Media Matters’ Nikki McCann Ramírez: Fox News is “very aware” of its role in spreading “great replacement” conspiracy theory

Ramírez: “The people that continue to fund Fox News, knowing that this is the type of content that they are providing, also are responsible”

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Citation From the May 16, 2022, edition of Cheddar News' Between Bells

BAKER MACHADO (HOST): However, the most telling part of this mass shooting is what possibly led to it. The suspect allegedly published a 180-page manifesto laying out specific plans to attack Black people, and repeatedly cited the so-called "great replacement" conspiracy theory, which has been endorsed by high-ranking Republican members of Congress, and even Fox News host Tucker Carlson. So, joining us now to discuss is Nikki McCann Ramírez, associate research director over at Media Matters. Nikki, such a pleasure to have you here. So, for our viewers who are maybe hearing about this maybe for the first time over this weekend, explain a little bit about this "great replacement" theory here. What does it sort of mean?

NIKKI MCCANN RAMÍREZ (ASSOCIATE RESEARCH DIRECTOR, MEDIA MATTERS): Thank you so much for having me on. So, for viewers who don't know, the "great replacement" conspiracy theory is a theory that has existed for decades but came into a renewed wave of prominence over the last decade, in particular, and the last 3 to 4 years. It is a subset of another overarching conspiracy theory called the "White Genocide Conspiracy," and it proposes that a variety of factors, such as the influx of nonwhite immigrants, multiculturalism, and falling birth rates among white people, particularly white Europeans, will result in the white population losing their position as a dominant demographic. And this theory, it is important to remember, is fundamentally an anti-Semitic theory that postulates that a "cabal," quote unquote, of elites, media figures, and politicians — often Jewish — are orchestrating this demographic change. And what's important for people to remember here is that this conspiracy intentionally creates a dangerous dynamic in which believers view immigrants, and nonwhite citizens, as an existential threat to themselves and their communities. And, importantly, it seeks to mobilize believers into acting against their supposed "replacement." I think the layman, the casual viewer, would have first inadvertently encountered this theory in the news in 2017, when neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville chanted, "You will not replace us, Jews will not replace us." That was kind of the first instance that I think the majority of Americans kind of tangentially came into contact with the theory. And over time, it has grown and been endorsed by mainstream politicians and mainstream cable news hosts, including Tucker Carlson.

MACHADO: Yeah, let's talk about that here for a minute, because a lot of Tucker Carlson — and Tucker Carlson's, excuse me, past segments on this have been percolating a lot, and being recirculated again on social media. But we've also seen politicians, the third highest-ranking Republican in the House, Elise Stefanik here of New York, has also used it in campaign ads. So, just how significant is it that not just this theory is now hitting individuals who are targeting grocery stores, but we're having our politicians, our elected officials doing this as well?

RAMÍREZ: Absolutely. It cannot be overstated how dangerous this trend is. An Associated Press poll recently found that one-in-three Americans now believe that immigration is being used to intentionally foist Democratic change amongst the nation. And this didn't happen accidentally. People like Tucker Carlson sold their viewers a kind of ready for cable version of this theory that focused on immigration, and the role immigration would have in electoral demographics. But the reality is that, as much as Tucker Carlson's defenders and the people who have pushed the theory want to argue that they are only arguing an electoral issue. The reality is that the people pushing it have couched their version of the theory in very racialized language, and have given their viewers and their audience all of the context clues they need to make the connection between their version, their kind of layman's version of the theory, to the more extremist versions that we're now seeing.

And of course, the shooting in Buffalo isn't the first time that we've seen a mass shooting that has been motivated by this conspiracy theory. Of course, we saw the shooting in Christchurch and the shooting in El Paso. So, what people need to understand, and I, as someone who has watched probably 90% of Tucker Carlson's content in the last three years, is that this rhetoric is not separated from the racial component, from the anti-immigration component, even from the anti-Semitism. Tucker Carlson and Fox News regularly fearmonger about Jewish billionaire George Soros having a hand in the, quote unquote, "destruction" of Western civilization and the West. So what we're seeing is a version of the theory that is being sold to viewers that gives them all of the context they need to make those connections to extremists, but also that when they go out onto social media, onto other platforms and they encounter pieces of information that are more extreme, that relate to this theory, they can easily fold that into an existing set of beliefs. And it does contribute to the radicalization of people.

MACHADO: Nikki, how has Tucker Carlson, or even Fox News, commented or talked about this yet? And if they haven't, how do you sort of think Tucker Carlson will approach this, given the fact that you've watched so much of his show? How do you sort of think he's going to approach this tonight on his show? And do you think Fox has blood on their hands for something like this?

RAMÍREZ: I think Fox is absolutely responsible for what it transmits to viewers. And what we've seen since this shooting happened is that Fox has been extremely hesitant to mention terms like "great replacement," "white replacement." We're actually working on a study to track how often, or how not often, they've been using the term in the discussions of the shooting. But what Fox has been trying to do is kind of fall back on strategies that they have previously implemented in covering shootings of this nature, which is to deflect the conversation on to, "Will Democrats exploit this to institute more restrictions on guns," or, "Will this be used to unfairly censor conservatives?" I think Fox News is very aware that there is a connection between this theory and the content that they have been sending out to viewers, and they don't want to draw any attention to that, right now. Particularly, because today Fox News begins a series of advertising upfronts in which they will pitch to ad buyers that they are a good investment, that they are worth the money, that people should keep advertising and help keep that platform afloat. And I not only think that Fox News has a responsibility in the percolating of this conspiracy theory throughout the internet, throughout American culture, but also the people that continue to fund Fox News, knowing that this is the type of content that they are providing viewers, also are responsible. And we should make sure they are held to account.