I was initially disappointed to tune in to "Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade’s radio show the day after the identities of the San Bernardino killers were revealed to find a guest host, Mary Walter. I’d sought out Fox News Radio expressly to hear the professional Islamophobe’s take, but the Islamophobia racket is a busy one, and Kilmeade was away doing an event for his recently published racist tract about America's (fallacious) centuries-long war with Islam. But Walter was a returning guest host, so she has Kilmeade and Fox’s seal of approval. Maybe she’d do.
“Let’s go to Christy in Missouri…”
Christy has a story for Walter: She gets a call from her sister, who is at (where else?) Cracker Barrel, a place so notoriously white that BuzzFeed’s Heben Nigatu has proffered “a cracker barrel” as a unit of measurement for a number of white people. Behind the Cracker Barrel, Christy’s sister spots a Muslim man who has pulled out a prayer mat, apparently due to his being on the road and needing a place to quickly pray. He tucks himself into what Christy calls the “alley” behind the restaurant, presumably to be out of folks’ way and not draw attention to himself.
Christy’s sister is calling her to ask if she should call the police. You know, if you see something, say something. Christy says that she should. The man leaves shortly after the police arrive, and they follow him. But her sister “never found out if they found anything or what have you,” Christy explains, and so:
“it’s one of them cases where she said, ‘Well, did I do the right thing?’ And I said, “Yeah, cuz you never know. What if you'd have got home and youd've heard, 'Oh, mass shooting at a Cracker Barrel,' and here you could've prevented it.”
Even though Christy gave her sister the green light on having men with guns follow a Muslim man for observing his faith, she seems to be confirming with a Fox News personality whether her advice was appropriate. And the replacement host, Mary Walter, believes it was.
“Listen, I understand that they pray five times a day,” begins Walter. “I get it. But really? You have to pull out a prayer mat, you have to be on the floor? You can’t pray in your car?” Walter, a Catholic, does her rosary in traffic, she says. She wonders why the Muslim man can’t pray like a distracted Christian who fits time for the everlasting, all-powerful creator of the universe into commercial breaks and brief moments at stop lights.
After a brief, obligatory nod to bedrock Constitutional rights--”I don’t have a problem with people publicly practicing their religion”--Walter effectively concurs with the caller. “However, during a time of war, if you don’t want to be profiled, the better part of valor it may be to not do that--for the time being.” Just a momentary suspension of the First Amendment while an apparently interminable War on Terror persists.
Walter, having someone so frighteningly close to the front lines of the war on the call, asks if Christy is worried about terrorism where she lives. Christy lives in the Ozarks, one of the most remote and backwoods parts of America. Cracker Barrel country.
“Oh yes,” says Christy. “Yes. We hold meetings. We hold meetings in taverns, and houses, and church basements...and people talk about what’s going on.” They’re ready, too, reports Christy. “People are armed to the hilt.”
But it wouldn’t be a conversation with a Fox News-watching rural white American without conflating the Islamic terrorism threat with Barack Obama. “And I can also tell you this,” Christy continues. “You know, Obama talkin’ about takin’ guns...I know a lot of people that are in motorcycle gangs--clubs, not gangs, clubs--but their clubhouses are locked and stocked. I mean, they are loaded with ammo. They’re prepared.”
Prepared for what, again? ISIS or Obama? Also, did Christy just snitch on an illegal motorcycle gang? (Club! I meant club!) Right, one of those motorcycle “clubs” armed like Seal Team 6. But it’s a Muslim man peacefully praying that we’re supposed to scared of.
So Christy has revealed that her world is one of racist, Islamophobic paramilitary motorcycle gangs who arm themselves according to conspiracy theories about our president. This is where Walter will start to distance herself from the caller, lest Fox News be seen to validate that sort of thinking. Right?
Nope. “I want to move there, number one,” Walter says excitedly. “But number two, I trust those people. Am I wrong? If it came to a war in this country, in the homeland, those are the people I trust.”
In just a couple minutes we went from some poor, innocent Muslim man getting harassed by police officers for praying to praising what sounds like a right-wing militia with extremely racist notions of where the guns should probably be pointed. And this is how the GOP ended up with its far-right-wing problem. Its media organ only has one direction: to ratchet the discourse ever-rightward, to let the most reactionary elements steer the discourse. Christy and her people are rustic, patriotic heroes, not threats.
A long time ago, back in the quaint, halcyon days of 2008, a guy like Senator John McCain would push back on the worst impulses of white reactionary racism and Islamophobia. But he’d get booed for it, and conservatives would blame his eventual electoral defeat on his purported milquetoast centrism. Just seven years later, the product of right-wing media, Trumpism, reigns. Unlike McCain, Trump not only permits, but actively affirms, radical voices, tacitly when not explicitly. Why would he not, if Fox News is a forum for millions to celebrate fantasies of insurrectionary violence and state suppression of Muslims? It doesn’t pay to be the adult in the room.