Paul Hodgkins was one of the first people to plead guilty to charges stemming from the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Hodgkins made it to the floor of the Senate, where he was photographed next to the “QAnon Shaman” and others. He was arrested in February 2021 and entered a plea that May.
Two months later, a judge sentenced him to eight months in prison. Speaking to a documentarian after that hearing, Hodgkins accepted responsibility for his actions and the outcome, but while he was in prison, he tried to rescind his plea agreement. It didn’t work. He was released in April 2022.
Soon afterward, he was again visited by that documentarian — Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) daughter Alexandra. Their post-incarceration conversation was included in Alexandra Pelosi’s film “The Insurrectionist Next Door” that was released by HBO Documentary Films on Sunday.
In part of what’s included, Pelosi speaks with Hodgkins as he’s working in his yard. Cable-news-style chatter can be heard in the background.
“Wait, so you’re still listening to Fox News?” Pelosi asks.
“That’s actually OAN,” Hodgkins replies, referring to the fringe-right channel One America News. He explains that he doesn’t have cable, so he doesn’t watch Fox News.
“So you’re still watching conservative television?” Pelosi asks with incredulity. “You served eight months in jail for everything you believe in based on what you saw on those shows and you’re still watching them?”
“I was supposed to turn into a liberal with that, or something?” Hodgkins replies. “No. No, my opinions on what’s good and what’s not good for our country have not changed.”
That snippet of Pelosi’s film was recorded off a television set and shared on social media by a supporter of Donald Trump. Hodgkins’s rejection of Pelosi’s suggestion that he should rethink his media diet earned him three “fire” emojis of support. That post was then picked up by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who concurred with the supportive response — and then took things further.
“They wanted Jan6 to be the reason Americans turned their backs on Trump and they are trying to use it to destroy him,” Greene wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “But it didn’t work, it won’t work, and it will never work. Because it’s only exposing Democrats for who they really are, which will destroy them in the end.”
It’s a fascinating exchange for a simple reason. Pelosi’s question was inartful, certainly, centered on the partisanship of the outlets Hodgkins trusted instead of on the validity of that trust. Hodgkins’s response framed the tension in that same way, as though Pelosi was asking about his loyalty to a political worldview rather than to reality.
The question wasn’t really about whether he wants conservative news rather than liberal news, as Hodgkins put it, or even conservative news rather than objective news. The question was really about Hodgkins’s reliance on information sources that had misled him — but neither Hodgkins nor Greene views claims that the 2020 election was stolen as misleading. Instead, they view the central tension raised by Pelosi as being between two political worldviews — despite the objective fact that the worldview they accept is false.
It’s not entirely clear what inspired Hodgkins to travel to Washington for the events of Jan. 6. Maybe it was Trump’s calls for people to do so, or perhaps it was chatter he’d seen elsewhere. (Other defendants in Jan. 6 riot cases pointed to Trump or conservative media as having inspired their trips.) It’s hard to imagine, though, that he arrived there that day and went into the Capitol while believing that Joe Biden was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. At some point, he’d almost certainly come to accept the false claims about fraud.
There’s no indication that Hodgkins has ever been dissuaded from this position. He’s not constantly in the public eye, nor should he be, so there isn’t a huge body of information to assess when considering whether he’s had a change of heart. But his exchange with Pelosi suggests that, by that point, he hadn’t. He wasn’t going to turn away from One America or other outlets that present false information about the election or other things in part because he doesn’t recognize the information as false, and in part because he views the alternatives not as objective but as sitting on the other side of the partisan spectrum.
Greene’s ascent in Republican politics was not dissimilar. Soon after winning her party’s primary in 2020, she drew national attention for her embrace of QAnon conspiracy theories. She was a prominent supporter of Trump and has oriented her politics around him. So she lifts up Hodgkins’s response ostensibly as a way to talk about how “they” — presumably the elites, the media, the Democrats, all of them — are trying to deceive Americans so that they are hostile to Trump. But it doesn’t work, as Greene trumpets, because people like Hodgkins continue to view objective reporting as politically biased.
Greene’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It has been the case for some time that people’s choice of media outlet mirrors politics and political beliefs. Polling conducted by PRRI in late 2021 found that 16 percent of Americans “completely” agreed that the previous year’s election had been stolen from Trump. Among those who said they most trusted Fox News, nearly half said it had been stolen. Among those who most trusted fringe-right outlets like OAN, more than 7 in 10 did.
Again, this belief is objectively, demonstrably false. The election was not stolen from Trump, and there was no justifiable reason for anyone to believe that the counting of electoral votes at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, needed to be interrupted. This is not a partisan position, though there is a partisan split in acceptance of it as true.
What the response to Pelosi’s footage reveals is how this works. How Hodgkins fails to recognize his central error, the one that occurred before he got to Washington. Greene then uses his example to reinforce the idea that the feud is between partisan worldviews instead of a rejection of reality.
After he was released last year, Hodgkins appeared in court as part of his release agreement.
“I hope I will never ever have to go through anything of the kind ever again,” he said to the judge. “I was proud to say I never had anything out the way of the law. … I want to continue that going forward.”
Hodgkins is free to choose any media outlet he desires, of course, but it would be worth his recognizing the link between that choice and his having had to go through what he went through. That immersing himself in surreal presentations of “what’s good for our country” might prove a long-tail risk for avoiding illegality in the future.