WASHINGTON (NBC) — A handful of Senate Republicans on Tuesday pushed back on conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson after he characterized the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as “mostly peaceful chaos,” with Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina blasting those remarks as “bulls—.”
Carlson, the popular but controversial figure on Fox, made those comments to his millions of viewers Tuesday night as he aired select clips of never-before-seen surveillance footage of the Capitol on Jan. 6 and downplayed the violent insurrection that injured 140 police officers during an hourslong assault.
“I think it’s bulls—,” Tillis told reporters in the Capitol.
“I was here. I was down there and I saw maybe a few tourists, a few people who got caught up in things,” he added. “But when you see police barricades breached, when you see police officers assaulted, all of that … if you were just a tourist you should’ve probably lined up at the visitors’ center and came in on an orderly basis.”
Tillis said Carlson’s depiction was as “inexcusable” and compared it to those who downplayed the fires and “devastation” during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020 following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man.
Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota conservative, said he was in the Capitol on Jan. 6 and firmly rejected Carlson’s portrayal of that day as “some rowdy peaceful protest of Boy Scouts.”
“I think that breaking through glass windows and doors to get into the United States Capitol against the borders of police is a crime. I think particularly when you come into the chambers, when you start opening the members’ desks, when you stand up in their balcony — to somehow put that in the same category as, you know, permitted peaceful protest is just a lie,” Cramer said.
“I think it doesn’t do any good for the narrative,” he added.
On his show Monday night, Carlson said that while there were a few bad apples, most of the Jan. 6 rioters were peaceful and called them “sightseers,” not “insurrectionists.”
“The footage does not show an insurrection or a riot in progress,” he said. “Instead it shows police escorting people through the building.”
Asked if Speaker Kevin McCarthy made a mistake by giving thousands of hours of Jan. 6 footage exclusively to Carlson, Cramer said the speaker could have given it to “all sources equally,” rather than “one who is particularly good at conservative entertainment.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said it’s “really sad to see Tucker Carlson go off the rails like that,” saying that he’s “joining a range of shock jocks that are disappointing America and feeding falsehoods.”
“The American people saw what happened on Jan. 6.” Romney told reporters. “They’ve seen the people that got injured, they saw the damage to the building. You can’t hide the truth by selectively picking a few minutes out of tapes and saying this is what went on. It’s so absurd. It’s nonsense.”
“It’s a very dangerous thing to do, to suggest that attacking the Capitol of the United States is in any way acceptable and it’s anything other than a serious crime, against democracy and against our country,” Romney said. “And people saw that it was violent and destructive and should never happen again. But trying to normalize that behavior is dangerous and disgusting.”
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., also rejected Carlson’s comments that the day was peaceful.
“I was there on Jan. 6. I saw what happened. I saw the aftermath. There was violence on Jan. 6,” Rounds told reporters.
“I think the footage that’s available should be made available to all networks and everybody should be able to see for themselves just what kind of chaos we had on that day.”
The top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the Jan. 6 committee should be investigated, including why the panel did not focus much on the bombs that were planted at the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee headquarters the night before the Capitol attack. But, he stated, “We don’t want to whitewash January the 6th.”
“I think the Jan. 6 committee had a partisan view of things, and I’d like to know more about what happened that day and the day before,” Graham added. “But I’m not interested in whitewashing the Covid lab theory, and I’m not interested in whitewashing Jan. 6.”
Carlson said his team is sifting through 44,000 hours of Jan. 6 footage and will be releasing segments on his program to demonstrate that the attempt to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory was not violent — an assertion that Democrats, many Republicans, police officers and others in the Capitol that day roundly reject.
“Deadly insurrection — everything about that phrase is a lie,” Carlson said on his show Monday night. “Very little about Jan. 6 was organized or violent. Surveillance video from inside the Capitol shows mostly peaceful chaos.”
What didn’t appear on Carlson’s program Monday evening was video showing police and rioters engaged in extended violent clashes. About 140 police officers were assaulted that day.
Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger said in a letter to his officers that Carlson’s show was “filled with offensive and misleading conclusions about the January 6th attack,” adding that the show “never reached out to the department to provide accurate context.”
“The program conveniently cherry-picked from the calmer moments of our 41,000 hours of video,” Manger wrote in the letter, obtained by NBC News. “The commentary fails to provide context about the chaos and violence that happened before or during these less tense moments.”
Ticking through what he called he called “false” and “disturbing” allegations, Manger wrote, “This department stands by the officers in the video that was shown last night.”