Filling the Trump void: Right-wing media's calls for violence grow louder

Fox News and OAN get even more shameless about fueling violent fascist urges in the Trump base

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 25, 2021 1:09PM (EDT)

Tucker Carlson and the Capitol Rioters (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson and the Capitol Rioters (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

For months now, experts in violent extremism have openly worried that the January 6 insurrection was not the end of the right's Donald Trump-fueled violence, but actually a blueprint for those who are still interested in some old-fashioned authoritarian blood-letting. That Trump himself longed to use — and occasionally did use — violence to silence his political opponents is no secret. It was reconfirmed this week with reports that he reacted to last summer's protests by demanding that federal authorities "crack their skulls" and "just shoot them." His departure from office, however, doesn't seem to have turned the temperature down.

Trump and his allies keep pushing conspiracy theories, like one that claims he will be "reinstated" in August, that work to keep the violent insurrectionist sentiments churning among his base. This poses a heightened threat as the summer heats up and the moment when the Trumpers realize that their beloved orange savior is not actually getting the White House back nears. Unfortunately, right-wing media outlets are handling this situation by adding more fuel to the simmering flame of Republican paranoia.

In just the past week, two prominent conservative TV hosts were caught overtly layering in justifications for lashing out violently against Democrats, progressives, and anyone else viewed as getting in the way of MAGA power. A recent rant from the One America News Network host Pearson Sharp is getting a lot of media attention because the call for violence was so explicit that it's hard even for the most dedicated gaslighter to deny it. In a segment devoted to hyping Trump's Big Lie that Joe Biden stole the election, Sharp declared that "radical Democrats left fingerprints all over the country" in the supposed theft, suggested that "tens of thousands" of people are involved and that "in the past, America had a very good solution for dealing with such traitors: execution."

The call for red hats to start the executions is barely subtext anymore. The justifications are all there: The lie about a stolen election, the claim of moral authority to murder, and the implication that, because the American government won't do its duty, ordinary Americans must step up. Eric Kleefeld at Media Matters documents more examples that make it clear this is part of a larger push from right-wing media to continue "the incitement that led to the January 6 violence at the Capitol."

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In particular, the OAN segment was explicitly about the fake "audit" of the Arizona vote that MyPillow salesman Mike Lindell and Trump himself have been using as an anchor for false claims that the "fraud" is about to be exposed and Trump will be reinstalled as president in August. This supposed "audit" has been going on for a couple of months now, and, as the Washington Post reports, an entire infrastructure of right-wing media has been hyping it this entire time. When Trump's grand reinstatement inevitably fails to happen, there are going to be thousands of right-wingers who are furious and drunk on this rhetoric suggesting that violence is the only appropriate response. 

Over on Fox News, Tucker Carlson's Thursday night show is also getting a lot of media attention for his attack on Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who testified about the January 6 insurrection this week before the House Armed Services Committee. Milley correctly identified the cause of the Capitol riot as "white rage," which he clearly and correctly sees as rooted in a belief in white supremacy. Of course, right-wing media exploded in predictable outrage, suggesting that the military be defunded for this insult to the honor of racists.

Milley is "not just a pig," Carlson told his audience about the top military general, "he's stupid."

As Heather "Digby" Parton points out, the "party that once extolled the police and the military as the highest form of civic duty and patriotism" is now attacking Capitol police, the FBI and the military. Hypocrisy is always a story in American politics, so this is getting the lion's share of media coverage. But even more concerning might be something else Carlson said in his Thursday night program, in which he suggested that white people are in imminent danger of being the target of genocide. 

"Pundit, after senator, after professor, after general: each one of them spewing race hate. Whiteness, white rage!" Carlson raved. "How do we save this country before we become Rwanda?"

As he often does, Carlson plays this rhetorical trick where he equates simply being white with holding an ideology of white supremacy, and suggests that any criticism of racists is, therefore, an attack on white people for their race. The invocation of Rwanda, of course, is a reference to the Rwandan genocide, when members of the Tutsi minority in that country were hunted down and mass-murdered. And while he would no doubt spew all sorts of gaslight to deny what he is doing, Carlson is telling his audience that any effort to understand or analyze the history of racism will lead to white people being mass murdered based on skin color. 

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This is, in part, Carlson doing his usual thing, where he takes ideas from literal neo-Nazis, cleans them up and presents them as "common sense conservativism" on his show. In this case, the idea he's laundering is "white genocide," the white nationalist belief that valuing racial diversity is equivalent to the genocide of white people. But this is also incitement to violence, even if Carlson is being a bit more subtle than Sharp. By telling white people they're in imminent danger of racialized violence, Carlson is positioning white violence as mere self-defense. Recasting aggression as self-defense is a classic fascist move, and Carlson doesn't need to be explicit here for his audience to pick up what he's putting down. 

The atttacks on the military, the FBI and any police who are caught defending democracy are even more subtle, but part of the same alarming push towards violence in right-wing media. These are the authorities who are most likely to be involved in shutting down fascist insurrection, after all, especially now that Trump's no longer in the White House. Getting MAGA loyalists to see these institutions as enemies, instead of as respected authorities, is a crucial part of the radicalization process. 

The August date that Trump floated for his supposed reinstallation got a flurry of media coverage and then fell out of the news cycle as other pressing matters, such as the voting rights and infrastructure bills, emerged. It's easy to dismiss the whole conspiracy theory as just more of Trump wanting attention and gorging himself on any bit of flatterry. Hopefully, that will be the case, especially as there are so far no signs of something like the "Stop the Steal" rally being organized — yet. 

Still, it's deeply concerning that the rhetoric of justified violence is increasing, and not just in fringe social media circles, but on cable news networks being projected into millions of American homes. It's also timed alongside this Arizona "audit" and its accompanying conspiracy theories, and placed in the summer months, when people are far more likely to be out and ready to gather in person than in the dead of winter, when the Capitol riot happened. The fire may not spark, but there can be no mistaking the immense amount of fuel that right-wing media is gleefully pouring over the kindling. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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