In mid-November, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson ordered the release of some 44,000 hours of surveillance footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. Democrats and their media allies condemned Johnson’s move as a “serious security concern” and a “danger to our democracy,” while some right-leaning podcasters and bloggers hyped the video as promising to prove that Jan. 6 was an “inside job.”
The right demanded it, the system withheld it, so if you are skeptical of the official narrative constructed in the wake of the events of that day, surely the new footage must be valuable, right? But what, really, have we learned from the video dump? Not much that we didn’t already know. The events of Jan. 6 were already thoroughly documented, and both sides have been waging a war of video-based truth claims since before the day’s events had even concluded.
From the beginning, the most shocking thing about Jan. 6 were the images of medieval-style hand-to-hand combat between the rioters and the Capitol Police. Protestors smashing windows, climbing walls, stabbing with flag poles, pressing against shields, and bloodying outnumbered officers. The initial response for many viewers to all of this was fear, horror, and profound outrage.
However, traditional media outlets weren’t the only ones with cameras and the means to distribute images. Soon, protesters armed with smartphone cameras and GoPro body cams circulated a visual counter-narrative. Now we saw images of Capitol Police officers removing barriers, opening doors, and allowing protesters to surge forward, and then of protesters peacefully wandering the Capitol’s halls, taking selfies in front of statues, and interacting cordially with the police. One of Tucker Carlson’s final broadcasts on Fox featured a segment on the so-called Q-Anon Shaman acting not like a MAGA berserker, but a stoned, friendly hippie as he was given a personal tour by two Capitol Police officers.