We're trapped in a hall of mirrors
An online ecosystem has made what's big appear small, what's small appear big. Everything is warped and reflected into infinity.
When Representative Bennie Thompson gaveled in the meeting of the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack for an extraordinary prime-time hearing, all the major news networks carried it live.
And why wouldn’t they? This was the case against the whole insurrection being methodically laid out, really, for the first time.
Well, all the major networks but one: Fox.
“This is the only hour on an American news channel that will not be carrying their propaganda live — they are lying, and we are not going to help them do it,” human bowtie Tucker Carlson told his views over a muted liveshot of Thompson and vice-chair Liz Cheney taking their seats.
Carlson, with his typically smug rhetorical flourishes, danced about — one moment suggesting it was an “outbreak of mob violence, a forgettably minor outbreak by recent standards,” then pivoting to suggest that insurrectionists like Ashli Babbitt, shot and killed after breaching a window into the speaker’s lobby, “posed no conceivable threat to anyone.”
None of this is, of course, surprising. Fox has developed an obsessive affinity for the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen, and that January 6 was — as the GOP now says — “legitimate political discourse.” And no wonder, Fox’s dominance in the TV ratings was threatened by upstart competitors Newsmax and One America News after the network wobbled in its support for Trump in the frenzied aftermath of the insurrection.
Carlson is the face of the network’s course-correct. Rather than cede any ground to the conspiracy-minded news channels, Fox doubled-then-tripled down on the lie. (Even Newsmax ran the committee hearings live.) Again, anyone who has followed the state of American politics in recent years should have expected exactly this.
What’s novel and disconcerting is the degree to which an emerging far-right ecosystem tooled itself into a totally insulated rapid response organ. A real-time streaming funhouse hall of mirrors.
What is big appears small. What is small appears big. Everything is warped and reflected into infinity.
For anyone following the committee testimony on Twitter or Facebook, even the most carefully-tailored information bubbles would be pierced occasionally. Video of the hearings trended, journalists live-tweeted testimony, and outlets published digestible recaps of the mountain of evidence presented over two hours.
But on Telegram, Rumble, Gab, Truth Social, and a plethora of other social media platforms which — either by design, or due to their membership — provided an unfailingly insulated view of the goings-on.
Carlson’s rants were being clipped and uploaded almost instantaneously. Far-right websites prepared entire packages of content, aimed at discrediting the committee hearings. QAnon influencers re-posted years-old “drops” from Q himself, as an oblique rebuke. The Proud Boys used the few social channels from which they are not banned to advance the idea it was all an FBI entrapment operation.
Here are a few highlights.
Bug-eyed and Shameless is a weekly newsletter about the frontlines of the information war. It will, occasionally, not be a total bummer. Subscribe now — only a few weeks of totally free content left.
Clearly there’s some defence lawyers amidst the pro-insurrection crowd, because they have done considerable work to pitch an alternative suspect for the whole January 6 shitshow: Ray Epps.
If that name means nothing to you, it shouldn’t. Epps is just one of thousands of insurrections who, that day, heeded Trump’s call to head to the capitol. He was one of the first to break in, encouraging others to do the same.
But Revolver News, a far-right conspiracy site that had, in 2020, called on police to shoot unarmed protesters, latched onto Epps as the ringleader in an FBI operation. Their case essentially turns on the idea that because Epps was not charged or prosecuted, he was an FBI agent provocateur.
Since their self-styled investigation was published last year, it has racked up tens of thousands of shares to Facebook and garnered hundreds of thousands of eyeballs on Telegram. The outlet’s Gab followers have exploded to nearly a half-million.
That idea would become core to the rationalization from Carlson, Ted Cruz, and Marjorie Taylor-Greene, even though there is not a shred of real evidence to back up the claim. (According to investigators, Epps may have helped breached the capitol but tried to calm down his fellow insurrectionists to avoid conflict with police.)
Last night, as the hearings went on, Revolver re-published its lengthy diatribes. Both Carlson and Representative Matt Gaetz had Revolver founder Darren Beattie on to pump his baseless reporting.
Depending on the channel you’re reading, the false flag operation may have involved the Proud Boys, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi, or any number of other shadowy actors or turncoats.
It didn’t matter that the conspiracy theory of an FBI-organized false flag operation on January 6 has nothing underpinning it. Epps’ name became so ubiquitously recognized that it became a meme. A symbol to say: I reject the official narrative. Akin to the refrain from 9/11 truthers: “Fire doesn’t melt steel.”
It may seem inherently absurd to criticize the thing you’re boycotting for its one-sidedness, but that became a dominant narrative on the far-right channels.
When ex-congressman turned Truth Social CEO Devin Nunes went on Fox News Friday morning, he said he had checked some of the mainstream coverage and come to the (remarkably un-self aware) conclusion: “It’s kind of like we live in two different worlds.”
The far-right has whinged that the “Democrat-controlled” committee cannot be legitimate or impartial because it lacks the other side — at the same time, a column by Representative Andy Biggs entitled “Why I Refuse to Testify Before the Illegitimate January 6 Committee” got ample play.
It’s illegitimate because it’s “rigged,” and it’s rigged because the big lie Republicans aren’t being given a platform. A real Catch-22, I guess.
But if you believe that the election was rigged, and the insurrection was staged, then it’s not hard to imagine that Nancy Peolsi has concocted this, as Carlson puts it, “political theater.”
Indeed, one thing ends up becoming evidence for the next, regardless of how little actual evidence exists. As these social media channels fumed about the committee hearing, they took the opportunity to republish a litany of debunked and conspiratorial “proofs” about how the “steal” actually took place.
Deflect, deflect, deflect
While the “but, Antifa!” line may be played out, in times of crisis sometimes you have to go for a reliable classic.
A neo-Nazi Telegram channel mused that Black Lives Matter and the Democrats had damaged the capitol building on the day of Trump’s inauguration “yet, not one hearing about their violence.” (Not true.)
Carlson and others threw other distractions out — Congress should be talking about inflation, or the baby formula shortage, they said.
A litany of new anti-vaccine pseudoscience reports also came out yesterday, declaring that this time they really proved that the Pfizer vaccine would lead to mass “depopulation.”
Conspiracy broadcaster and Pizzagate enthusiast Jack Posobiec declared the committee hearings a “total nothingburger” and proceeded to post a series of MyPillow-related updates from in-flight.
This hall of mirrors is not new. We’ve been seeing the expansion of it for years.
But perhaps the single most significant change we’ve seen over the past year is the total decoupling from quasi-mainstream networks and platforms into something wholly separate.
A key component of Donald Trump’s 2016 election effort was speaking to the masses on Facebook. The core way he diffused his message as president was on Twitter. Fox News, even if it was sycophantic to the administration to the extreme, at least existed as part of the mainstream news ecosystem.
Last night’s committee hearings showcased the degree to which this new alternative system is fully operational. Revolver News and The Gateway Pundit are now fully normalized as respected news sources (they are not.) Politicians like Gatez and Taylor-Greene can count on huge numbers as they begin livestreaming, doing instant commentary on the hearings. Telegram channels give you the requisite clips from the right sources, so you don’t even need to run the risk of turning on the TV and experiencing an uncomfortable opinion. The sheer number of platforms — to continue my list from above: Odysee, Parler, Bitchute, Frank Speech, and more — gives the illusion of choice, diversity, and multiple perspectives. In reality, they’re all rowing the same direction.
This is full-service disinformation.
This isn’t thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands — we are talking about millions, maybe tens of millions, of people entering this hall of mirrors and refusing to leave.
This is, in a word, very bad.
Thoughts? Reactions? Suggestions for next week’s dispatch? Comment below, or reply to this email.
If you found this interesting, tell your friends.
I built a little empire out of some crazy garbage
Called the blood of the exploited working class
But they've overcome their shyness
Now they're calling me Your Highness
And a world screams, "Kiss me, Son of God"