Is Tucker Carlson the most dangerous man in America?
Perhaps not. There’s always the threat of a resurgent Donald Trump, fighting another racist and xenophobic campaign to win back the presidency in 2024. There are the governors of states like Texas and Florida, whose know-nothing refusal to abide by critically important anti-COVID measures is arguably responsible for the deaths of thousands. There are countless climate change deniers, many in positions of political authority, bringing us all closer to global catastrophe.
But if Carlson isn’t No. 1 in this dubious category, he’s close.
Over the last couple of decades, Carlson has moved from being a right-wing libertarian and fairly talented mainstream columnist to becoming one of the nation’s clearest exponents of immigrant-bashing white nationalism. He traded in the preppy bow ties that were his affectation in the elite private schools where he was educated, for, metaphorically speaking, a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.
The 2017 departure of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News after a sexual harassment scandal, followed by last February’s death of right-wing talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh, cleared the way for Carlson’s nightly Fox News show to become the highest-rated cable television news show in America, with an average viewership of more than 3.2 million people. Today, Carlson may be the American far right’s most important voice, helping to push the Republican Party into an ever more authoritarian, racist and xenophobic stance.
In the words of the Washington Post’s Michael Kranish, writing in a lengthy July profile, Carlson is now “the preeminent voice of angry white America.”
This became particularly apparent during Carlson’s August visit to Hungary, where he spent a week lauding that country’s authoritarian leader, Viktor Orban. Orban has transformed his country into a near one-party state, an “illiberal democracy” where non-Christians are derided, anti-Semitic tropes are invoked, Muslim immigrants are despised, the media is heavily controlled, and the judicial, executive, and legislative functions are dominated by Orban’s Fidesz party.
“We must defend Hungary as it is now,” Orban said in a 2018 speech. “We must state that we do not want to be diverse. … We do not want our own color, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others.”
Carlson was not put off by any of this. “I think America is the greatest country in the world,” he told a right-wing conference in Budapest, “… but don’t tell me it’s freer than Hungary, because that’s a lie.” At the end of his visit, Carlson contrasted Orban’s Hungary, the most blatantly xenophobic nation in Europe, with America, where “chaos and filth and crime [are] growing all around us.”
Even before his trip, Carlson was praising Orban for “fearlessly raising an alarm about the kind of society European elites want to create.” Orban, he said, is simply warning that European Union leaders will “destroy Western civilization with their enthusiasm for mass migration left unchecked” and hoping to prevent “a Muslim majority while the country’s Christian culture is blotted out.”
That was bad enough. But then Carlson went a few steps further.
Already, in 2018, Carlson was saying that immigrants had made America a “dirtier,” “poorer” and “more divided place,” and suggesting that they were “replacing” the native population. The next year, he accused EU leaders of trying to do the same to Hungary: “Instead of helping the native population to have more children, the Hungarian government, [EU leaders] say, should import a replacement population from the Third World. That’s the George Soros solution,” he added, demonizing the Hungarian-born Jewish financier, as Orban has.
By April of this year, Carlson was saying that Democrats were pursuing the same policies that he attributed to EU leaders. “In order to win and maintain power, Democrats plan to change the population of the country,” he said.
But it was in September when he reached a new low, explicitly taking up the “Great Replacement” theory that has become a core idea of the radical racist right. “What [President] Joe Biden is doing will change the country forever,” he said. “[T]his policy is sometimes called the Great Replacement — the replacement of legacy Americans, with more obedient people from faraway countries.”
Carlson’s language was remarkably similar to that used by terrorists who carried out mass murders in 2019 of so-called “invaders” in El Paso, Texas, where 23 Latinos and others were shot to death, and Christchurch, New Zealand, where 51 Muslims were slain. The Christchurch killer’s manifesto was even titled “The Great Replacement” — a similarity that did not go unnoticed in America.
After a flurry of calls for his resignation, Carlson and Fox News said Carlson had not been talking about racial replacement, only a change in voters. But Carlson had earlier described just what he thought Biden’s misguided policy goal was: “To change the racial mix of the country. That’s the reason.”
Tucker Carlson has adopted a whole array of far-right beliefs. He hosts guests who play down climate change and question the efficacy of COVID vaccines. He argues that there is no such thing as systemic racism, and that black Americans simply want an advantage over whites. He opposes immigration and refugee programs, and calls Mexico “a hostile foreign power.” He supported Trump’s “Muslim ban.” He has taken up the false theory that white South African farmers were being targeted for death by the black-run government, a claim popular on the white supremacist right. After the massacre in El Paso, by a man who complained of a “Hispanic invasion,” Carlson said that the idea of a white supremacist right was a hoax and a conspiracy theory. He asserted that there was no evidence that a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd.
And now he has promoted a theory of imminent racial catastrophe — the Great Replacement’s dystopian vision of whites drowning in a rising tide of color — that has animated several of the most prolific mass murderers of our time.
Tucker Carlson may or may not be the most dangerous man in America. But he is influential, particularly among Trump loyalists. In September, when Carlson first spoke openly of the Great Replacement, Charlie Kirk, founder and head of the Republican organization Turning Point USA, asserted that Texas should deputize its citizens to the border to protect America’s “white demographics.”
Like many nations in the Americas and Europe, the United States finds itself confronted with a major political party that seems to increasingly favor the kind of racist, xenophobic and authoritarian state that Trump sought. Carlson, with his huge Fox News show, may be the person best equipped to spread those ideas within the radicalizing Republican Party and the country at large.
Mark Potok is a Senior Fellow at CARR and a freelance writer, speaker, consultant, expert on right-wing extremism. See full profile here.
© Mark Potok. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
This post is also hosted by our partner organisation, Rantt Media, here.