Fox News hypes up baseless fears of violent “antifa” protesters amid reports of white supremacist groups inciting violence

Molly Butler / Media Matters

As nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd and police brutality continue, right-wing and white supremacist groups are reportedly taking advantage of the situation to incite violence in cities across the country. But Fox personalities have been focusing on the police narrative that the protesters are violent to justify police's use of excessive force and violence against peaceful protesters, and they have relentlessly hyped up the supposed threats posed by antifa -- shorthand for anti-fascist activists. 

Fox has also given a platform to conspiracy theories about the protests, including that Democratic donor George Soros is funding them and that antifa are allegedly stashing piles of bricks and other objects near protest sites to harm police officers. 

The resulting effect has likely left many Fox viewers fearing the supposedly tyrannical antifa. President Donald Trump is clearly taking advantage of this fearmongering as he has railed against the vaguely defined movement to justify military action and attack his political enemies.

The narrative that antifa are behind the violence at protests has caused panic in small towns across the U.S., where residents have gathered to defend their homes from attacks that never happen. NBC reported that in Klamath Falls, Oregon, hundreds of armed residents gathered because they “heard that antifa, paid by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, were being bused in from neighboring cities, hellbent on razing their idyllic town.” (When no one showed up, the residents declared victory.)

In reality, recent reporting has shown that right-wing and white supremacist groups are posing as protesters to incite violence across the country. In Denver, a large number of weapons were seized from an adherent of the extremist “boogaloo” movement -- which advocates for a second civil war -- and three people were arrested in Las Vegas on terror charges for their involvement in a right-wing conspiracy to incite violence at protests. In Minnesota, officials found links between looters and white supremacist groups. Multiple outlets have reported that boogaloo supporters and other white supremacist groups are posing as antifa on the internet in order to sow chaos and violence

Still, Fox News has been echoing Trump and the Justice Department’s push to blame antifa for the violence -- or otherwise paint the nationwide protests as overwhelmingly destructive --while obscuring the role of white supremacists and far-right actors in trying to spark violence at the protests. Many Fox segments have also responded to the controversy at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., where U.S. Park Police appeared to tear-gas a crowd of peaceful protesters on June 1 to allow for Trump to take a photo in front of a nearby church, by echoing Attorney General Bill Barr and the police’s widely disputed assertions that protesters were violent and that tear gas was never used to disperse the crowd.  

  • In his opening monologue on June 2, Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson warned that soon, “violent young men with guns will be in charge.” He continued: “They will make the rules, including the rules in your neighborhood. They will do what they want. You will do what they say. No one will stop them. You will not want to live here when that happens.”
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Citation From the June 2, 2020, edition of Fox New's Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity claimed that Black Lives Matter “is planning to train armed militia for war on police.”
  • On Outnumbered, Fox political analyst Gianno Caldwell baselessly speculated that Soros may be financing the protests, suggesting that he should “face some charges.” 
  • Campus Reform Editor-in-Chief Cabot Phillips -- who has spent years fearmongering about antifa on college campuses -- appeared on Fox & Friends and said college campuses are the “perfect place for antifa to recruit” because “they know that classrooms are places that are inundating students with these anti-capitalist, anti-cop, and anti-conservative messages.”
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Citation From the June 3, 2020, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends

  • Fox & Friends pushed a debunked claim made by New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea that “organized looters” were “strategically placing caches of bricks & rocks at locations throughout NYC.” In reality, as Vice News had reported the day before, the materials belonged to a construction site and were “miles from any protest.” But the co-hosts still fearmongered that “antifa is dropping off bricks and pickaxes to attack cops and take out buildings.”
  • On Your World, Fox News correspondent Hillary Vaughn said that a Department of Justice official told Fox that the department is “looking into reports of mass drop-offs of items like bricks and rocks that are being used to throw at law enforcement officials.”
  • Fox Business host Lou Dobbs reported that the U.S. Park Police chief said that Washington, D.C. protesters “had begun throwing bricks, frozen water bottles, and caustic liquid at police officers” and that “intelligence revealed there were calls for more violence against police officers.” Dobbs conceded that “U.S. Park Police did use smoke canisters and pepper balls to clear the area” -- which is broadly defined as tear gas -- before claiming that “there was never any tear gas.”
  • On The Five, Fox host Jesse Watters argued that federal law enforcement was simply responding to violent protesters, arguing that the police just “threw some smoke bombs.”
  • On America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen asked, “If they had to use tear gas, what does that say about the protesters?” Thiessen added, “If they were peaceful protesters, there would be no need to use tear gas. It means they resisted.”
  • On Fox & Friends, Fox correspondent Griff Jenkins said that the U.S. Park Police had offered “clarity” that “tear gas was not used” and that the park was cleared “after projectiles were thrown.”
  • On her Fox prime-time show, host Laura Ingraham attacked the media for reporting that tear gas had been used on peaceful protesters, saying that was incorrect and protesters were “combative” and violent.
  • Ingraham hosted a segment on antifa with a chyron stating that “leftist media ignore antifa’s violence at riots.” Ingraham claimed that “it’s obvious to pretty much everyone with a brain that antifa is instigating a lot of the devastation that we have been seeing” and said that a DOJ official told Fox that they have “seen very little in the way of any far-right groups.” Ingraham’s guest Terry Turchie, former deputy assistant director of FBI’s counterterrorism division, said that the instigators seem “like the far-left radical type element that has been with us for a long time.”
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Citation From the June 3, 2020, edition of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle