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The FBI Did It? LOL

Understanding MAGA's newest insurrection conspiracy theory.
June 16, 2021
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(Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Was the FBI behind the violent siege of the Capitol on January 6?

This is the latest piece of unreality that the MAGA right is grasping onto to shed culpability for the domestic terror attack at the Capitol and exonerate the great patriots who watch their television programs.

Fingering the FBI in all this is a bizarre turn. After-all the agency was in the fourth year of being controlled by their swamp-draining, all-powerful god king. But whatever. Part of the appeal of Trumpism is the belief that you are simultaneously #winning but also being cheated by implacable, nefarious forces.

This new “it was an FBI false flag” theory was popularized by Darren Beattie, a man who was dismissed from the White House after embarrassing revelations about his associations with white nationalists. (Beattie was in the sour spot where Trump didn’t value him enough to excuse his extremist associations, like Stephen Miller, and wasn’t subtle enough to avoid scrutiny for his ties. Alas.) It has since been carried by Mollie Hemingway, of tear gas hoax fame, Tucker Carlson, and others.

Their evidence is two-fold: (1) During a congressional hearing, Christopher Wray did not answer directly when asked whether the federal government had infiltrated any of the militia groups that were present at the siege. (2) There are “unindicted co-conspirators” in the charging documents for some of the insurrectionists which Beattie et al assume must be government agents.

And here, per Beattie, are the implications of such a “revelation”:

A still more disturbing possibility arises from a careful study of the unindicted co-conspirators listed throughout the various charging documents of individuals facing the most serious charges related to 1/6 . . . In many cases the unindicted co-conspirators appear to be much more aggressive and egregious participants in the very so-called “conspiracy” serving as the basis for charging those indicted.

Stripped down to its barest parts, what we have here is the same debunked “the insurrectionists were really secret Antifa” conspiracy—only rejiggered so that now FBI agents are cast in role of instigators who victimized the peaceful, innocent patriots who love their country.

But as with secret Antifa, there are some holes in this theory. The most important is that there is no actual evidence that the unindicted co-conspirators are agents of the government. That’s just a wild supposition being made by MAGA apologists based entirely on an anodyne non-response of Director Wray when he was asked about the bureau’s infiltration of extremists groups. Is it possible that the unindicted co-conspirators were undercover agents? Maybe? Or they could have been Russian special forces. Or Martians. There is an equal amount of evidence for each of these possibilities. Which is to say: None.

Also, there’s some legal problems with it. Some criminal lawyers who are not professional trolls seem to think this is something that prosecutors literally cannot do. Here’s the Washington Post:

Legal experts say the government literally cannot name an undercover agent as an unindicted co-conspirator.

“There are many reasons why an indictment would reference unindicted co-conspirators, but their status as FBI agents is not one of them,” said Jens David Ohlin, a criminal law professor at Cornell Law School.

Added Lisa Kern Griffin of Duke University Law School: “Undercover officers and informants can’t be ‘co-conspirators’ for the purposes of establishing an agreement to violate the law, because they are only pretending to agree to do so. … An unindicted co-conspirator has committed the crime of conspiracy, and investigative agents doing their jobs undercover are not committing crimes.”

Oopsie!

But the biggest problem for this latest conspiracy theory isn’t just the supposition/fabrication. It’s that even if it were true, it’s not exculpatory.

Think about it.

Let’s just say there were two or three (or ten!) G-men in the MAGA midst on January 6. And let’s say these guys were the ones pushing the envelope of aggression on the Capitol steps.

No matter how many times you’ve seen Donnie Brasco, it is very, very hard to imagine that an undercover FBI agent would physically attack a law enforcement officer like Michael Fanone as part of some triple bank shot false flag attempt to embarrass the lame duck president who was going to go away in two weeks regardless. But hey, dream with me here . . .

Even if the wildest fantasies about these two-timing, blood-thirsty FBI agents were real . . .

Would that exonerate the hundreds of others Great Patriots who stormed the Capitol? 

I’m serious about this.

Imagine that FBI agents infiltrated the Women’s March, or the March for Life, or an LGBT rights rally. Now imagine that some tough guy crisis actors showed up, waited for the right moment, looked at their fellow protestors and said “Let’s Charge The Capitol!”

How do you think that would’ve played out exactly? Would the well of the Senate have been breached by a rabid mob in pink pussy hats? Would the nice pro-life kids have gone crazy and beaten the cops senseless? Would the Capitol police have gotten glitter bombed and attacked with rainbow flags?

I mean the whole notion is absurd on its face.

The only reason that there was an instigatable mob on the Mall that day was that the sitting president wanted to interfere in the peaceful transfer of power following his embarrassing election loss.

The instigators were not two random hard asses in the crowd with the magical persuasive ability to turn happy patriots into lawless insurrectionists. The people who stormed the Capitol came to Washington for insurrection. The instigators were Trump, and Beattie, and Carlson, and Hemingway.

And they know it.

Consider their shifting stories:

Were the violent actors actually Antifa dressed as Great MAGA Patriots in Disguise, as Matt Gaetz suggested in January?

Or were they infiltrated by FBI agents who instigated the fighting as part of a plot to embarrass Donald Trump, as Gaetz argued Wednesday morning?

Was the riot actually not that violent at all, just a respectful stroll through the great hall of Congress, as Rep. Andrew Clyde said after he barricaded the door for protection?

Or were the rioters righteous patriots fighting a great injustice and victimized by the deep state, as Rep. Paul Gosar and Vladimir Putin have argued?

Or maybe it was all of those things? Peaceful, righteously angry patriots, maligned by the spooks and Antifa in their midst?

It doesn’t matter. And here’s why:

For Beattie and Carlson and Hemingway, their narrative doesn’t have to make sense. None of the different stories and arguments need to tie together.

Because the lies are a demonstration of power.

The lies are a signal that as long as you are on the right side, there are no red lines. That anything goes. That no matter what you do, you will be excused and the other will be blamed.

Like every other part of Trumpism, the newest 1/6 lie is an expression of the only question that matters for the new right: кто кого?

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump, communications director for Jeb Bush 2016, and spokesman for the Republican National Committee.