Tucker Carlson has been doing the white-nationalism-with-a-side-of-plausible-denialism routine for quite a while now, built around a menu of rhetorical sleights of hand that let Fox News executives pretend he’s not really doing it. Gaslighting is his specialty, after all. At some point, someone needs to point out that his core argument, in fact, essentially identifies ordinary white conservatives with violent neofascists and terrorists. Why is he saying that, exactly?
His most recent over-the-top, wildly up-is-down gaslighting rant—in which, once again, he sneered at an African American woman standing up against white racism, just like his successful attacks on MSNBC’s Tiffany Cross—directed at Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on Tuesday. Once again, he characterized Democratic attempts to confront white supremacist violence and terrorism as an attack on all white people—including, of course, ordinary mainstream conservatives. He even hijacked the term “blood libel” to apply it to the supposedly victimized whites.
Carlson has been deploying this rhetorical gambit for a while now; a good example is his post-Jan. 6 rants claiming that, because Democrats plan to prosecute the Capitol insurrectionists for their obvious crimes, they actually are targeting every Trump voter. It’s a variation on the “waving the bloody shirt” trope that Republicans have mastered, essentially arguing that right-wing violence isn’t really a problem, the real problem is any attempt to hold people accountable for it.
In order to make that argument, however, Carlson has to characterize every Trump voter, every Republican, as one of the violent domestic terrorists and insurrectionists who, in fact, are the targets of prosecution (as they should be). The obvious absurdity, of course, is supposed to suggest that of course far-right violence isn’t really a problem, it’s being concocted for political reasons in order to persecute all conservatives—which is what Carlson also explicitly claims, even though it is demonstrably a lie.
He opened his rant Tuesday by mocking Jackson Lee for saying what the nation’s top law-enforcement officials confirm—namely, that white-supremacist violence is the most significant terrorism threat Americans face. For Carlson, mockery itself seems the only argument he needs when dealing with Black women:
Racism, you see, is a national security threat. It's a national security threat. Really, Sheila Jackson Lee? Tell us how racism is a national security threat. Speak slowly. We've got plenty of time.
But of course she won't do that. She's got no argument. She's got no facts. She doesn't even have a sincere belief in what she's saying. It's absurd and she knows it, and by the way, Sheila Jackson Lee doesn't want to protect a country she despises from national security threats. Why would she want to do that?
Then he began throwing out the “liberals are the real racists because they are attacking all white people” trope—by throwing in references to antisemitic conspiracism, apparently of the “reverse” kind, except that it’s not:
No, that's not the point. What she's doing here every day is leveling a racial attack, a blood libel against an entire group of Americans while simultaneously pretending to be the victim of attacks from that same group.
Let’s pause a moment here. The term “blood libel,” in fact, describes the belief based in antisemitic hostility—one that dates back to the medieval age, but so durable that it was a factor in the Holocaust as well—that Jewish rabbis secretly abducted Christian children to kill them and drain their blood to be used in making matzoh. (If you note a similarity to the QAnon belief that the globalist pedophilia ring is draining blood from their abductees to harvest adrenochrome, that isn’t just a coincidence.)
Of course, Jackson Lee isn’t claiming that white people abduct black kids to make their bread with, or anything remotely like that; she’s calling out the very cold and inescapable reality of anti-black violence by white nationalists and neo-Nazis, as well as by our nation’s police forces. Carlson doesn’t care, though—he wants to try to do a turnabout, wielding his enemies’ own weapons against them, even if he doesn’t actually comprehend what the phrase means. Sarah Palin, you’ll recall, actually pioneered this bit of intentional stupidity.
"Stop hitting me," she howls as she punches you in the face. It's such a common tactic at this point, used constantly by Al Sharpton, by the ADL, by so many others, that you may not even notice it anymore. But it's still disgusting, it's still immoral, it's still divisive.
Yes, even more antisemitic notes: This is simply a variation on the old antisemitic proverb—much favored by white nationalists and neo-Nazis—“The Jew cries out in pain as he strikes you.” But we’re not supposed to notice that.
Carlson then showed a clip of Joe Biden ostensibly indulging in this scandalous behavior during his Oct. 21, 2021, speech at the Martin Luther King Memorial:
And finally, we're confronting the stains of what remains a deep stain in the soul of the nation, hate and white supremacy. You know, there's a tough through line of subjugation of enslaved people from our earliest days to the reigns of radicalized terror, the KKK, to Dr. King being assassinated. In the violent deadly insurrection on the Capitol nine months ago, it was about white supremacy in my view.
What was mostly unremarkable common sense, for Carlson, was outrageous—yes, once again, a “blood libel”—and moreover, a pretext to begin persecuting all Trump supporters and conservatives in America through “secret courts” that, in fact, no one is discussing:
Speaking of blood libel, because that's what it is, protesting the 2020 election results is the same as slavery, as the KKK. It's the same as murdering Martin Luther King. "It's all white supremacy," declares Joe Biden, without defining the term.
Now you may recall when Joe Biden said that. You probably dismissed it at the time as ridiculous, as the rantings of senile partisan, and of course that's what it was, but you should also keep in mind that Joe Biden did not say that by accident. It wasn't an ad lib off the cuff. No, his staff signed off on that speech. They wrote it. They read it before he read it, and they wrote it for a reason.
When the President of the United States identifies a threat to this country, his many federal agencies, the biggest in the world, swing into action to neutralize that threat. That's how the system works, as Joe Biden's staff well knows. So in fact when Joe Biden likens you to al-Qaeda or the Klan, it's not a small thing at all. It has implications.
So here's Sheila Jackson Lee from last week in a not unrelated clip calling for the renewal of the Patriot Act. Watch.
Jackson Lee: I remember after 9/11 when we all worked together to ensure the protection of the American people through the Patriot Act and dealing with the FISA Courts. We worked together because truth is important.
Just so we’re clear: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts she’s describing provide judicial and congressional oversight of the nation’s intelligence community, and were created in 1977, well before the Patriot Act. But these courts deal entirely with foreign threats, not domestic ones. Jackson Lee’s description is a generic one intended to emphasize the need to use our legal authorities to act against the growing threat of white nationalism.
But for Carlson, it’s evidence of a Democratic plot to create “secret courts” to persecute conservatives:
Now that's kind of strange if you think about it. Why would Sheila Jackson Lee, a self-described liberal, find herself last week praising the secret government courts that liberals once opposed passionately on the grounds that those courts could be used to destroy the constitutional rights of Americans without anyone knowing about it? Secret courts? Liberals were against secret courts, and now the chief Liberal in Congress is strongly for secret courts. What's going on here? Why?
Well, because those secret courts turn out to be a highly effective way to silence the critics of the Democratic Party, to silence those so-called white supremacists Joe Biden's always yelling about, not all of whom by the way are white. You don't have to be white to be a white supremacist, you just have to oppose the agenda, and of course Sheila Jackson Lee knows that very well, and that's why she wants to renew the Patriot Act indefinitely, and there are enough dumb Republicans that she may be able to, but Sheila Jackson would like to go a lot further than that. Lee has just introduced a Bill called the Leading Against White Supremacy Act of 2023.
Here's the text of that bill, for those reading along:
H.R.61 - Leading Against White Supremacy Act of 2023
For Carlson, criminalizing white-supremacist speech, as this bill proposes, is the same as criminalizing conservative speech:
Now, it's not an exaggeration to say this single bill would do more to criminalize speech, previously constitutionally guaranteed speech, than any other piece of legislation that has been proposed in the entire history of this country. That's not an overstatement at all, and to prove it we're going to read directly from the bill. Here it is.
"A conspiracy to engage in white supremacy inspired hate crime shall be determined to exist between two or more persons, at least one of whom published material advancing white supremacy, white supremacist ideology, antagonism based on 'replacement theory' or hate speech that vilifies or is otherwise directed against any non-white person or group."
Now, nowhere in the legislation is the term white supremacy or white supremacist ideology ever defined. Of course it's never defined. It's left open. It's subjective. Anything can be white supremacy, but the bill does specifically point to something called replacement theory, white supremacist ideology. If you engage in either one of them, you go to federal prison, possibly for a very long time. So all that's required under this piece of legislation, which has not been laughed out of Congress yet, all that's required is that your political opinions "could, as determined by a reasonable person, motivate actions by a person predisposed to engaging in a white supremacy inspired hate crime."
So what would qualify as a felony under this law? Well, virtually everything, but among them would be pointing out the Democratic Party politicians, including Chuck Schumer, the leading Senate Democrat, have long bragged that they are flooding this country with immigrants in order to change the demography to maintain political power for themselves. They've said that many times, they've written it, they've bragged about it on camera, but if you notice it under this bill, you would be criminally responsible for the violent acts of people you have never met, and you would go to jail for terrorism.
It's not difficult to understand the source of Carlson’s concern. After all, he’s been one of the leading purveyors of “replacement theory” in public discourse, having touted it on multiple occasions on his nightly program. But when called out on it by groups like the ADL, he’s been “exonerated” by his superiors at Fox. When another white-nationalist killing spree inspired by “replacement theory”—the May massacre at a Buffalo grocery store—predictably happened, Carlson and his Fox News cohorts quickly resorted to their time-tested “bloody shirt” trope as a response.
It should be said that Jackson Lee’s legislation is problematic at best as a matter of free speech (see Jessica Washington’s analysis at The Root for a more sympathetic discussion). Supposed free-speech absolutists like Carlson (who, notably, has been remarkably silent regarding the ongoing assault on free speech in Florida under the aegis of supposed “anti-woke” initiatives) often obscure the reality that, while First Amendment rights are indeed very broad, there are limitations to them as well—primarily, speech intended to threaten and intimidate can be criminalized, as can speech that incites criminal acts.
However, court rulings have stipulated that such threats need to be direct in a way to either put a person in reasonable fear for their lives or well-being, or to directly incite a criminal act that follows, so such speech is often narrowly defined. It’s unclear whether Jackson Lee’s legislation would clear that bar. Nonetheless, it is not difficult to find a number of people engaging in what should be unprotected speech that does incite violence, and which is intended to threaten and intimidate, on the white supremacist right—and that’s the speech her bill is intended to target.
None of those objections, however, are what bother Carlson. No, his problem is that it only criminalizes white extremists:
Now, what's most interesting about this bill is that it's race specific. Nothing in Sheila Jackson Lee's legislation would apply to say Black supremacy or murder sprees by people who aren't white supremacists. The massacre in Waukesha, for example. So that means that Democratic Party politicians can continue to say whatever they want with impunity. The First Amendment still applies to them, but not to anyone who doesn't vote for them.
So that's the definition of tyranny. It's horrifying. It's a direct attack on the Bill of Rights, on our core freedoms guaranteed by the US government for 250 years.
Once again, the core of Carlson’s argument is to identify white supremacist hate speech with conservative speech. Why would he say that?
Well, because he has made a career out of covering for white nationalism and far-right extremists by pretending they don’t exist and pose no kind of threat to anyone—and that the real threat is anyone who wants to hold them to account, as well as to hold conservatives who empower them to account. And if you’d forgotten that, he caps the whole rant off with a seemingly odd aside:
We shouldn't be surprised by this however, because it's consistent with what Biden has promised, has promised since the day he got into office, and the promise was that race blind justice, which is the entire foundation of the rule of law in the West, has been for centuries, is done.
The new model? South Africa. That's the new model. South Africa, a country we never talk about because no one wants to admit what's happened there over the past 29 years.
Got that? South Africa ended apartheid rule 29 years ago. The narrative long promulgated by the white nationalist right in the intervening years has been to depict the nation as a racial hellhole, one in which white farmers are massacred willy-nilly (a lie that Carlson himself promoted). In reality, South Africa has been a success story for democracy itself—which is probably why autocracy-loving right-wingers like Carlson love to smear it.
Mind you, Carlson already has a remarkable record of dabbling increasingly in white supremacist rhetoric dating back to 2006, including recently unearthed recordings of his ramblings on radio. His greatest hits include a regurgitation of neo-Nazi propaganda about “white genocide” in Africa, not to mention his mutual promotion of the white nationalist website VDare. There is a reason white supremacists love Carlson’s show, and why they assiduously watch it in hopes of picking up pointers.
Carlson’s core view is not that white nationalism is innately divisive and toxic, but that identifying people as white nationalists even when they do so themselves is what’s actually “divisive”: “When you tell someone your neighbor is a white nationalist, then you start to say, you know, I don’t want to be around that person,” he’s said previously. “And it really divides the country. When you think you are living amongst white supremacists and white nationalists and Nazis, it’s dangerous, and it’s creating a lot of animosity and it’s tearing us apart.”
Yes, the real problem is that no one—including many white people—wants to be around hatemongers and extremists or have anything to do with them. The hate and fear and violence they spread? Meh.
By the way, if anyone wants to look at what kind of program progressives actually want to enact to confront white supremacist violence, this blueprint is a good start.