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Tucker Carlson and friends run the Jan. 6 playbook on the leak suspect

From the first days after President Biden’s inauguration, Fox News host Tucker Carlson had figured out how he wanted to frame the new administration.

This was weeks after the riot at the U.S. Capitol, you’ll recall, and the Justice Department had begun making dozens of arrests related to that day’s violence. During his inaugural address, Biden noted the recent history, assuring the country that he would confront and defeat the rise of “political extremism, white supremacy [and] domestic terrorism.” And that was Carlson’s jumping-off point: Biden and the jackboots in the FBI were going to treat average, hard-working Americans like terrorists.

Similar framing has long been useful for Carlson’s rhetoric. He posits an eternal struggle between those in power — or at least, the elite who disagreed with his politics and contrasted with his demographics — and real America. Nearly everything that arises is framed by Carlson as “them” targeting “us,” as oppressive forces trying to stifle American freedom.

There’s some irony here, given Carlson’s affinity for autocratic leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Carlson’s position on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is largely that the United States is doing too much to aid the latter country — a position that lets him both ally himself with Russia (to Russia’s glee) and disparage Biden as pushing the nation into war.

This week, Carlson took advantage of a novel opportunity to press his case that the government was both overstepping in Ukraine and targeting conservative opponents.

On Thursday, federal law enforcement agents arrested Jack Teixeira, 21, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, for allegedly sharing classified documents online. The Washington Post reported Tuesday how the leak unfolded: Teixeira allegedly began first sharing classified information as text to a small group of friends in a Discord chatroom, eventually simply posting photos of documents he’d taken. His goal, members of the group told the New York Times, was “both to inform and impress.” That aligned with the point of the chatroom: for young men to find community and validation in discussions of guns, video games and memes — including racist ones, group members have admitted, leveraging an established mechanism for making themselves feel more powerful in the world.

On Friday, in a court in Boston, Teixeira was charged by the federal government with retention and transmission of national defense information and willful retention of classified documents. The two criminal charges carry a maximum of 15 years in prison. He did not enter a plea.

On his show Thursday night, Carlson — who does not appear to have done any reporting of his own — chose a different presentation of the alleged leaks. He suggested that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin lied to Congress when he said that Russia was losing the war, an assertion that Carlson claimed (falsely) was disproved by the documents that filtered from Teixeira’s chatroom out into other platforms and eventually to the news media. But, he lamented, Austin had not been arrested.

“Instead, the only man who has been taken into custody or likely ever will be is a 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guardsman who leaked the slides that showed that Lloyd Austin was lying,” Carlson said. “He revealed the crimes, therefore he’s the criminal.”

He went on to disparage on-air commentators for noting that Teixeira did not warrant the descriptor of “whistleblower,” an obvious observation about what is understood about how the leaks unfolded. But since Carlson’s target is the administration and the administration had arrested Teixeira, Teixeira was a noble warrior in Carlson’s crusade. He accused the government of illegally surveilling Teixeira (without explaining this claim) and declared that The Post and the Times were its “accomplices” for reporting on Teixeira’s alleged actions.

“If it’s [illegal] to see these documents, if you don’t have security clearance, how is The Washington Post doing this legally?” he asked of documents that began circulating widely online. “They don’t have a security clearance.”

Since The Post is part of the murkily bounded group of “elites” that Carlson insists on positioning as opponents of real America, we must inherently have been doing something bad, however little sense his arguments make. His viewers do not seem to be fazed by it.

Incidentally, the journalist Jim LaPorta dug up Carlson’s comments at the time that Reality Winner was arrested for leaking documents about Russian efforts to infiltrate voting machines. But even though that leak was made to a media outlet (in keeping with past patterns of whistleblowing), Carlson derided it. After all, this was 2017, when the president was Carlson’s ideological ally Donald Trump and the leak showed bad actions by Russia.

Critics of Trump had “leaked reams of classified material in order to hurt him,” Carlson complained. “That’s a felony, by the way.”

If only Reality Winner had been a conservative man indirectly damaging a Democratic administration — then, perhaps, Carlson would have viewed her more sympathetically.

In case Carlson’s defenses of Teixeira were too subtle, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) offered her own take.

Jake Teixeira is white, male, christian, and antiwar.

That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime.

And he told the truth about troops being on the ground in Ukraine and a lot more.

Ask yourself who is the real enemy?

A young low level national guardsmen?

Or the…

— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) April 13, 2023

The Post’s reporting suggests that Teixeira was, in fact, skeptical of the Russia-Ukraine war. But the reason he’s “an enemy to the Biden regime” — to the extent that this loaded phrase has any applicability at all — is that he allegedly leaked classified documents to his online buddies. Greene frames Teixeira’s alleged actions as “[telling] the truth” about Ukraine because this allows her (as it allowed Carlson) to position him as a conscientious, ethical actor worthy of defense — and, moving one degree outward, to suggest that he’s only been subjected to arrest because he’s a White Christian man.

This is a potent bit of rhetoric for Greene, who has parlayed right-wing anxiety about the perceived decline of White Christians into an enormous amount of political power. It’s also at the heart of her fervent defenses of those incarcerated for their roles in the Capitol riot, a group she presents as conservative political prisoners and not as people mostly accused of violent attacks on law enforcement officers. Carlson and Greene have both made this case about the Jan. 6 detainees repeatedly: The Biden administration is punishing them for their identities and political beliefs and not for their actions. Now Teixeira gets the same treatment.

As always, it’s us — White Christians who are sympathetic to Russia — against them, the elite who hate Real America. When someone categorizable as one of “us” shares maps about the war in Ukraine to a few dozen duly impressed friends, they deserve protection against the encroaching “them” as surely as do patriots who simply wanted to express their political views on Jan. 6 (beating their way past police officers to do so, not that that matters) and have been unfairly locked away.

Is there any action that could be undertaken against the interests of the federal government by a politically sympathetic White male that would not be excused by Carlson, Greene and their allies? And if not, where might such tacit encouragement lead?

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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