Tucker and Trump’s problematic new love affair with the ‘QAnon Shaman’

The attorney who represented Jacob Chansley, the infamous “QAnon Shaman” who left a threatening note on then-Vice President Mike Pence’s desk after breaking into the Senate chamber during the January 6 riot, is now claiming his former client’s rights were violated because he never saw surveillance footage Fox News host Tucker Carlson was given access to by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Defence lawyer Albert Watkins on Wednesday appeared on Carlson’s show to accuse the government of withholding evidence because his client was never provided the footage of Chansley, in his bizarre horned getup, seemingly walking peacefully near several members of US Capitol Police inside the Capitol complex.

Carlson used the footage to deride the response of Capitol Police, referring to them as “tour guides”, while claiming rioters such as Chansley were mostly peaceful. Mr Watkins claimed his client had been railroaded because he was not shown the video of the officers shadowing him as he paraded through the Capitol during the riot.

"This is a man who had tremendous intelligence, [is] very gentle, very, very articulate who was diagnosed 15 years earlier by the government with a mental health issue- and the government knew that," Mr Watkins told Carlson. "The government knew through three hearings when we begged and pleaded to get this man out of solitary confinement, literally falling into an abyss, mentally."

"And through each of those three hearings that government assistant US attorney knew the most important aspect of that hearing was that Jake was not violent. The government knew," he continued. "They knew that Jake had walked around with all of these police officers. They had that video footage I didn't get. It wasn't disclosed to me. It wasn't provided to me,” he added.

A decades-old Supreme Court case, Brady v Maryland, requires prosecutors to disclose evidence that could be construed as exculpatory before a criminal defendant goes to trial. It’s unclear how the footage could conceivably exonerate Chansley because it captures him walking in the Capitol building — a place where he had no right to be — at the time rioters were storming the Capitol to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Mr Watkins claimed the footage revealed by Carlson showed the US justice system has become “so compromised” that “the very integrity and core of that, which we wore as a badge of honor for the entirety of our nation's history, has been rendered a vile, disgusting mess by a Department of Justice that was running amok”.

"And they didn't share the video of my client, the footage from my client with nine officers surrounding him peacefully, wandering about, trying to help them, trying to get him access to the Senate chamber. They didn't because it didn't fit their narrative,” he said.

The attorney’s appearance came on the second night of Carlson’s latest effort to spread disinformation about the riot, the product of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s decision to supply him with access to hours upon hours of surveillance footage from the day of the attack, while not allowing other journalists (even at his own network) the same access; as a result, Carlson’s producers have been able to present selective clips of the attack and cut them together in the hopes of making Americans forget about the scenes of shocking violence already released by the January 6 committee last year. Other news outlets and journalists interested in providing context for Carlson’s carefully-edited depiction of the attack have been left without the means to do so by House GOP leadership.

On Monday, Carlson debuted the first of this selective portrayal, calling the rioters “meek” and shying away from video and testimony from officers relating to how police were assaulted and even in some cases attacked with chemical spray during the riot.

Part of his video featured footage of Chansley.

“The footage does not show an insurrection or a riot in progress,” Carlson said. “Instead it shows police escorting people through the building, including the now-infamous ‘QAnon Shaman.’”

This is obviously false, and Carlson’s depiction of events was denounced only hours after it aired by Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, with the obvious and expected exception of Kevin McCarthy.

One member of Capitol Police, Officer Kent Robishaw, has even said that he was present when Chansley, who pleaded guilty to obstructing a congressional proceeding, entered the building right next to other rioters clearly armed with stolen police riot shields. Some were seen to Chansley’s left on security footage climbing through a shattered window.

Jacob Chansley, the ‘QAnon Shaman’, during the Jan 6 Capitol riot (Getty Images)
Jacob Chansley, the ‘QAnon Shaman’, during the Jan 6 Capitol riot (Getty Images)

“The sheer number of them compared to us, I knew ahead there was no way we could all get physical with them, so I took it upon myself to try to talk to them, Mr Robishaw told an HBO documentary about his experience.

Carlson’s remarks were also excoriated in a letter penned by the chief of US Capitol Police, Thomas Manger.

“The commentary fails to provide context about the chaos and violence that happened before or during these less tense moments,” wrote Mr Manger.

“As some people select from 41,000 hours of video clips that seemingly support the narrative they want to push, those of you who were here on January 6, those of you who were in the fight, those of you who ensured that no Member of Congress was hurt, those of you who contributed to the effort to allow this country’s Legislative process to continue know firsthand what actually happened,” he added.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly added that he “associate[s] myself entirely with the opinion of the Chief of the Capitol Police about what happened on January 6th.”

But understanding Carlson’s efforts remains important. The Fox host made objectively false statements in a brazen attempt to minimise and whitewash the violence of the attack and the danger which lawmakers including the vice president found themselves in. By doing so, he simultaneously sought to chip away at the perceived credibility of all of his political enemies on Capitol Hill, as well as the mainstream media and law enforcement bodies like Capitol Police that are controlled at the federal level – part of a long-running effort to do just that in the hopes that Americans instead will turn to right-wing politicians (and, more importantly for Carlson’s bank account, right-wing media).

His efforts rely on conservative Americans’ inherent distrust of the mainstream press and their anger towards Republican members of Congress they see as insufficiently conservative. The expansive footage from January 6 and the defunct select committee’s efforts to release some of the most shocking parts means that the work of Carlson and Donald Trump to paint a placid picture of the crowd hinges entirely on those Americans not being exposed to — either by their own choice, or Carlson’s — those violent images and videos.

One of those far-right leaders, Marjorie Taylor Greene, wrote on Twitter Monday evening that Chansley should get a “retrial” — despite his case not going to trial in the first place, because of Chansley’s guilty plea.

Fox already worked to achieve part of that goal last year, when Carlson and others ran counter-coverage on the channel as CNN and other news organisations focused intensive reporting on the committee’s findings.

Carlson’s display of January 6 whitewashing may also be an effort by the Fox primetime host to stay in the good graces of the former president, who is still seen as the top contender for the 2024 Republican nomination. Carlson was one of several Fox opinion figures to be caught in private text messages disparaging Sidney Powell and other members of Mr Trump’s 2020 legal team as liars and kooks during their effort to halt certification of the election.