Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Panicky texts sent by various Fox News anchors and members of the Republican Party to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows as rioters overtook the US Capitol complex on January 6 tell a damning story. These messages suggest the extent to which many members of the GOP – and their Fox News sympathizers – have been deliberately misleading the American people for nearly a year, downplaying a devastating and deadly attack on the seat of American democracy.
On Jan. 6, insurrectionists descended on the Capitol, proclaiming their support for former President Donald Trump, who lost to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Many of the rioters parroted Trump’s claim that the vote was rigged, and they were in Washington, DC, heeding his call to reject the results of a free and fair election.
They stormed the Capitol complex, leaving a path of destruction in their wake: Police officers and others seriously injured, five dead in the end, and the heart of the American project seriously damaged. More than 700 people have now been charged in connection with the riots, and more than 120 have pleaded guilty.
But to hear Fox News anchors and many in the Republican Party tell it, Democrats are wildly exaggerating what happened on Jan. 6. And yet it turns out, according to these text messages read aloud Monday by Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney that many of them knew how bad the violence was then and begged the then-president, via his chief of staff Meadows, to do something about it. Prominent Fox News commentators and hosts, including Laura Ingraham, Brian Kilmeade and Sean Hannity, all sent frantic texts to Meadows. So did the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. So did multiple members of Congress.
“He’s got to condemn this sh*t ASAP,” Don Jr. wrote. “We need an Oval office address.”
“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Ingraham wrote. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”
“Can he make a statement?” asked Hannity. “Ask people to leave the Capitol.”
“Please, get him on TV,” begged Fox & Friends’ Kilmeade. “Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
Texts from lawmakers, the press and others told Meadows that Trump needed “to condemn this ASAP,” “Mark protesters are literally storming the Capitol, breaking windows on doors, rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?” and “We are all helpless.”
Republicans aren’t helpless anymore. But now that the immediate physical danger to them has passed, many Republicans are downplaying what happened that day, while Fox News is rewriting history – and endangering American democracy in the process.
In the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6, some members of the GOP refused to acknowledge the calamity of the attack. Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert claimed “There’s no evidence, as has been said on January 7, that this was an armed insurrection.” Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks said he didn’t know if his staff participated in the riot, “but if they did I’d be proud of them for helping to put together a rally lawful under the First Amendment at the ellipse to protest voter fraud and election theft.”
Several Republican congressmen and close Trump associates spoke at the rally that preceded the violence, and, even after the attacks, a number of Republicans have continued to push the totally false claim that the election was stolen. Don Jr. told the Jan. 6 crowd, when it came to Republicans who were voting to certify the election results, “These guys better fight for Trump. Because if they’re not, guess what? I’m going to be in your backyard in a couple of months!” He continued, “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore! This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party!”
It is indeed Trump’s Republican Party, with members who are willing to deny reality and endanger the stability of the nation itself to puff up the former president’s ego and his thirst for power.
Since the attack on our nation’s Capitol, most of the party has stood in the way of a committee tasked with investigating what happened that day, and several members have even sought to punish the few Republicans who are taking part in the investigation. On Fox News, long an unabashedly pro-Trump and fact-deficient media outlet (reasonable viewers should not believe top Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson is “stating actual facts,” Fox News lawyers recently argued in court), talking heads repeatedly downplayed, deflected or flat-out lied about what happened at the Capitol.
Ingraham – who only hours earlier had begged Meadows to get the then-president to act – went on air and without evidence blamed Antifa for any violence, emphasizing “legitimate concerns about how these elections were conducted.” She later invited one rioter onto her show for a sympathetic interview in which Ingraham suggested the term “insurrection” was an exaggeration and responded to the woman’s story by saying, “I can’t even believe I’m hearing any of this.” Ingraham empathized about how “traumatic” facing consequences must have been (later, the rioter and her lawyer claimed the Ingraham Angle team “played” her, only asking questions that would get her to talk about the “very polite” fellow insurrectionists and obscure her contrition for her actions).
When Capitol police officers testified before Congress about the violence they endured on Jan. 6, Ingraham made fun of them in a segment called “The Angle Awards for today’s best performances.”
Hannity called the 2020 elections “a train wreck” and said most Republicans “do not have faith in these election results.” He did not, however, use his own platform to foster that faith. Instead, he has taken to the air to condemn the Jan. 6 investigative committee.
And Kilmeade has since complained other networks are covering the Jan. 6 attacks too much. Fox Nation, Fox News’ streaming service, has even aired an entire propaganda program hosted by Carlson that furthers the bizarre flat-out lie that Jan. 6 was a “false flag” operation.
Several Fox News anchors, many Republicans, Trump’s staff and Trump’s eldest son knew what was happening that day. They privately sounded the alarm. But now that it’s time for them to either use their massive platforms to tell the truth or fulfill their duties as elected officials to seek it, they are choosing to lie or obfuscate so that they might maintain their own power and influence in a party thoroughly broken by one profoundly immoral, narcissistic man.
Ever since Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016, those of us who care about America’s future have wondered which conservative talking heads and Republican politicians will put America first, and which ones will choose party and power over country. The answers have only gotten clearer as the stakes have gotten higher.
It’s abhorrent and it’s profoundly unpatriotic, but the American people deserve to know: Fox News and pro-Trump members of the GOP are breaking America and undermining our rich democratic traditions. And America deserves far better than a conservative party controlled by power-hungry individuals willing to forego the truth.