Recently, some conservative sources have been claiming that the FBI had a role in instigating or planning the January 6 riot at the Capitol. This theory, first reported by Revolver News, received a major push when Tucker Carlson also reported on it on Fox News. This idea was supposedly supported by the fact that there were numerous ‘unindicted co-conspirators’ mentioned in the government charging documents against several suspects.
This was taken to mean they were FBI informants, agents, operatives, or assets, and that the FBI somehow helped plan or instigate the riot. This argument always seemed tenuous to me, at best.
While the possibility clearly exists that FBI informants were involved in the riot, the ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ angle doesn’t appear to hold water.
Still, this does not mean FBI informants or operatives weren’t infiltrated into groups involved in the riot, or the FBI did not have foreknowledge of any planning for the riot. As a matter of fact, they are very likely, and those possibilities need to be fully investigated.
The FBI-instigated-the-riot narrative started with a June 14 report by Revolver News that said there’s a “strong possibility” the federal government had “undercover agents or confidential informants embedded within the so-called militia groups” that were seeking to obstruct the Senate certification of the 2020 election results. Tucker Carlson, Republican lawmakers, and social media users then amplified that claim, adding that this meant FBI assets were involved in organizing or instigating the riot.
USA TODAY noted that this produced a firestorm of outrage and questions because critics argued that since upward of 20 unindicted co-conspirators listed in federal charging documents haven’t been charged, there is a “disturbing possibility” that they could be undercover FBI agents or federal informants.
Facebook users have shared an open letter from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., in which he demands FBI Director Christopher Wray “fully disclose the role and involvement of FBI operatives during the January 6th Capitol riot.” Other users shared a clip of Carlson’s June 15 show, during which he said “FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol on January 6.”
But, notes the USA Today report, “that theory relies on a false assumption: that anyone identified as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in charging documents is a government agent.”
In fact, legal experts say that term cannot be used to describe FBI agents or undercover government operatives. Charging documents and other evidence indicate that the Jan. 6 rioters included Trump supporters, conspiracy theorists and members of far-right groups.
The term “unindicted co-conspirators” refers to people who allegedly took part in the same offense in some fashion but are not being criminally charged for their role, Ira Robbins, an American University law professor, wrote in a 2004 paper that represents the legal consensus on the term.
This can include someone who cooperated with law enforcement to receive a deal or who authorities don’t feel they have sufficient evidence to charge.
“Prosecutors would not name FBI agents as unindicted co-conspirators,” Robbins told USA TODAY via email. “Tucker Carlson’s allegation that the FBI organized the attack on the Capitol is pure fantasy.”
According to USA Today, Robbins said that while it is possible FBI agents were acting undercover in extremist organizations involved in the Capitol riot, that “would not necessarily mean they had instigated the insurrection.”
This last point made by Robbins, however, leaves open a significant line of questioning for federal agencies. Were FBI agents or informants, or those of other federal agencies, acting undercover in extremist organizations involved in the Capitol riot? And did the FBI, or other agencies, have any foreknowledge of plans for the riot?
This should be one important issue to be investigated by Nancy Pelosi’s new select committee on the January 6 riot.
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