The FBI director dismantled Tucker Carlson's lie that white supremacists aren't a threat -- so Carlson ignored him


Citation Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has spent years telling his audience that white supremacists do not pose a serious threat to the public. Even as Americans motivated by racist ideologies committed acts of domestic terror -- including the January 6 sacking of the U.S. Capitol -- he was quick to scoff, arguing that Democrats and the press were exaggerating the threat for political gain. So after FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress the exact opposite on Tuesday, Carlson was left with three choices -- admit that he was wrong, lie about what happened, or ignore it. He chose the latter path, preferring to devote his show to issues he apparently considered more pressing, like the purported cancellation of Dr. Seuss.

Wray, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2017, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that white supremacist ideology “is a persistent, evolving threat” and is “the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism portfolio, if you will, overall.” He also said that the number of arrests of such persons have nearly tripled since his first year in office. 

The FBI director further described the January 6 attack as “domestic terrorism” and that  “racially motivated violent extremism, specifically advocating for the superior[ity] of the white race” motivated some alleged participants. Wray acknowledged that those white supremacists had been instrumental in the attack, even as he explained that “militia violent extremists” represented the “biggest bucket” of alleged perpetrators. He also knocked down conspiracy theories that had circulated on Fox and are now prevalent among Republicans that anti-fascist activists were responsible for the violence that day.

Wray’s comments on the threat posed by violent white supremacists were consistent with his September congressional testimony, in which he said that among domestic terrorist attacks, “racially motivated violent extremists ... have been responsible for the most lethal activity in the U.S.” Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report in October, finding that white supremacists had committed more lethal attacks than any other domestic extremist movement. Then-acting Secretary Chad Wolf wrote in that report that he was “particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years." 

While CNN and MSNBC aired much of Wray’s Tuesday testimony live, Fox largely ignored it so its hosts could focus more time on culture war nonsense. That’s a shame. Fox’s viewers would have benefited from hearing Wray’s presentation, which debunked a number of myths about the January 6 attacks propagated by the network as it sought to retain viewers by downplaying an assault on American democracy.

Carlson bears a particular responsibility in this case. His frequent parroting of white supremacist talking points has made him beloved within that bigoted community and reportedly triggered distress within Fox’s own ranks. And for the last several years -- particularly since January 6 -- he’s been telling his audience that Democrats and the press have vastly exaggerated concerns about white supremacists as part of a conspiracy against them.

For example:

  • On August 6, 2019, Carlson responded to a white supremacist gunman’s killing of 22 people in El Paso, Texas, by claiming that white supremacy is “actually not a real problem in America” and that arguments to the contrary are “a conspiracy theory used to divide the country and keep a hold on power,” just like the “Russia hoax.”
  • On August 7, 2019, Carlson reacted to criticism of his comments the previous night by saying that people talking about white supremacy are “destroying the country” and putting it on “the path to civil war” as a “diversion” for “political reasons.”
  • On September 30, 2020, Carlson mocked the discussion of white supremacist groups at a presidential debate by calling the notion that they pose a threat “crazier than any conspiracy that Google has ever banned.”
  • On November 2, 2020, Carlson said it is “demonstrably insane” to warn that white supremacists are a “real threat.”
  • This year, on January 14, Carlson claimed that the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol “wasn’t an armed invasion by a brigade of dangerous white supremacists. It wasn’t. Those are lies.”
  • On January 26, Carlson responded to Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) call to “raise the priority to domestic terrorism to white nationalism as it threatens the country,” by saying that Schiff’s implication is “vote the wrong way, and you are a jihadi,” adding, “They’re talking about you.”
  • On February 17, Carlson pushed back on comments President Joe Biden made about white supremacists at a town hall by saying that Biden is “dividing the country against itself” by “impugning people with the worst slur they have” as a “pretext to marshal the force of the state against its own people.”
  • On February 22, Carlson claimed, “There is no evidence that white supremacists are responsible for what happened on January 6, that's a lie.”

Carlson has offered similar defenses of the QAnon cult, which the FBI describes as a potential domestic terrorism threat, and as well as the Proud Boys, a violent far-right street gang.

But in the wake of Wray’s testimony, all Carlson had to offer was a mocking aside about the “white supremacist insurrection” while teasing an unrelated segment. He had bigger fish to fry -- on Tuesday night, he devoted several minutes of his broadcast to ranting about Dr. Seuss’ supposed “cancellation.”