Tucker Carlson has become utterly shameless about baldfacedly lying to his national TV audience of millions on Fox News, and moreover doing so with the knowledge that he’ll never have to correct or retract a thing. His latest episode—claiming the National Security Agency is surveilling his electronic communications, with nary a shred of evidence and without even the support of Fox’s news operation—should make that irrevocably clear to anyone outside his authoritarian cult.
The NSA accusation (swiftly refuted by the agency), however, was predicated on a larger set of lies that have become Carlson’s core message since the Jan. 6 insurrection: Namely, that white-nationalist terrorism does not constitute a serious threat to the American public, and President Biden’s efforts to combat it are just an attempt to gin up a “War on Terror” against his political opponents. In warming up to the charge on Monday, Carlson called Biden’s insistence that white supremacists pose the most lethal terrorist threat to Americans “a lie,” and moreover “a racial attack” on white Americans.
This has become a standard part of Carlson’s narrative in recent years, whitewashing the effects of white-supremacist and far-right violence while concocting a far-left bogeyman out of antifa and Black Lives Matter. Carlson has promoted eco-fascist themes related to immigration; endorsed the idea that Republicans are being forced to abandon democracy and eventually embrace fascism because of liberal hegemony; spouted white-nationalist “replacement theory” in claiming that immigration is an attack on democracy itself; and most of all, defended the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrectionists as being ordinary conservatives while decrying their prosecutions.
Notably, Carlson has embraced the “bloody shirt” trope—the one that makes a victim out of bullies, and bullies out of victims—by identifying violent white supremacists and far-right extremists with mainstream Republican voters, arguing that the prosecution of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists is a kind of fiendish form of political oppression: “Yeah, you’re not surprised. It’s always the same people, isn’t it? Those white Republican men—the very ones that just today Joe Biden warned us are more dangerous than ISIS.”
Monday’s rant on Fox, however, pushed the gaslighting to new heights, as Carlson claimed that he was being targeted by the Biden administration’s NSA as part of its new “War on Terror” following the insurrection—and that not only was white supremacist terrorism not really a threat, but two FBI agents had told him this was the case just that weekend.
It was a classic case of baldfaced lying to a mass audience—largely by accusing the people being lied about of being liars themselves:
So Joe Biden told us recently that the single greatest terror threat we face is not Islamic terrorism, ISIS or Al Qaeda, as the government has told us for 20 years now, since 2001. It’s not the brutal mobs of race extremists who burned and looted our cities last summer, BLM and Antifa, as, if you’d been paying attention, you would assume it would be, of course—they’re the ones who burn the cities. No, it’s none of that. The main threat we face as a nation, Biden told us, is white supremacy—white American terrorists—and our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have concluded that. The president said it’s an established fact.
And then he stopped. Strangely, that’s all that Biden told us. He never said who those white supremacists were. He didn’t explain what they believe, or what they plan to do to America, he announced no arrests of any of them. He didn’t name a single person or organization. So who is the white Osama bin Laden? Biden didn’t say. Neither did his attorney general, Merrick Garland, when he reiterated Biden’s claim several days later. So the rest of us were left to wonder: who exactly are these domestic terrorists?
In reality, this is not a difficult question to answer, since a number of leading far-right organizations have been clearly associated with the Jan. 6 violence, primarily the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, as well as the “III Percent” militia movement and multiple small local militia cells. All of these organizations have well established track records of extremist violence already. Biden did not need to name these groups since their presence is well known and established.
Moreover, there are also neo-Nazi terrorist groups such as Atomwaffen and The Base—who were subjected to sweeping arrests in early 2020 by the FBI—who weren’t necessarily part of the insurrection who obviously pose a serious terrorism threat. This fact was underscored the day after Carlson’s rant, when The Daily Beast reported that a Marine Corps private was arrested by the FBI recently for plotting multiple acts of domestic terrorism against leftists and law enforcement along with other members of an Atomwaffen cell.
But then Carlson veered into dubious-averred-conversations territory by claiming that two FBI agents agreed with him wholly:
We still don’t know the answer. Neither do many longtime FBI agents, as we learned this weekend when we spoke to a couple of them. Biden’s claim is absurd, they told us. It’s not even close to true.
In recent years there have been so few crimes committed by avowed white supremacists that the FBI strongly considered dismantling the office within the domestic-terror division that investigates white-supremacist groups. As the agents we spoke to put it, the number of cases the program manager had didn’t justify his position. There was nothing for him to do.
For decades, by contrast, the greatest domestic-terror threat has come from radical environmental groups. They commit the most crimes. Look it up! White supremacists, meanwhile, are at the bottom of that list, and federal statistics prove it. Americans are in fact much more likely to die from a lightning strike than at the hands of a white supremacist.
These assertions are all simply serial baldfaced falsehoods. At no time in the past 40 years has the FBI’s domestic-terror section on right-wing extremist violence been considered for elimination—primarily because, contrary to Carlson’s claims, there has been a steady drumbeat of such terrorism.
Look it up? That’s easy: Every single domestic-terrorism database assembled over the past decade has found that right-wing extremist terrorism is substantially the most common and pervasive, while environmental and left-wing terrorism—which had a brief uptick in the late 1990s and early 2000s—has declined into near-insignificance.
One such database, which the teams at the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Investigative Fund that I helped lead assembled over four years, found that law enforcement’s focus on Islamist terrorism had created a blind spot regarding far-right terrorism. From January 2008 to the end of 2016, we identified 63 cases of Islamist domestic terrorism, meaning incidents motivated by a theocratic political ideology espoused by such groups as the Islamic State, the vast majority of which (76 percent) were foiled plots, meaning no attack took place.
During the same period, we found that right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents: 115. Just over a third of these incidents (35 percent) were foiled plots. The majority were acts of terrorist violence that involved deaths, injuries or damaged property.
Right-wing extremist terrorism was more often deadly: Nearly a third of incidents involved fatalities, for a total of 79 deaths, while 13 percent of Islamist cases caused fatalities. Incidents related to left-wing ideologies, including ecoterrorism and animal rights, were comparatively rare, with 19 incidents causing seven fatalities
An updated version of this database covering the Trump era, published in 2020, found that these trends had remained intact, and if anything have intensified, particularly when it comes to violence.
One can also look up what the FBI itself has to say about the threat from the far right. Contrary to the agents’ claims, the agency reported in 2019 that it has some 850 domestic-terrorism cases open, most of them involving white supremacists. It also reported that same month that the agency was seeing a noteworthy and concerning uptick in white-supremacist terrorism.
“We’re particularly focused on domestic terrorism, especially racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists,” FBI director Christopher Wray told a congressional committee. “Not only is the terror threat diverse, it’s unrelenting.”
In a written statement given to the committee, Wray explained, “Trends may shift, but the underlying drivers for domestic violent extremism—such as perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach, socio-political conditions, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and reactions to legislative actions—remain constant.”
Wray added, “The top threat we face from domestic violent extremists stems from those we now identify as racially/ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs). RMVEs were the primary source of ideologically-motivated lethal incidents and violence in 2018 and 2019, and have been considered the most lethal of all domestic extremism movements since 2001.”
The fact that Carlson cites two FBI agents who either are ignorant of these realities or dismissed is not terribly surprising: After all, it has become clear in fact that the FBI’s intelligence failures on Jan. 6 were directly related to its longstanding institutional hostility to addressing far-right terrorism. Out of 35,000 total agents, it would be unsurprising if only two of them clung to outdated ideas.
So Carlson proceeds as though these two agents’ views reflect reality—and that, a la the “bloody shirt,” Biden’s “absurd” law-enforcement focus on white supremacists in fact constitutes a “racial attack” on white people:
White supremacy may be ugly—many opinions are—but it is not a meaningful threat to the nation, and claiming otherwise is a lie.
So why does the Biden administration persist in telling that lie? Well, it’s a racial attack, obviously. It’s waged for partisan political purposes. You tell black voters that Republicans are the KKK and maybe they will keep voting for you. That’s the idea. It’s really easier than fixing Chicago, or raising test scores, which they should be doing. But there’s also a deeper significance. The Biden administration is signaling a very real change to actual federal policy. The “War on Terror,” now ongoing for 20 years, has pivoted in its aims. The War on Terror is now being waged against American citizens, opponents of the regime.
We saw this on display on Jan. 6. We told you a couple of weeks ago, based on language in publicly available indictments, that the FBI clearly had foreknowledge of the riot at the Capitol that day. The agents we spoke to this weekend confirmed that is true. Quote: “The FBI had sources in that crowd—confidential sources, snitches. That’s 100% certain.”
In reality, as we explored in detail, Carlson’s “report” on the involvement of FBI operatives in the Jan. 6 riot was predicated on a risible and obvious misunderstanding of how the federal government’s informant and cooperating-witness programs function. It also was based on an up-is-down characterization of the relationship of the FBI to those “snitches”: Yes, it’s 100% certain that Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs, one of those informants, was in the crowd; it’s also certain that he was informing the FBI directly not about the activities of the Proud Boys, but rather of their leftist nemeses, antifa and BLM.
All these falsehoods thus provided the basis for Carlson’s right-wing paranoia to take final flight:
But it’s not just political protesters the government is spying on. Yesterday we heard from a whistleblower within the U.S. government who reached out to warn us that the NSA, the National Security Agency, is monitoring our electronic communications, and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air.
Carlson’s credibility on all this, however, does not even seem to include his own network. As CNN’s Oliver Darcy observes: “Barring an unusual circumstance, if a reputable news organization had confirmed that the NSA — or any arm of the US government — was spying on one of its top employees, it would be a story of significant consequence. … But the morning after Carlson delivered his bombshell claim, none of his colleagues covered it.”
The NSA itself took the unusual step of issuing a statement repudiating Carlson’s claims:
On June 28, 2021, Tucker Carlson alleged that the National Security Agency has been ‘monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air.’ This allegation is untrue. Tucker Carlson has never been an intelligence target of the Agency and the NSA has never had any plans to try to take his program off the air.
NSA has a foreign intelligence mission. We target foreign powers to generate insights on foreign activities that could harm the United States. With limited exceptions (e.g. an emergency), NSA may not target a US citizen without a court order that explicitly authorizes the targeting.
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump adroitly observes that this pattern of issuing inflammatory accusations based on flimsy evidence that subsequently just evaporate has become a commonplace over the course of Carlson’s career:
But Carlson's claims that the agency is monitoring his communications in an ongoing basis, that it is doing so to harm him and his program and, most importantly, that it is doing so at the agency and not the individual level are much more serious claims than simply his announcement that his communications were being collected. He's alleging not just incidental gathering of information but, as he framed it to his audience, his being targeted for political and punitive reasons. As might happen to them.
This is the big claim, and it's one for which we have no evidence beyond Carlson's presentation of what he claims he was told by an unnamed whistleblower. As has been reported, there has been no effort by Fox News's corporate arm to call the government to account, as a media outlet normally would if the government were targeting its journalists. There has been no significant exploration of Carlson's claims on other Fox News shows. The story — that the president or a government agency is illegally trying to dig up information to punish a reporter in defiance of the First Amendment — wasn't even the top story on Carlson's own show on either night. It's just something he got to when he got to it, this charge of Nixonian excess.
Carlson’s response: The NSA’s denial is “an entire paragraph of lies.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called for an investigation into the matter. Once again, right-wing projection rules the airwaves.