In 2015, after a white supremacist gunned down nine Black worshipers in a Charleston, South Carolina, church and calls to dismantle the symbols of racism and slavery grew louder, Fox figures rallied around the Confederate flag. When state leaders, led by then-Gov. Nikki Haley, ordered the flag’s removal from public buildings, Bill O’Reilly used his Fox prime-time perch to say it “represents, to some, bravery in the Civil War because the Confederates fought hard.” Then-Fox personality Kimberly Guilfoyle speculated about whether the American flag would be next.
In 2017, when a white supremacist mowed down a crowd of protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia -- which was spuriously organized around the city’s plan to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park -- the same pattern emerged. Fox figures defended President Donald Trump’s false equivalence between white supremacists and the counterprotesters at the rally. And they asked whether book burning or removing the U.S. Capitol stone by stone would come next.
Today, the Confederate battle flag and other racist monuments are back in the news. Amid continued nationwide protests over police brutality against Black Americans in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, protesters have begun toppling statues of Confederates and colonizers alike.
Last week, Politico reported that the U.S. Army leaders are open to “bipartisan discussion” to rename military bases like Fort Bragg and others that honor Confederate leaders -- an idea Trump and CNN-commentator-turned-press-secretary Kayleigh McEnany both mocked.
In the past week, Fox figures have continued to defend racists and their monuments with a slightly more lukewarm tone. Here’s what they’re saying now and what they said after the violence in Charleston and Charlottesville.
Fox figures are defending the “history” of racist monuments
- During the June 10 edition of Fox’s Outnumbered Overtime, Fox News contributor and Marine veteran Johnny “Joey” Jones made the bizarre claim that military bases were named for Confederate officers not because of racism but because of “Reconstruction and the more damage that was done during that time.” In reality, the bases were created and named during the two World Wars, not during Reconstruction, the short period in the South that preceded Jim Crow laws when African Americans achieved broad suffrage, better education, and more political power.
- On Sean Hannity's June 10 Fox show, network correspondent Chad Pergram suggested during a report on possible removal of statues that it didn't make sense to single them out because “Confederate statues are not the only controversial statues in the U.S. Capitol,” mentioning “race baiter” Pat McCarran and KKK supporter Wade Hampton.
- On June 11, Fox's Laura Ingraham spent most of her prime-time show chastising liberal protesters -- “Birkenstock Bolsheviks” -- as “performance activists who ... don't believe in free speech or freedom of worship, or even academic freedom for anyone who disagrees with them.” She added: “History means nothing to these folks. Free inquiry means nothing to them. They want trophies, maybe, mounted on the wall, though, heads of old Confederate generals or pink slips for academics who defy them.” She also wrote on Twitter that Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam was “an absolute disgrace” because protesters toppled a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis at the state Capitol.
- On June 11, during a segment about the debate swirling around whether to rename U.S. military bases, Fox anchor Ed Henry asked a guest, “What’s the point of erasing our history?”
- On June 11, when asked by Fox’s Martha MacCallum about protesters toppling statues, Fox anchor Chris Wallace compared the toppling of Confederate statues by protesters to what Maoists did during China’s Cultural Revolution.
- On the June 12 edition of Fox & Friends, retired U.S. Army Gen. Jack Keane backed the White House's position on whether to rename U.S. Army bases named for Confederates. “I don't think we should trample over the history -- the 100-year history -- of these bases. It was absolutely wrong to name these bases after Confederate generals who committed treason, and that's the reality of it. That was a mistake, but our soldiers for 100 years don't associate it with those Confederate generals. They associate it with … their home. … I’m inclined to keep it as it is.” But then he said he’d be open to changing base names if there’s bipartisan agreement.
- On June 12, Tucker Carlson opened his Fox prime-time show with a monologue devoted to the future of various statues and monuments. He ridiculed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for introducing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would require the Defense Department to rename bases, ships, and other military assets that honor Confederate officers or the Confederacy. Carlson called the law “vandalism” and claimed that it also requires the “desecration of war graves,” mentioning monuments in cemeteries. (The proposal actually exempts grave markers.) Then he called CNN political commentator Angela Rye, who is Black, an “idiot” for calling for removal of statues of racists and predicted that it wouldn’t be long before the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. will be taken down.
Fox has been defending racist monuments for years
- Just a week after a white supremacist killed nine Black people at a church in Charleston in the summer of 2015, Bill O'Reilly asserted that the Confederate flag “represents bravery,” telling Fox's Juan Williams that “it represents, to some, bravery in the Civil War because the Confederates fought hard.”
- In June 2015, Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes framed the possibility of removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House as “a full-fledged cultural cleansing of the Southern states.”
- On Fox News' The Five, shortly after the Charleston shooting, Kimberly Guilfoyle responded to calls for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from South Carolina's State House grounds by asking whether the American flag would be next.
- In a July 2015 news report about backlash to a Republican amendment that would allow the Confederate battle flag to be draped over headstones in national cemeteries, Fox News reporter Doug McKelway speculated about whether the U.S. Capitol, “which is here only because of the back-breaking labor of African American slaves,” would be next.
- On August 15, 2017, just days after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, when a white supremacist murdered a counterprotester with his car, Tucker Carlson compared removing statues of Confederates to the extremism of the Taliban, Khmer Rouge, and China. A few weeks later, after the Southern Poverty Law Center released a list of Confederate monuments that should be removed, Carlson accused the organization of threatening violence.
- After the Charlottesville protest, frequent Fox guest and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich went on Fox to say that mayors who take down Confederate statues are pandering to a Black audience.
- In response to criticism of Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville, conservative columnist Star Parker said on Fox & Friends that waving a Confederate flag was no different from waving a LGBTQ pride flag.
- On Fox & Friends in August 2017, Laura Ingraham decried the removal of Confederate statues and speculated about whether burning books would be next. “This is not about racial healing,” she said. “This is about the control of the narrative and a destruction of historical recognition.” On her Fox prime-time show more than a year later, Ingraham would compare Confederate statues to priceless antiquities and protesters to ISIS.
- On two separate occasions in 2017 and 2018, in news stories about communities removing Confederate monuments, Fox & Friends host Jillian Mele said the removal was erasing history.
- On the morning of September 11, 2017, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade asked then-Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke whether he thought people would one day try to take down 9/11 memorials in the same way they were removing Confederate statues.
- That same month, on Fox & Friends, Kilmeade and Fox’s Tomi Lahren discussed what Kilmeade called the “war on history” being waged by liberals. Lahren labeled the impulse to remove Confederate statues an attempt “to erase history and to erase every shred of patriotism.”