Fox News is now mainstreaming a proposition that ought to be morally beyond the pale: that an armed 17-year old who traveled from his home in Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and killed two people during ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, was justified and somehow acting in “defense” of either himself and/or local property.
A 17-year old from Antioch, Illinois, was arrested in his hometown for shooting and killing two people in Kenosha, during ongoing protests following the police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake. The shootings were captured in graphic video footage, appearing to show the 17-year-old firing on a crowd of people attempting to subdue him after an initial shooting.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the suspected shooter’s social media presence indicated that he considered himself to be part of a self-styled militia, and that the armed vigilante group was openly supported by police who tossed them water bottles.
In an interview with The Daily Caller, conducted before the shooting occurred, the suspected shooter declared: “If there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle, because I’ve gotta' protect myself, obviously. But I also have my med kit.”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson became the most prominent media personality to voice support for the suspected shooter, declaring on the August 26 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight that the killings were the result of the protests and civil unrest themselves: “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”
Others in the right-wing media sphere have been avidly promoting vigilante violence in Kenosha. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who reportedly promoted militia activity in Kenosha prior to the vigilante shooting, subsequently defended the alleged shooter, claiming that the crowd of people he shot into were “rioters” who were trying to “murder him.” Others such as The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft mocked protesters for calling for the police after someone was shot. And many seized on the violence to attack or fearmonger about activists or the left.
On Fox, Carlson was not the only figure to elevate pro-vigilante rhetoric to the major cable network:
- The Five co-host Jesse Watters referred to the killings as “vigilante justice” and incorrectly grouped the shooter among “business owners [who] send in people or go in themselves to protect their small business that they've worked their lives to make work.” Co-host Juan Williams then sought to correct the record by pointing out that the alleged killer had in fact traveled in from out of town, “so he was there as a provocative act.” Watters interrupted: “And I totally condemn that. And sadly, Juan, because of the situation, you're going to have people come into communities and try to protect communities when the government doesn't.”
- On the same edition of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld declared that people who had opposed police crackdowns on the protests, such as his co-host Williams, had “abdicated the responsibility” over the matter to “militias” and “defenders of property.” He continued: “Because once the police are not allowed to act, the rioting can proceed without consequence. People come in and fill the void.”
- Martha MacCallum, the “straight news” anchor of Fox’s The Story with Martha MacCallum, also suggested that the shooter was simply part of a group defending “their businesses” even though the shooter was from out of state. MacCallum argued, “Here you have a 17-year-old out in the street with a gun, and it's understandable that people want to protect their businesses, but this just looks like total chaos and anarchy.”
- The next morning, Fox & Friends displayed a friendly image of the shooter cleaning graffiti off of a wall above a chyron noting that he had been charged with homicide.
- On Outnumbered, co-host Katie Pavlich justified vigilante actions and suggested local leaders were partly to blame for the shootings, arguing, “When you have no police around to defend businesses and people who are being attacked, and their livelihoods burned to the ground, then there is a void that is filled.” Fellow co-host Melissa Francis agreed: “That's a great point, the vigilantes are just as much the fault of those local leaders who have failed so miserably.”
Pavlich and Francis later attempted to walk back their comments when questioned by co-host Chris Wallace.