Since the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which was fueled in part by QAnon conspiracy theorists, Tucker Carlson has launched a campaign downplaying the threat of the conspiracy theorists willing to breach the seat of government or worse to get their way.
Carlson is not concerned with defending the conspiratorial nuts who believe Donald Trump has been personally mandated to defeat a top-secret cabal of satanic sex traffickers. Carlson is doing this because the Fox News prime-time host is doing what he does best: normalizing right-wing extremism.
As John Oliver and many others have noted, Carlson’s unabashed championing of white nationalist grievances has earned him the accolades of neo-Nazis, who praised him as a “one man gas chamber,” even as his show has shed advertisers in droves and caused Fox staffers to decry the program as “a white supremacist cell inside the top cable network in America.”
If that's not enough, Carlson is now using his Fox prime-time platform to defend the QAnon conspiracy theory.
QAnon, which revolves around cryptic posts on extreme far-right message boards from an anonymous user known as “Q," has been linked to various acts of violence throughout the country. In 2018, a man who was upset that Q’s predictions had not come to pass loaded multiple firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition into an armored vehicle and blocked a bridge near the Hoover Dam. He later pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. Attempted bombings, kidnapping schemes, and multiple killings have all been tied to QAnon, which also inspired members of the rioting mob that overran the Capitol building.
But you won’t hear about it on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
In late February, Carlson was widely mocked for claiming on-air that he and his staff had been unable to find any evidence that the QAnon conspiracy theory even exists. (Spoiler: It does.) “We spent all day trying to locate the famous QAnon, which, in the end, we learned is not even a website,” Carlson declared, telling viewers that any reporting done on the conspiracy theory is actually a disinformation campaign. “If it's out there, we could not find it.”
Carlson has repeatedly defended QAnon, claiming in January that if those who consider it dangerous “succeed in controlling what you believe, you are no longer a citizen, you are no longer a free man, you are a slave.”
In early March, Carlson also claimed that QAnon was being misrepresented as a violent movement, arguing that “the scary internet conspiracy theorists, radical QAnon people” are actually “kind of gentle people. They’re all waving American flags. They like the country.”
On February 16, Carlson attacked Democrats for supposedly welcoming everyone “except the white supremacists and the QAnon people and anyone else who disagrees with anything we say. They're all going to jail.”
On March 4, Carlson defended the actions of Jacob Chansley, known to the internet as the “QAnon Shaman,” who is currently facing charges for storming the Capitol.
And some QAnon supporters have thanked him for these defenses, lauding Carlson for “probably standing up the most for our movement than anyone in the [mainstream media] right now.”
And even before January 6, Carlson had hosted a QAnon conspiracy theorist on his show.
Meanwhile, QAnon has become a significant force in America’s political discourse.
A Daily Kos/Civiqs poll found that 56% of Republicans believed that the QAnon conspiracy theory was either mostly or partly true.. At least 97 candidates for Congress and 23 for state offices in the 2020 election cycle expressed some form of support for QAnon. The GOP has since thrown its support behind Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a QAnon supporter who repeatedly praised the conspiracy theory and previously lauded the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out.” Trump himself defended QAnon on multiple occasions, saying its supporters “are very much against pedophilia” and “basically believe in good government,” Trump continued to amplify QAnon-promoting accounts on Twitter throughout his presidency, doing so hundreds of times.
Carlson is whitewashing the dangers of such extremism.
The conspiracy theory has become such a concern that the FBI specifically mentioned it internally as a potential domestic terrorism threat in 2019. Recently, it was named in a bulletin issued by the National Counterterrorism Center and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security warning that the movement could be a driver of violence following the January 6 riots. The Department of Defense was later revealed to have identified QAnon and its supporters as a potential threat in the lead-up to the Capitol attack. The conspiracy theory has also had an immense impact on public health discourse throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tucker Carlson is not confused about QAnon. He hasn’t struggled to find information. He’s not unaware of the conspiracy theory’s origin, following, and beliefs. He’s not confused about why it is cause for concern. Carlson is doing exactly what Fox News hired him to do: repackaging dangerous, hateful, and violent ideas from the far-right fringe into something that can be aired on the 8 o’clock “news.”
Carlson is not misinformed, he is deliberate -- and the next time QAnon returns to making headlines, whether through malicious misinformation or violent insurrection, Carlson will have already laid the groundwork to dismiss the consequences without so much as a second thought.