Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory are “gentle people waving American flags”, Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed on Friday night – two months since many joined a mob that stormed the US Capitol seeking to overturn Donald Trump’s election defeat, a riot in which five people died.
“Do you ever notice,” Carlson asked his primetime audience, “how all the scary internet conspiracy theorists – the radical QAnon people – when you actually see them on camera or in jail cells, as a lot of them now are, are maybe kind of confused with the wrong ideas, but they’re all kind of gentle people now waving American flags? They like this country.”
Five people died as a direct result of the Capitol attack, one a police officer struck with a fire extinguisher, one a Trump supporter shot by law enforcement. The Trump supporter, Ashli Babbitt, was reported to have followed internet conspiracy theories including QAnon.
Another rioter, Roseanne Boyland, was trampled by the mob while holding a Gadsden flag, a revolutionary era symbol of a snake and the legend “Don’t tread on me”. A friend said she had “watched her decline and go on these rabbit trails … this all really fucked with her head – the QAnon conspiracy theories, the elections, the unrest, the violence”.
The QAnon conspiracy theory holds that Trump is America’s true leader against a cabal of satanic liberal child-killers and paedophiles. He is not. No such cabal exists. Nonetheless, the theory has proliferated – even finding a sympathiser in Congress, the Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene.
On 6 January, before the Capitol riot, Trump told supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn the election, which he claims was the result of massive electoral fraud, a lie repeatedly thrown out of court. He escaped conviction in an impeachment trial, on a charge of inciting the riot. But federal authorities have made more than 300 arrests.
Carlson spoke a day after the US Capitol was closed, as law enforcement agencies warned of a threat from rightwing groups around the QAnon theory that Trump would return to power on 4 March. He did not. No attack materialised.
Carlson mocked reactions by Democrats and media coverage of the closure, adding familiar racially loaded provocation.
“By the time night fell and the city remained quiet,” he said, “except, of course, in the poor neighbourhoods where people are still shooting one another in ever-growing numbers and no one is noticing, MSNBC had decided that, in fact, they had saved the day.”
Carlson also said QAnon followers were “not torching Wendy’s. They’re not looting retail stores. They’re not shooting cops. No, that’s not them, it’s the other people doing that.”
Last summer, protests against police brutality and institutional racism sometimes produced civil unrest. A Wendy’s fast food restaurant burned in Atlanta; looting occurred in some cities. Police officers have been shot and sometimes killed amid tension and protest over police killings mostly of African American men.
The protests of 2020, which spread internationally after officers in Minneapolis killed an African American man, George Floyd, were multi-racial. Carlson’s other racially loaded comments on his prime time show include that immigration makes the US “dirtier”, a remark which prompted some advertisers to withdraw.
In some quarters, the Fox News host is seen as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, if Trump does not run again. Carlson’s comments about QAnon believers echoed remarks by Trump, who last August told reporters: “I’ve heard these are people that love our country. So I don’t know really anything about it other than they do supposedly like me.”
At last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida, Carlson scored 3% in a straw poll regarding the next presidential pick – way behind Trump but ahead of Mike Pence, the former vice-president some in the Capitol mob said they wanted to hang. QAnon followers promise that fate for many of Trump’s opponents.