First, it was members of “antifa” or Black Lives Matter demonstrators who infiltrated the pro-Trump mob that breached the Capitol. Now Republican lawmakers have suggested that federal law enforcement, with support from Democratic officials, intentionally provoked an attempted insurrection on 6 January, injuring dozens of law enforcement officers and threatening elected officials.
During committee hearings probing the events leading up to and surrounding the attack, Republican officials have repeatedly deflected from the “stolen election” narrative they actively supported for months, culminating in the violence in the halls of Congress in a failed attempt to overturn the votes of millions of people.
On 15 June, during a House Oversight Committee hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray and two Army officials, Louisiana US Rep Clay Higgins suggested Democrats conspired to disarm law enforcement and service members defending the Capitol. Arizona US Rep Paul Gosar also accused the US Capitol Police officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt of “lying in wait” to “execute” her.
That night, on Fox News, host Tucker Carlson called for “rounding up the FBI operatives that rioted” on 6 January, and suggested that “unindicted co-conspirators” who have yet to be charged might – in “every single case” – be FBI informants.
The theory has been promoted by Darren Beattie, a former Trump speechwriter who was dismissed from the White House in 2018 after it was discovered he appeared at a conference with white nationalists. Mr Trump later appointed him to serve on a commission tasked with preserving sites related to the Holocaust.
Mr Carlson brought him on his Tuesday programme and asked him whether he believes the FBI was responsible for “organising” the riots.
“It certainly suggests that possibility,” Mr Beattie replied.
Other reason a person may be listed as an unindicted co-conspirator, according to experts: prosecutors don’t know who they are, there is not yet sufficient evidence to indict them, or they are cooperating with investigators.
Despite Mr Carlson’s spurious legal argument, The baseless allegations have spread across far-right social media accounts. Republican US Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene demanded “names and answers about the FBI operatives who were involved in organizing and carrying out the Jan 6th Capitol riot,” she said.
“First they had a ‘back up plan’ to stop Trump in Russia Collusion witch hunt, now we are finding out they were deeply involved in Jan 6th Deep State,” she said on Twitter.
In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, Mr Beattie appeared on Fox News to suggest that the increase in mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic would create “a very specific type of coup called the color revolution” that deliberately commits election fraud “to overturn the 2020 election.”
The former president repeatedly undermined mail-in ballots in the months leading up to the election and declared the outcome “corrupt” and a “hoax” before a single ballot was cast. The narrative fuelled conspiracy theories and a “Stop the Steal” campaign endorsed by several Republican members of Congress, culminating in the lethal riot in the halls of Congress as lawmakers convened to certify the results.
Senate Republicans blocked an attempt to create a bipartisan commission to formally investigate the riot, while other GOP lawmakers have sought to downplay the violence or have manipulated the public narrative of the events to distance themselves from the conspiracy theories they encouraged.
Mr Trump’s own campaign, administration and legal team; officials at the US Department of Justice and FBI; and election officials across the US have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Mr Beattie also appeared on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast on Wednesday, asking whether the riot was “the result of an intelligence failure … or an intelligence setup?”
In a letter shared on social media, US Rep Matt Gaetz called on Mr Wray to “fully disclose the role and involvement of FBI operatives” during the riot.
The Florida congressman – who is under FBI investigation for allegations stemming from the prosecution of a Florida politician who pleaded guilty to sex trafficking a minor – asked Mr Wray a series of questions that mirror allegations on Mr Beattie’s far-right website Revolver News published two days earlier.
Mr Gaetz asked whether federal law enforcement “infiltrated” several far-right groups linked to the riot and “how many federal undercover agents or confidential informants” were at the Capitol that day. He also asked whether any “unindicted co-conspirators” mentioned in charging documents were informants.
Before Tuesday’s hearing, the committee released a trove of damning emails showing Mr Trump’s staff pressuring Justice Department officials to pursue his baseless allegations of voter fraud and election-related conspiracy theories in the weeks after the election and his definitive loss.
His staff also directed the Justice Department to file a legal brief at the US Supreme Court to reject millions of ballots in states that he lost. After Mr Trump’s spurious legal campaign to reject the election outcomes in several states, a White House assistant called on the Justice Department to “declare that the Electoral College votes cast” in six states that Mr Trump lost “cannot be counted”. Mr Trump also requested the court hold “special elections” in those states.