Editor’s Note: Michael Fanone, a former Washington, DC, police officer who sustained severe injuries defending the Capitol on January 6, is the author of a memoir, “Hold the Line: The Insurrection and One Cop’s Battle for America’s Soul.” He is a CNN law enforcement analyst and a council member with Courage for America, an nonprofit focused on fighting political extremism. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
Fox News conspiracy theorist Tucker Carlson began airing footage this week of the January 6th insurrection, which House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gifted to him exclusively. And just as I anticipated, the footage was manipulated and selectively edited to fit an extreme MAGA narrative espoused by Carlson, former President Donald Trump and the leaders of the new Republican House majority.
Even his own legal team has acknowledged that Carlson doesn’t recite “actual facts” on the topics he discusses on air. And now we have yet another indication that Carlson himself doesn’t believe what he talks about on air.
Legal filings made public on Tuesday as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, expose Carlson as a fraud.
In one private text message two days before the January 6 attack, Carlson said, “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait.” Carlson added of Trump, “I hate him passionately.” He also wrote that the four years of the Trump presidency had been “a disaster.”
I didn’t need to read the reports of his texts to know that Carlson’s spin about January 6 is fabricated. I was there. I saw it. I lived it. I fought alongside my brother and sister officers to defend the Capitol. We have the scars and injuries to prove it.
But as much as I feel anger and disgust about Tucker, I reserve equal disdain for McCarthy. His decision to hand over footage of restricted areas of the Capitol to a partisan actor who has routinely and gleefully spread misinformation about the attack endangers everyone working in the building. But it is not out of character: It is a damning reflection of just how extreme — or how opportunistic — the House speaker truly is.
The House speaker shared tens of thousands of hours of exclusive footage of January 6 security cameras footage with Carlson, who began airing selective footage Monday night, sanitizing the violence of the Capitol riot and claiming that the edited footage he aired showed that January 6 was not an “insurrection.”
For his part, McCarthy has defended the move to give Carlson access to the security footage, telling the New York Times that he did so because he “promised.”
“I was asked in the press about these tapes, and I said they do belong to the American public. I think sunshine lets everybody make their own judgment,” he told the newspaper.
In the aftermath of the insurrection, as our nation grappled with the implications of an attempted coup, those of us who had been in the Capitol that day began the long process of mental and physical recovery.
McCarthy acknowledged — at least initially — the role that Trump played in inciting the violence.
He spoke about the violence at the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, in starkly different terms than the narrative Fox News host Tucker Carlson is presenting with footage McCarthy provided to him, which has been selectively used to downplay the violence.
In the days following the insurrection, McCarthy said rioters “overtook” the Capitol, speculating that the people who unlawfully broke into his office could have kidnapped or even hung members of Congress. McCarthy rightly decried the attack on the Capitol as “un-American.”
But mere days later, he chose political expediency over principle, voting within hours to overturn the results of the election, publicly downplaying the attack and voting against investigating what happened.
Months after the attack on the Capitol, McCarthy defended Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen because, according to the New York Times, Trump’s support was “essential for his ambitions to become speaker.”
And when the bipartisan January 6th Select Committee subpoenaed McCarthy, he refused to comply or shed any light on his communication with Trump. The decision allowed him to curry enough favor with the former president that Trump would later whip votes for McCarthy during the House leadership vote, allowing the California Republican to become speaker.
Since long before he took over the speaker’s gavel, McCarthy identified MAGA extremists, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, as key allies, investing heavily in his relationship with her, meeting with her weekly and reinstating her on committees.
After Greene made violent, pro-insurrectionist comments about what would have happened if she had organized the January 6th insurrection — she says they would have “been armed” and won — McCarthy chose to defend her rather than holding her accountable.
The extremism McCarthy intended to fuel in the new House became apparent as soon as his party took the majority. To secure the gavel, McCarthy made a long list of concessions to some of the most extreme members of his conference.
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We do not yet know the full extent of the shady deals that McCarthy made that week, but we do know that his decision to release the January 6th footage to Carlson in the first place was the result of a backroom promise he made to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) — a decision that will have lasting consequences for survivors of the insurrection, like me and our entire nation, as we struggle to make sense of the events of that horrible day.
If McCarthy were truly interested in transparency, his course of action would be simple: Release all the footage to all news outlets or continue the critical work of the January 6th committee. His decision to weaponize one of the darkest days in the history of our Capitol to score political points with Carlson and his audience exposes who the House speaker really is: a MAGA extremist determined to cling to power at all costs.