Fox News' coverage of the FBI’s search for stolen government records at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort has demonstrated how little distinction there is between the network as a supposedly legitimate if conservative-leaning outlet on the one hand, and the far-right provocateurs and fringe pro-Trump outlets on the other.
Right-wing attacks against the warranted search from fringe sources have argued that it constituted the end of the American republic. Reacting immediately after the story broke, Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec tweeted, “The country you grew up in no longer exists.” QAnon influencer David Niño Rodriguez tweeted, “America is under attack. This is a hostile takeover. People are seeing what it’s like to live under a fraudulent rogue regime.” The Federalist’s Jordan Boyd wrote that the search was evidence of “a crumbling nation that is governed by people who target their political enemies.”
The sentiment from Fox News hosts and regular guests has been remarkably similar; both Fox host Laura Ingraham and former Trump adviser and frequent Fox guest Stephen Miller referred to the Biden administration as “the regime” in their outraged responses to the news.
During the initial reactions Monday night, Fox News host Mark Levin likewise called the Mar-a-Lago search “the worst attack on this republic in modern history, period.” (When it comes to an actual attack on the republic, Levin has vociferously defended Trump’s coup plotters and may have actually provided legal guidance for the plot.) Fox host Dan Bongino repeatedly declared the next morning, “You do not live in a constitutional republic anymore.” That night, Fox guest Sean Davis of The Federalist called the search a “declaration of war against the American public.” And discussing the search again on Wednesday, Fox’s purported “straight news” anchor Harris Faulkner posed the rhetorical question, “Do we really want to become Venezuela?”
Another argument echoing across right-wing media is that if a former president can be subjected to law enforcement, then “you” in the audience are also vulnerable. This is, of course, a complete rhetorical inversion of how a constitutional republic is supposed to work: Ordinary citizens are already subject to the law, and therefore people at the top should not have special immunity. Yet this strange position has been pushed on Fox News by Trump daughter-in-law and frequent contributor Lara Trump, Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham, daytime anchor Faulkner, and even emblazoned on-screen chyrons during updates from supposedly “straight news” correspondents.
Meanwhile, “fringe” figures often considered far too extreme for Fox are spreading the exact same message, including far-right commentator Stew Peters, QAnon influencer Qtah, and One America News Network host Addison Smith.
Right-wing media outlets have also run in unison with the completely unfounded conspiracy theory that the FBI would have used the search as an opportunity to plant evidence against Trump. This outrageous claim made an early appearance Tuesday during an interview by right-wing organizer Charlie Kirk with Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich, during another interview between Infowars host Alex Jones and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and on the far-right outlet One America News, proffered by former OAN personality and current Trump lawyer Christina Bobb. (Bobb had also played a behind-the-scenes role in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.)
The baseless claim similarly made its way to Fox News’ prime-time programming, with host Jesse Watters proclaiming Tuesday night, “What the FBI is probably doing is planting evidence,” a theory he continued to propound on Wednesday.
In an interesting example of symmetry, hosts on both Fox News and its purported fringe competition raised this conspiracy theory during interviews with members of Congress, first in a Tuesday night interview between OAN host Dan Ball with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and then Wednesday morning by Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt while speaking with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
Another political byproduct of the search is that right-wing media are declaring a political vendetta against federal law enforcement, in which Fox has worked hand-in-hand with other far-right commentators in calling to defund the FBI. Echoing Fox’s programming, former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka tweeted, “The FBI is done. [If] you work there after today, you are a traitor and complicit.” Gorka also posted a video of right-wing commentator and frequent Fox News guest Victor Davis Hanson on Ingraham’s Fox prime-time show, calling to “break up the FBI.”
In an amusing example, Fox host Watters declared Monday night that FBI Director Christopher Wray “has to be fired by the next Republican president.” Similarly, YouTube host Steven Crowder remarked that “the term ‘skeleton crew’ should be a generous application to what the FBI will be when the next president is through with him.” (In fact, Wray was appointed to his office five years ago by the previous Republican president, none other than Donald Trump.)
And on Wednesday night, Fox’s Sean Hannity excoriated the FBI, expressing his feelings of betrayal after he had “revered this organization for decades of my life.” But now, he said, “my love of law enforcement, it has now been pretty much utterly destroyed.” All of that was really a far more artful expression of a shared sentiment expressed by violent pro-Trump street gang the Proud Boys, who said Monday on Telegram, “The FBI is gay.”
Already, Fox’s relentless work to poison the discourse against the investigation ought to have totally disproved the notion that the network had somehow turned against Trump. But when comparing Fox’s content alongside other far-right media outlets, observers should also abandon the notion that the network is in any meaningful sense not a fringe outlet itself.