Fox’s “expert” guests keep floating that the attempted bombings of progressives are a false flag

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

The far-right effort to brand the explosive devices sent to several Democratic politicians and outspoken progressives as a leftist “false flag” hoax has spread to Fox.

Authorities have reported that pipe bombs in manilla envelopes were recently sent to prominent progressives across the country. Law enforcement has yet to identify the culprits or their motivation.

But on Wednesday morning, after the initial reports that such packages had been sent to former President Barack Obama and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, far-right and pro-Trump commentators quickly suggested on social media and anonymous message boards that the bombs had likely been sent by someone on the left, perhaps in an effort to increase turnout for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections.

That evidence-free theory may have been spawned in the right-wing fever swamp, but it quickly spread to the most-watched network in cable news, where multiple guests pushed this baseless hypothesis to millions of viewers.

On three different shows, guests invited to provide expert analysis of the situation floated the idea that the perpetrator might be a leftist trying to bolster Democrats. It seems unusual that Fox booked so many people who were comfortable bringing up what even Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy called “conspiracy theories.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Fox News’ Outnumbered hosted former FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker to discuss the developing story. Swecker argued the culprit might not be “espousing some sort of conservative ideology and targeting Democrats. It could be someone who is trying to get the Democratic vote out and incur sympathy. So it could go either way.”

One of the Outnumbered hosts replied, “That’s an interesting point, yes.” Co-host Harris Faulkner then added, “And that’s why we always caution against that speculative -- and I understand why investigators say well we want to start and if arrows are pointing in one direction, kind of follow that, but they could be the same facts for different reasons as you’re pointing out.”

The same thing happened Wednesday evening on Martha MacCallum’s show, The Story.

Retired FBI agent Jim Fitzgerald suggested that the attempted bombings could be international terrorism, then added that they might be a “false flag.”

“There could be someone in there,” he said, “some Democrat, low-level person -- I'm not suggesting anyone on the top, but who just decided you know what, I'm going to put this out because two weeks before a major election, who's going to look like the bad guy here? The Republicans.” “Fascinating,” replied MacCallum.

On Fox & Friends the next morning, it was former NYPD officer Vince Guastamacchia’s turn to speculate. “The fact that these bombs have not gone off is a great indication that I feel these are false flag bombings,” he said, adding, “Am I allowed to elaborate on that?”

After the hosts indicated that they were interested in his explanation, Guastamacchia suggested that the bombs may not have been “set to detonate.” He added, “I really think that the left feels they're losing on many levels, and I feel they're planting these devices just for -- to play the role of the victim.”

Guastamacchia’s baseless speculation crossed the line for Fox hosts who themselves have a long record of pushing risible falsehoods. Doocy responded by telling Guastamacchia it was “too early” to draw those sort of conclusions, which he characterized as “conspiracy theories.” When Guastamacchia returned to the notion later in the segment, saying that he was “speculating” but that “the right is winning” and would be less likely to try a bombing campaign, Brian Kilmeade shut him down, saying, “Vince, while we do appreciate your experience. But right now we are not going to speculate on anything political.”

But one Fox host who is willing to speculate is Lou Dobbs, the most-watched host on Fox Business and a confidant of Trump who regularly watches and tweets about his show.

“Fake News--Fake Bombs Who could possibly benefit by so much fakery?” he tweeted Thursday morning. After facing criticism online, Dobbs deleted the tweet a few hours later and replaced it with one suggesting, “Fake News has just successfully changed the narrative from the onslaught of illegal immigrants and broken border security to ‘suspicious packages.’” He later deleted that tweet as well.