The trailer starts with a militaristic tattoo on a snare drum. A shot of the Capitol in daylight and then at night, with riot police in the foreground. Then a familiar clip: Officer Michael Byrd’s arms extending from a doorway inside the Capitol building, both hands steadying his firearm. An overdubbed gun shot echoes; we see Ashli Babbitt fall from the window she was climbing through.
On top of this scene, large block text a la Wes Anderson: “The War on Terror,” it reads, and then, over Babbitt’s falling body, “2.0.”
So begins the trailer for what Fox News’s Tucker Carlson on Wednesday night described as a “three-part series” he produced that will be released next month that will run on Fox Nation, the right-wing broadcaster’s streaming service. But it does seem clear what the intent is. Carlson wants to elevate the idea — the surreal idea, the deranged idea — that the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was fomented in whole or in part by the government so that it could crack down on the political right.
He has been cobbling this theory together on his show for months. Soon after President Biden was inaugurated, Carlson interpreted Biden’s inaugural speech comments about targeting white nationalists and domestic extremists as somehow revealing a plan to cast the entirety of the political right as targets of the federal government. Never mind that the Department of Homeland Security had elevated the threat posed by those groups even during the Trump administration; this was somehow Biden trying to use Jan. 6 as a way to imprison his foes.
A few months later, Carlson alleged that the FBI had a hand in starting the violence at the Capitol, an entirely speculative claim for which no credible evidence has emerged. Given the nature of the riot — insufficient law enforcement presence to contain thousands of angry supporters of Donald Trump — it defies logic to suggest that the violence was a function of a handful of agitators as opposed to the collective mentality of the mob. But, of course, this is Tucker Carlson we’re talking about.
Hence the trailer/series. Titled “Patriot Purge,” it presents pretty muddled messaging. The intent of the trailer is crystal clear, mind you. It weaves together violent imagery from the “war on terror” — a person being tortured, Osama bin Laden firing an automatic weapon — with scenes from the Jan. 6 riot in an overdose of adrenaline and fury. The viewer is meant to be furious at Biden, who is seen in a stylized video snippet giving a speech denouncing white supremacists.
But extending the “war on terror” analogy, are we meant to equate the Jan. 6 rioters with bin Laden? To see Sept. 11, 2001, as a false-flag operation; that is, as a government-generated crisis? After all, the trailer ends with a woman suggesting that Jan. 6 was a false flag, and that’s presumably the trigger for the “War on Terror 2.0.” So, by extension, what was 9/11? Showing Biden identifying the enemy stirs up the viewer’s animosity against the president, but it does tend to gloss over the fact that the Justice Department theoretically false-flagging away on Jan. 6 was one that reported to Trump.
The idea seems to be that the original war on terror took an overly broad approach to “terrorism,” which is certainly true, and therefore that the government is now taking an overly broad approach to the white supremacist threat. So what’s a Fox News viewer watching the trailer meant to think of footage of a Jan. rioter flipping off the Capitol? That he’s good? Bad? Unfairly targeted?
The footage of Babbitt is obviously meant to suggest the overbearing hand of state force, but it also serves as a reminder that a lot of people there that day were demonstrably not motivated by FBI provocateurs and that a lot of them committed real violence and demonstrated actual threats.
The trailer does not give the sense that what viewers should expect is a subtle, nuanced examination of the facts. Four interview snippets are shown. In one, for example, a speaker declares that “the left is hunting the right, sticking them in Guantánamo Bay for American citizens, leaving them there to rot.” This is a rather florid way of saying that the Justice Department has arrested a number of people who violated federal law on Jan. 6 and that a fraction of them remain in jail.
The biggest predictor of what to expect, though, comes from two of the other people shown in the trailer.
The first person shown, who says that this theoretical war on terror is “coming after half the country,” is a man named Darren Beattie. Beattie is the one who elevated the FBI-false-flag theory in the first place, earning multiple spots on Carlson’s nightly show to discuss it. But he also has a very direct investment in suggesting that the political right is being unfairly conflated with white nationalists: He worked for Trump until he was fired after it was revealed that he had attended a white nationalist conference. (If you think that you were unfairly targeted for sympathizing with white nationalists, no wonder you might think that everyone else faces the same risk!)
To demonstrate the purported ridiculousness of the “white nationalist” allegation, the trailer also shows a man named Ali Alexander. He says that even he has been called a white nationalist, even though he is not White. (They’ll say it about anyone!)
What is useful to know about Alexander, though, is that he’s an inveterate right-wing opportunist who latched onto the post-election “stop the steal” mantra as a lucrative fundraising gambit. He was central to the creation of a rally scheduled for the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, having previously declared on social media that he was “willing to give his life” for the fight against imaginary voter fraud. There not many people on God’s green earth who would benefit more from a redirection of blame for the violence of Jan. 6 to the federal government, so here’s Alexander, popping up from his period of guilty anonymity, to boost Carlson’s point.
That, really, is the point of the trailer. Carlson is sympathetic to Beattie’s argument about conservatives being targeted as racists because the Fox host’s rhetoric and associations with overt white nationalists have made him a focus of similar scrutiny. (For what it’s worth, which is not nothing, white nationalists think he agrees with them.)
If you see yourself as a regular conservative and the world sees you as a white nationalist sympathizer, it makes sense that you might think all conservatives are being targeted along the same lines, even when they’re not. It makes sense that you would try to gin up some sweeping conspiracy in which the left-wing government is trying to paint every modest Republican as a virulent racist. It can be as much about making those Republicans feel targeted as making those racists feel like modest Republicans.
We’ll see what the actual series says. One should not be optimistic that it’s much more than an angry muddle. But if Carlson has demonstrated anything to the world, it’s that angry muddles can get big ratings.
A spokesperson for Fox News clarified that the program will only air on Fox Nation, Fox's subscription streaming platform.