Fox News’ Tucker Carlson under fresh scrutiny after Buffalo mass shooting

Alma L. Figueroa

Fox News personality Tucker Carlson is facing intense scrutiny from extremism experts, media watchdogs and progressive activists who say there is a link between the top-rated host’s “great replacement” rhetoric and the apparent mindset of the suspect in the weekend’s deadly rampage in Buffalo, New York.

The white suspect accused of killing 10 people and wounding three others Saturday at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood apparently wrote a “manifesto” espousing the white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory — elements of which Carlson has pushed on his weeknight show.

The theory baselessly holds that a cabal of Jewish people and Democratic elites are plotting to “replace” white Americans with people of color through immigration policies, higher birth rates and other social transformations. The idea circulated on the far-right fringes before moving to the mainstream of conservative media.

“Tucker Carlson has made comments that directly reference this conspiracy theory on his show,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks white supremacy, hate groups and extremism.

“The rhetoric that he espouses finds its origins in white supremacist literature,” Hayden went on to say, citing examples of websites and other publications popular with white supremacists. He added that Carlson “stops short of naming” Jewish people as the orchestrators of the “replacement,” instead using more general terms such as “the elite.”

In his opening monologue Monday, Carlson decried the “horrifying amount of violence in the U.S.” and then appeared to distance himself from the events in Buffalo. He claimed the suspect’s 180-page document was not aligned with the political right or left, describing it as a “rambling pastiche of slogans and internet memes” as well as a “product of a diseased and disorganized mind.” He also accused Democratic politicians of exploiting the gun violence for political gain.

The suspect’s apparent document does not state that he watched “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” a mainstay of the Fox News lineup since 2016. Fox News did not comment directly on the criticism of Carlson, but a spokeswoman for the network directed NBC News to on-air statements in which the host disavowed political violence.

Carlson has repeatedly promoted parts of the “replacement” theory on his broadcast. In more than 400 episodes, according to an analysis recently published in The New York Times, Carlson backed the idea that elites want to substitute white voters with immigrants or people from the “Third World.”

“I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest for the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” Carlson said in April 2021, for example.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights group, said in a statement Monday that “Buffalo is the latest in a tragic series of mass shootings that have been inspired by the virulently antisemitic and racist ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory. It’s devastatingly true that words have consequences.”

“This is why we’ve long urged Fox News to stop giving Tucker Carlson a platform to promote such vile and dangerous rhetoric,” Greenblatt added. “It’s time Tucker face consequences for his words.” (Greenblatt’s organization has previously called on Fox News to fire Carlson.)

The theory has been cited in several mass shootings since 2018, including by the man charged with killing 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018; the man accused of killing 23 people inside a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019; and the man who pleaded guilty to murdering one and injuring three at a synagogue in Poway, California, in 2019.

The renewed scrutiny on Carlson’s beliefs came as Fox News prepared Monday for its annual “upfronts” presentation, a television industry event in New York where network executives encourage corporations to purchase advertisements on-air.

In recent years, many blue-chip corporate advertisers appeared to flee Carlson’s show, yet many major American brands continue to advertise across Fox News.

NBC News contacted spokespeople for 14 corporations that reportedly advertise on Fox News, including General Motors and WeightWatchers, and asked if their companies planned to continue advertising on the network following the tragedy in Buffalo.

In a statement, General Motors said: “We do not advertise on Tucker Carlson or other similar shows, though we do advertise on Fox News.” When asked if the company plans to continue to advertise on the network, a GM spokesperson pointed NBC News back to the original statement.

WeightWatchers does not advertise on Carlson’s show. The company’s communications office did not reply to a subsequent email asking if it planned to continue to advertise on Fox News.

The spokespeople for the other 12 corporations did not immediately reply to emails sent Sunday night.

Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive nonprofit organization that tracks far-right media, said in his view, Carlson’s documented history of provocations evidently does not bother the leaders of Fox News.

Carlson is not the only high-profile figure in the conservative movement who has used “replacement” rhetoric. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 3 Republican in the House, echoed the racist theory in Facebook advertisements, as documented by The Washington Post.

Alex DeGrasse, Stefanik’s senior adviser, said in a statement posted on Facebook on Monday: “Despite sickening and false reporting, Congresswoman Stefanik has never advocated for any racist position or made a racist statement.”

But as the face of the top-rated weeknight cable news show in the U.S., Carlson commands influence with wide swaths of the American public like few other figures in the modern conservative movement.

In poll findings released last week, The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 1 in 3 U.S. adults believes there is an effort underway to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for an advantage in elections.

“Those views mirror swelling anti-immigrant sentiment espoused on social media and cable TV,” the AP wrote in an article summarizing the findings, “with conservative commentators like Tucker Carlson exploiting fears that new arrivals could undermine the native-born population.”

The AP article noted that these views are not held by a majority of Americans, reporting that two-thirds of the poll respondents felt the country’s diverse population makes it stronger.

“I think killers are ultimately responsible for their own actions,” Gertz said. “I also think that it is incredibly dangerous for influential public figures to be pushing these sorts of deranged conspiracy theories in ways that provide targets for their audience and their supporters.”

“Sooner or later, people do start taking that seriously,” he added, “and when they act, it becomes a deadly situation.”

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