On one of the internet’s main QAnon forums, Speaker Mike Johnson’s November decision to unveil tens of thousands of hours of security footage from the Jan. 6 attack was greeted with great fanfare. Johnson committed to publicly release the security tapes, which have been something of a holy grail for Capitol attack conspiracy theorists, soon after he took office. At the time, the new speaker framed it as the fulfillment of a “promise to the American people.”
However, in the weeks since, Johnson’s move has not lived up to the expectations of the far-right fringe. A fraction of the promised footage has been released and the slow pace has online conspiracy theorists and pro-Trump activists furious at Johnson and his GOP colleagues.
“Women For America First” co-founder Amy Kremer — who helped organize the Jan. 6 rally on the White House Ellipse where former President Trump spoke and urged the crowd to “fight like hell” as his supporters marched on the Capitol — took to the site formerly known as Twitter on Dec. 4 to write an angry note directed at Johnson.
“𝐉𝐀𝐍 𝟔 𝐓𝐀𝐏𝐄𝐒 𝐀𝐑𝐄 𝐁𝐄𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐒𝐋𝐎𝐖 𝐑𝐎𝐋𝐋𝐄𝐃,” Kremer wrote, adding, “𝐖𝐞 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐲𝐞𝐝 𝐚𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐬𝐥𝐨𝐰 𝐫𝐨𝐥𝐥 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬!!! 𝐖𝐇𝐘?!? I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to be quiet 𝐑𝐄𝐋𝐄𝐀𝐒𝐄 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐃𝐀𝐌𝐍 𝐓𝐀𝐏𝐄𝐒 𝐍𝐎𝐖!!!!”
Other right-wing activists including “DC Draino,” the conservative influencer who has been praised by Trump at rallies, have posted similar messages. Among them is Brandon Straka, a pro-Trump organizer who was sentenced to three years of probation in 2022 after admitting he used social media to encourage the crowds that stormed the Capitol, who has also used the site formerly known as Twitter to air his frustrations with Johnson and other Republicans.
“It’s been 41 days since @SpeakerJohnson promised to release ALL J6 footage to ALL Americans. On Nov. 17th, Speaker Johnson gave the public access to 90 videos- which probably accounts for less than 5% of the footage we still have not seen,” Straka wrote on Dec. 28. “Since then, I have put out dozens of tweets asking Speaker Johnson when the public will get this footage. No answer. No update. No explanation. Why will no elected Republicans give us access to this footage?
Spokespeople for Johnson did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The focus on the U.S. Capitol Police security videos comes after years of efforts by Trump and others on the right to deny the violence of Jan. 6 and blame it on others. Almost immediately after the violence broke out, Trump’s allies (including Republican members of Congress) began grasping for evidence that the attack was something other than the pro-Trump riot it so obviously was. Despite the mountains of proof Trump’s supporters were behind the violence, many on the right sought to blame everyone, from “antifa” to federal law enforcement. Amidst this push, the conspiracy theorists held out hope their hunches could be proved correct by the security footage.
In a statement to TPM, Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), who is chairman of the House Administration subcommittee that began releasing the footage after Johnson’s announcement, suggested the videos could paint a better picture of what happened on Jan. 6 than the Democratic-led Jan. 6 committee that conducted an investigation into the attack from 2021 until 2022.
“The American People deserve to know the truth about January 6th,” Loudermilk said. “The USCP CCTV footage we’ve released so far has given the American people the opportunity to see the full story of what really happened that day, instead of the cherry-picked narrative sold by the former Select Committee.”
Perhaps nowhere had the excitement for the tapes — and the anger over their slow-moving release — been greater than on the QAnon-friendly forum 8kun. A few days after Johnson announced the plan to post almost all of the 44,000 hours of Jan. 6 security footage from the Capitol, members of the anonymous forum’s “Qresearch” board created a thread dedicated to parsing the clips. The user who wrote the first post declared that they were “calling all digital soldiers, online sleuths, [and] keyboard warriors” to review the footage.
“ALL HANDS NEEDED!” they wrote.
8kun is an imageboard, a website where users can post content anonymously. The best known imageboard, 4chan, made headlines in the past decade as a haven for conspiracy theories, far-right politics, and extreme content including gore and sexual images. In 2013, a 4chan user named Frederick Brennan founded 8chan, which he envisioned as an imageboard that would have even less censorship than its predecessor. That twisted dream came true, and 8chan ultimately played host to so much child pornography that it was removed from Google search results in 2015. The board went completely offline for three months in 2019 — technological service providers refused to work with it after multiple mass shooters involved in attacks that targeted minorities and Jews were believed to have posted manifestos announcing their crimes on the site. 8chan subsequently re-emerged in November 2019 with a Russian hosting company and a new name, 8kun.
Imageboards played a key role in the spread of QAnon, a paranoid conspiracy theory based on the idea that a high-level source inside the government was working to help former President Trump expose and take down a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who, the theory contends, have substantial control over the worlds of government, media, and finance. The fever dream began on 4chan in October 2017 with the first posts from “Q.” These “Q Drops” ultimately migrated to 8chan and then to 8kun where there is a dedicated “QResearch” board that ultimately played host to the thread dedicated to Jan. 6 footage. Due to the extreme and often illegal nature of the content on the site, TPM will not be linking to it directly.
The Capitol attack footage has been long-sought by online conspiracy theorists and especially by QAnon devotees, who had a visible presence in the crowds of Trump supporters that stormed the Capitol to prevent the certification of his loss in the 2020 election. But those on the internet fringe aren’t the only ones who have latched on to the idea the security videos could somehow exonerate Trump and his supporters for their role in the Jan. 6 attack. Republican elected officials, Trump, and right-wing media have all promoted claims that public release of the footage would somehow change the narrative.
Democrats, on the other hand, have slammed Republican efforts to release the footage and cast them as both a security risk and fuel for conspiracy theories about the Capitol attack. Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Administration subcommittee — called the move “irresponsible and dangerous” in a scathing statement.
“Speaker Johnson may want to erase the facts of an attempted coup and undo the bipartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 Committee, but he can never alter the facts,” Torres said. “Instead, his actions are putting members of Congress, staff, the press and all visitors to the Capitol at risk and further delegitimizing the integrity of this institution.”
Johnson’s predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, gave one of the most prominent Jan. 6 denialists, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, access to over 40,000 hours of the videos for his show last year. Carlson, who has since been fired from Fox, had previously used his platform to promote the idea that Jan. 6 was largely peaceful and that law enforcement riled up the crowd in an effort to launch a “purge” of the right wing. After receiving footage from McCarthy, Carlson focused on selectively airing clips that painted the people who broke into the building as non-violent. Carlson’s broadcast drew praise from former President Trump and prompted at least one January 6 defendant to try to get his sentence thrown out. As the federal judge in that case observed, the Carlson broadcast was “replete with misstatements and misrepresentations” that were “too numerous to count.” In the face of hours of videos that show the violence and vandalism perpetrated by the crowds, the peaceful protest narrative barely held water.
Though Carlson and his producers were unable to find any bombshells in the Jan. 6 clips, the users of 8kun still had hope following Johnson’s vow to make the footage available to the broader public. One forum user helped make an app designed to allow people to download the clips.
“Hoping this thread gets some action,” the user said, before adding an abbreviation of the QAnon slogan, “Where We Go One We Go All.”
Yet, in the weeks since Johnson’s announcement, the would-be detectives of 8kun have become increasingly frustrated. A CBS News analysis published last month revealed that just approximately 0.4 percent of the 44,000 hours of promised footage has been uploaded.
With the rollout inching along, the 8kun thread where conspiracy theorists planned to scour the footage has devolved into infighting and the abusive pornography for which the site is known. Users suggested that antifa had infiltrated the board, and the original poster of the thread began clashing with the leader of the “QResearch” board before announcing they were “giving up on” the Jan. 6 footage hunt due to the drama and lack of investigative activity.
“I come back two weeks later and there’s no research or review besides regurgitate news articles,” the user said.
While the QAnon devotees have predictably paranoid concerns about the lack of new videos, there are several technical and logistical challenges related to the release. Firstly, there is the sheer volume of the footage. The over 40,000 hours of video needs to be reviewed because Johnson said he wanted to blur the faces of the people who stormed into the Capitol. While the speaker initially attributed that to a desire to prevent them from being “retaliated against” or “charged” by the Justice Department, a spokesperson subsequently clarified and said the blurring was to “prevent all forms of retaliation against private citizens from any non-governmental actors.” An aide to the House subcommittee that has been publishing the footage told TPM that further releases are planned as they deal with necessary security precautions.
The clips that have been released are being hosted on the video site Rumble, which has a strong following among conservatives and on the far right. Along with the issues related to blurring the clips, before they can be uploaded on Rumble, the file format must be converted.
A Democratic aide on the House Administration committee suggested the footage rollout was always destined for trouble.
“None of this shocks us. This entire process has been inconsistent, scattershot, and poorly thought out,” said the aide, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter, “Whether that’s willful or not I don’t know but we are not surprised they are having difficulties.”
Along with rank and file online conspiracy theorists, the lack of Jan. 6 footage attracted the ire of one of the most prominent QAnon promoters, Ron Watkins, whose father is the current owner and administrator of 8kun. Watkins and his father have been identified by linguistic scientists as the likely authors of some of the original “Q” posts. On Dec. 28, Watkins tagged Johnson on the site formerly known as Twitter and complained about the video rollout.
“There are still thousands of hours of J6 footage that has not been released. Will we be getting access to this before year end?” Watkins asked.
While Watkins and his father have denied playing a role in the creation of the “Q” persona, they have reveled in their fringe infamy. In 2022, Watkins made a failed attempt to win an Arizona House seat as a Republican.
Watkins’ shot at Johnson came as he is trying to regain his political footing and plot his next move. Early last month, Watkins made a post on the encrypted app Telegram that included a personal admission and a vow that his unique brand of activism will continue.
“Since I lost my election, I’ve been in something of a rut,” Watkins wrote. “Am currently working on a new project that I am planning to announce soon. … We will take control of our country back.”