posts that implicated him in the riot, claiming to have been inside the building as a reporter.
Perhaps the most galling appearance, given all the false flag insinuations, is Ali Alexander, the leader of the anti-democratic “Stop the Steal” movement who literally organized the rally that turned into the insurrection. He was recently subpoenaed by Congress for his role in organizing Jan. 6, and infamously stood on a rooftop in Washington that day, observing the storming of the Capitol, saying to the camera: “I don’t disavow this.”
In “Patriot Purge,” Alexander complains to Carlson that he’s under surveillance and receiving death threats. He ludicrously says that “Stop the Steal” is “the most law-abiding movement that this country has seen in modern times,” and insists he never intended for the rally to get violent.
It is Alexander’s most extensive interview to date — though not a remotely adversarial one — and Carlson naturally papers over Alexander’s deep ties to right-wing extremism. He doesn’t mention that Alexander has long associated with open white nationalists, as well as misogynist and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and far-right figure Jack Posobiec, who the Southern Poverty Law Center says “has collaborated with white supremacists, neo-fascists and antisemites for years.”
Other participants in the riot, if they are not actively calling it a false flag event, are given very sympathetic interviews. Take Richard Barnett, who tells Carlson “I’m absolutely a political prisoner,” during the third episode. “What else could I be?”
Barnett is a self-described white nationalist (which goes unmentioned) who was famously photographed sitting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, his feet propped up on a desk.
Actively rehabilitating these prominent Jan. 6 rioters sets off alarm bells for extremism researchers and those who study political violence.
“Downplaying [extremists’] role in Jan. 6 really only raises the risks of further political violence in the U.S.,” Roudabeh Kishi, research director at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, told HuffPost this week.
Kishi said that in the months immediately following Jan. 6, right-wing extremist groups — including the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and America First “groypers” — “were going to ground” and were not very active, undoubtedly worried about reprisals for their role in the insurrection.
But in recent months, Kishi said, there’s been an uptick in activity by these groups, who seem to be building new alliances across the right, turning up at anti-vaccine rallies or at school board meetings to protest “critical race theory.”
And why not? If they avoided legal consequences — and in Barnett’s case, even if they didn’t — it’s clear that powerful forces are happy to restore their reputations. Many of these extremists are buoyed by Carlson and the right-wing noise machine’s efforts to rehabilitate their image, to remake them into “political prisoners” or martyrs.
Something Worse Than Jan. 6
The billionaire owners of Fox Corporation — Rupert Murdoch and his son, Lachlan — would very much like you to watch this series, commercial-free, by subscribing to their digital streaming service Fox Nation for just $5.99 a month.
Produced as part of a contract Carlson signed earlier this year, “Patriot Purge” was designed to attract new subscribers to Fox Nation, which the Murdochs see as the future of their media empire. (It’s also a platform conveniently free of any pressure from advertisers who object to extreme political content.) That they are willing to peddle vile lies and bigotry for profit is not news. But Patriot Purge marks an escalation, even for the Murdochs, at an especially fraught moment in American history. (Fox News and Fox Nation did not respond to a request for comment for this article.)
Nikki McCann Ramirez, a senior researcher at Media Matters, is one of the foremost chroniclers of Carlson’s extremism and lies. “Patriot Purge,” she wrote recently, is essentially a “repackaging” of the “InfoWars-style” conspiracy-mongering about Jan. 6 that he’s pushed on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” over the last year.
On his cable show, Carlson is mostly limited to talking into the camera, but in “Patriot Purge,” he gets to play with “lens flares, overwhelming graphic imagery” and a “sound effect budget big enough to make Michael Bay jealous,” Ramirez wrote.
The alleged “purge” targeting conservative Americans — thus far, mostly misdemeanor charges against hundreds of people who stormed the Capitol — is compared to “any kind of torture porn imagery Fox News could find in its archives,” Ramirez observed. “Viewers are treated to montages of waterboarding, terrorist attacks, an ISIS beheading, drone strikes, and even comparisons of the arrest of Jan. 6 rioters to de-Baathification in Iraq.”
Episode 2 ends with a video clip of someone being hung. The message is clear: this kind of state violence will be visited upon you, the good patriotic viewer, very soon, unless something is done.
None of the conspiracy theories the series peddles are true, of course, and fall apart under the slightest bit of scrutiny. But Hemmer argues that “Patriot Purge” is unconcerned with truth, despite Carlson’s claims to the contrary. Carlson told “Fox & Friends” the series was “rock-solid factually.”
“Patriot Purge,” Hemmer wrote, is “politically, historically and logically confused, but its point isn’t to make sense, or to stand up to critical scrutiny. The point is to convince watchers that the insurrectionists are victims and government is the enemy.”
Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to break into the House chamber, is a central character. “Patriot Purge” elevates Babbitt into a martyr, and her death is shown in graphic detail at the end of Episode 1. Trump himself has also undertaken a mission to make Babbitt into a martyr, meeting often with her family, demanding that the police officer who shot her be named, and then when the officer came forward, suggesting that he be arrested.
Jason Stanley — philosophy professor at Yale University and the author of the books “How Propaganda Works” and “How Fascism Works” — sees a clear historical parallel in how the right has turned Babbitt into a hero. “Babbitt’s assigned role is familiar to anyone who has seen or studied Twentieth Century fascist propaganda,” he wrote in an op-ed for Rolling Stone. “Honoring the memory of the martyr is to worship the leader, and give all in the quest to defeat his enemies and place him as the leader of the nation.”
Babbitt’s own extremism — she subscribed to the QAnon conspiracy movement — goes unmentioned in “Patriot Purge,” as does the extremism of nearly every person interviewed or held up as a “patriot.”
Ultimately, Carlson and Downey’s deliberate erasure of the extremism of the people in “Patriot Purge” could have dangerous consequences.
“In an environment in which the same right-wing ‘patriots’ who attacked the Capitol and condoned it afterwards have been shouting for a ‘civil war’ waged against their political opponents — and in which some of them are now wondering aloud ‘when do we get to use the guns’ so ‘we can start killing these people’— this kind of propaganda is akin to throwing napalm onto a bonfire,” wrote David Neiwert, author of “Alt-America: The Rise Of The Radical Right In The Age Of Trump” in a recent column for The Daily Kos.
Stanley, the Yale philosopher, argued that the central message of “Patriot Purge” — that a tyrannical government is going to target, incarcerate and possibly kill conservatives — could lead to another Jan. 6, or something even worse.
“It is impossible to accept this message in total without taking it to justify violent mass action against the current government, or something like a police and military coup,” Stanley wrote.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misattributed a Jason Stanley quote to David Neiwert.