Monday brought the news that Tucker Carlson and Fox News “have agreed to part ways,” according to a statement from the network. The surprise announcement that cable news’ top-rated host was unceremoniously and suddenly dumped sent shock waves through media and political circles. The decision was so sudden that Fox News doesn’t have a replacement lined up, and will instead use a cycle of rotating hosts until they determine what’s next for the critical 8 p.m. hour.
Regardless of who takes over, Carlson has already changed the network — and the country. For years, he used his cable news platform not only to broadcast racist conspiracy theories, but to bring televised racism into the 21st century.
Carlson beat a pathway from far-right corners of the internet into millions of Americans’ living rooms, laying the groundwork for Donald Trump and dozens of other high-profile Republicans to seize on racial grievance as an animating issue for voters.
He’d occasionally aired his repellent views before reaching Fox News. During the George W. Bush administration, when he was employed at MSNBC, Carlson vilified Iraqi citizens, claiming during a radio appearance that they “don’t use toilet paper or forks.” Iraq is “filled with a bunch of semiliterate primitive monkeys,” he said in 2008.
But once he took the main chair for Fox’s 8 p.m. hour, Carlson fired with both barrels. He used his prime-time slot to deliver talking points that were manufactured on the internet’s most noxious message boards and websites, normalizing them for a nightly audience of millions. Carlson’s message sounds familiar at this point because of its dominance in politics: America’s liberal elite, he spent years alleging, is destroying the country by subverting white people’s place atop the U.S. political hierarchy.
“Let me just state, unequivocally, the country’s being stolen from American citizens as we watch,” he said in 2021, during a discussion of undocumented immigrants in the United States. The liberal watchdog group Media Matters has kept an ongoing tally of such racist one-liners. It runs to dozens of pages.
“Let me just state, unequivocally, the country’s being stolen from American citizens as we watch.”
To justify his apocalyptic language, Carlson frequently framed political debates as civilizational struggles. The Black Lives Matter movement, which led racial justice protests around the country in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in 2020, was actually “a totalitarian political movement, and someone needs to save the country from it.” Where could Americans turn to preserve their free speech rights, which were supposedly in mortal peril? “Only Republicans can save us,” Carlson said.
On the other side of the debate, according to Carlson, was nothing less than widespread violence ― the emasculation of his viewership. People taking a critical view of Christopher Columbus, Carlson argued, were actually telling Americans: “You don’t have the right to defend yourself against our assaults. You don’t have the moral legitimacy to defend your own country.” The jury that found police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering Floyd, Carlson said, was actually pleading with Black Lives Matter protesters: “Please don’t hurt us!” Black Lives Matter itself, he said, is “poison.”
Perhaps Carlson’s most notable contribution to 21st-century racism came from his pioneering work amplifying the so-called “Great Replacement” theory ― the idea that Democrats support greater immigration levels and lax border enforcement because they are trying to replace white American voters with voters of other races, who would supposedly be more likely to vote for Democrats.
The racist conspiracy theory takes as a given that certain immigrants inherently hold certain political beliefs, and that America’s political fate should rightfully be determined by white people.
“I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that 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. “But ... let’s just say it: That’s true.”
America’s most prominent white supremacists were overjoyed at Carlson’s support for their favorite theory. “This week Tucker redpilled 4 million people and there’s nothing liberals can do about it,” Nick Fuentes, the Adolf Hitler-loving leader of the “America First” movement, tweeted at the time. (In modern fascist parlance, being “redpilled” means adopting a white supremacist worldview.)
VDARE, a far-right website that frequently trafficks in similar theories, was also thrilled. “This segment is one of the best things Fox News has ever aired and was filled with ideas and talking points VDARE.com pioneered many years ago,” the website’s account tweeted. “You should watch the whole thing.”
Steve Sailer, a VDARE writer, saw Carlson’s monologue as a significant step in widening the “Overton Window” — a term for the range of acceptable mainstream political discussion — to include white supremacist beliefs. “Tucker’s Overton Window-Smashing Broadside: ‘The Truth About Demographic Change’” was the headline of an article Sailer published on VDARE.
Carlson ultimately promoted the Great Replacement concept in more than 400 episodes of his show, a wide-ranging New York Times analysis found. He has accused Mexico and other Latin American countries of “forcing demographic change” and “packing the electorate” in order to interfere in U.S. elections. The United States, Carlson has maintained for years, is not simply welcoming immigrants into its borders, but rather experiencing an “invasion” of enemies of the state that will lead to the country’s destruction.
Just as the Great Replacement theory got a thorough airing on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” it has also featured prominently in the genocidal screeds of various white mass shooters ― including those written by the Christchurch shooter, who killed 51 Muslims in two mosques in New Zealand, and the El Paso shooter, who killed 22 Hispanic people in a Texas Walmart.
Last year, another white supremacist, who’d written his own screed about the Great Replacement theory, opened fire at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 Black people. Afterward, Carlson briefly attempted to distance himself from the concept he’d spent so much time promoting, saying that “we’re still not sure exactly what it is.”
But within a couple of months, an indignant Carlson was back to explicitly promoting the racist theory on air, declaring: “The great replacement? Yeah, it’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s [Democrats’] electoral strategy.”
On Monday, the same day news broke of Carlson’s ouster at Fox News, jury selection began in the trial of another Great Replacement enthusiast ― Robert Bowers, the white supremacist facing dozens of federal charges over the October 2018 killings of 11 Jewish people in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Bowers allegedly carried out the massacre due to his belief in the conspiracy theory that Jews were helping fund a caravan of Latino migrants coming into the country. Fox News, and Carlson in particular, had spent weeks whipping up fear over the migrant caravan, repeatedly calling it an “invasion.”
“I have noticed a change in people saying ‘illegals’ that now say ’invaders,” Bowers wrote in a social media post shortly before the shooting. “I like this.”
Days earlier, Carlson had referred to the migrants as “invaders” on his program.
Tucker’s White Nationalist Writing Rooms
Carlson was never content just to receive praise from racists. He frequently hired them to write and produce his programs.
In 2020, Blake Neff, Carlson’s most senior writer — who once boasted that “anything [Carlson is] reading off the teleprompter, the first draft was written by me” — was fired after CNN received an anonymous tip that Neff had been posting virulently racist comments online under a pseudonym. “Black doods staying inside playing Call of Duty is probably one of the biggest factors keeping crime down,” Neff once wrote.
In 2021, Carlson tapped Scooter Downey as a writer for his Fox Nation “documentary” about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Downey’s résumé included directing two films for well-known white nationalists. He directed “Crossfire,” starring Lauren Southern, the white nationalist best known for taking part in a mission to stop boats from saving desperate refugees stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.
Downey also directed a film based on a book written by Theodore Robert Beale, aka Vox Day, a white nationalist who once wrote that “Western civilization” is dependent upon “white tribalism, white separatism, and especially white Christian masculine rule.”
When Downey directed Carlson’s documentary about Jan. 6, “Patriot Purge,” he made two white nationalists into the film’s protagonists. Richard Barnett, a self-described white nationalist who was photographed sitting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the attack on the Capitol, his feet propped up on a desk, was given a sympathetic platform. “I’m absolutely a political prisoner,” he told Carlson.
And conspiracy theorist Darren Beattie — a former speechwriter for Trump who was pushed out of the White House after speaking at a white supremacist event — was given plenty of air time to push baseless allegations that the insurrection was orchestrated by the FBI as a pretext for mass arrests of Trump supporters.
As The New York Times’ analysis of years of his show found, Carlson’s discussions of the “Deep State,” whose bidding was notionally carried out by the FBI and other armed agents and nongovernmental groups, usually came down to two words: “they” and “you.” Carlson shaped his racism as an indictment of America’s power-hungry liberal elite, who, he tried to convince his audience, were hellbent on policing speech and destroying the country.
“Shut up and obey!” Carlson often said, in a send-up of his audience’s supposedly tyrannical cultural and political leaders.
What could his viewers do in response? Aside from supporting Republicans, Carlson offered few answers. He focused instead on constantly reminding his audience of the impending civilizational struggle.
For that seemingly inevitable outcome, though, he did have an answer ― one he invoked after news broke last month of Trump’s indictment on criminal charges.
“Probably not the best time to give up your AR-15,” Carlson said then. “And I think most people know that.”