Fox News host Tucker Carlson is very concerned about people likening him to a certain genocidal dictator.
“The cost is entirely on you,” Carlson told his audience in a Monday night monologue in which he warned of immigrants moving to their neighborhoods, “but don't complain, or else they will call you ‘Hitler.’"
But Carlson’s monologue wouldn’t have been far out of place on a white supremacist forum. Hours after ProPublica released disturbing audio of immigrant children who had been separated from their parents at the U.S. border, Carlson told viewers the immigrants were coming “to change your country forever.”
In a screed against what he termed as the “ruling class,” Carlson (a millionaire who went to aristocratic Rhode Island boarding school St. George’s) defended the separation of immigrant families by forecasting “the collapse of the American family.” His rhetoric, intentional or not, plays into textbook white nationalist claims about traditional family structures and the white race.
“You think any of these people really care about family separation?” Carlson said of liberals. “If they did, they’d be worried about the collapse of the American family, which is measurable and real, but they’re not worried about that. In fact they welcome that collapse because strong families are an impediment to their political power, and that’s why they’re always lecturing you about the patriarchy and the evil of the nuclear family.”
While not always a dog whistle, references to a nation’s traditional family structures are popular talking points in white nationalist circles.
“People talking about the importance of a family in American culture, in a political context, doesn’t necessarily make it an extremist sentiment or a white nationalist one. People talk about that all the time,” Ryan Lenz, a senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center told The Daily Beast. “However that discussion about preserving the American family has been a sentiment that has appeared and used in ideologies across the far right… In the white nationalist context, it has appeared most prominently in the idea of traditionalism.”
White nationalists envision the family as the foundation for a larger, all-white ethnostate, typically with strict gender hierarchies. White nationalists also use concerns about the family to mask the brutal racism encoded in their beliefs. So when a primetime news anchor describes immigrant families as a threat American (and implicitly white) families, white nationalists hear an ally.
“I think comments like what we’re hearing from a lot of right-wing sources work on several different levels in terms of raising ‘concerns’ or acting as a dog whistle,” said Jessica Reaves, a senior writer with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “White supremacists talk a lot about the inherent threat posed by immigrants and refugees, particularly those of color. This is obviously a shout-out to the sense that white supremacists have of being under siege. It’s a shout-out to the concept of white genocide, which is a popular trope among white supremacists and it’s something they use as a recruiting tool: a sense of fear of the other.”
Carlson’s Monday night monologue, during which he wrote off critics as living in “neighborhoods [that] look exactly like they did in 1960: no demographic change at all,” was far from his first dabble in the subject. In March, Carlson railed against “changing demographics in America,” asking viewers “how would you feel if that happened in your neighborhood?” In a fear-mongering January segment about Spanish-speaking grade school children, a Carlson guest blamed kids for cementing “Arizona's future as a Hispanic society,” and defended “the white supremacists [as] American citizens. The illegal immigrants are people who shouldn’t be here.”
If Carlson’s rants are deliberate dog whistles, white supremacists have been listening.
“Why we love MSM's Tucker Carlson,” reads the headline of a 2017 discussion thread on Stormfront, the oldest white supremacist forum. “This weird ambiguous creature spells it out fairly accurately.”
Clips of Carlson’s Monday night monologue spread quickly through the far-right. Andrew Torba, the founder of the white nationalist-friendly social media site Gab posted a Carlson segment on the site, where other harder-right users reposted the clip with explicitly white supremacist messages.
Joan Donovan, a researcher for Data and Society and expert on white supremacist messaging, said Carlson has previously used his campaign to dehumanize immigrants.
“The way Tucker Carlson messages race in his programming every night is that these are not people,” Donovan said, “from his talk of MS-13 and comments around animals, to talk about immigrants not as undocumented people but as ‘illegals.’ He’s always shifting the frame to dehumanize, which is often something we see among extremist, white nationalist groups that are looking to close the borders and work upon this notion of the white ethnostate.”
And Carlson’s program has previously played host to white supremacist memes. In November, the Fox host devoted a segment to backlash over a campaign to distribute posters reading “It’s Okay To Be White” at college campuses. But the campaign was actually designed by neo-Nazi trolls who sought to stir up controversy over what some might view as a harmless statement.
“Normies tune in to see what’s going on, see the posters saying It’s Okay to Be White and the media and leftists frothing at the mouth [sic],” wrote a 4chan user who helped design the campaign, according to Newsweek. “Credibility of far left campuses and media gets nuked, massive victory for the right in the culture war.”
Carlson later gave the faux-controversy its largest platform and, in doing so, delivered the narrative neo-Nazis had dreamed of. “Like any ethnicity, you’re born with it,” Carlson said of whiteness. “Which is why you shouldn’t attack people for it, and yet the left does constantly—in case you haven’t noticed.”
Donovan, who monitored the “It’s Okay To Be White” hoax on its rise to Fox News, said Carlson portrays the left as hysterical by playing to the “notion of race without power,” or the idea that white people do not enjoy any greater privileges than people of other races in America.
“The more he is able to shift the frame away from this being solely about race and not about power, the more he’s able to show a false equivalency with the white race among his viewers who then see any liberal reaction—not even liberal, but people who understand how social movements have always worked—to Tucker Carlson’s insistence that race isn’t about power as overblown, as hysterical, as outrage,” Donovan said.
“He does it really effectively because he has a very tailored audience in the sense that he knows exactly what they’re going to react to. He knows what buttons to push.”
And on Monday, Carlson pushed those buttons again, characterizing people opposed to forced family separations as furious “elites” who wanted immigrants “to change your country forever." He hyped those dissenters as overreacting, taking particular issue with former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who posted had a picture of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in reference to the story from earlier that day.
Lenz said Carlson’s comments, and those by similarly minded pundits, represent a wave of white nationalist ideas reaching their most mainstream platform in a decade.
“I think Tucker, like a lot of right-wing pundits have been freed up to say things that are more stridently in support of America as a white country or as a white traditional country than they might have previously, because of the political climate that’s been brought about from the direction of the administration,” Lenz said.
“When federal policy is to take away children from their families if they cross the border and put them in camps, you’re free to say a lot of things about the quote-unquote white European character of the United States that you might not have otherwise been able to say so openly without consequence.”