Nearly 5 million people were watching on Tuesday night as a Fox News host who claims that white supremacy is a hoax and a former speechwriter for President Donald Trump who was fired for speaking at a white nationalist conference spun out a wild-eyed conspiracy theory portraying mail-in voting as a sinister Democratic cabal’s coup attempt.
Tucker Carlson opened the segment by telling his viewers that Democrats were promoting mail-in voting not as a way to boost safe turnout during a pandemic, but because “they want the uncertainty over the outcome of the election, so they can manipulate the results.” His guest, Revolver News’ Darren Beattie, then explained that “a very specific type of coup called the color revolution” is “unfolding before our eyes.”
A color revolution, Beattie explained, is “a regime change model favored by many in our national security apparatus, particularly against Eastern European countries to overthrow target regimes that they don't like.” (They were actually peaceful protests that toppled despots in places previously dominated by the Soviet Union.) And now, he claimed, that model is being applied to the United States, with “color revolution professionals” deliberately generating election fraud in order “to use lawfare in order to overturn the 2020 election.”
Right-wing media figures generally push a baseline level of apocalyptic rhetoric about the purported predations of progressives. But Trumpist media have reached a dangerous fever pitch over the last week or so, even by that standard. With polls showing Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden following the party conventions and the election only weeks away, commentators like Carlson are preparing their audiences to treat a Trump defeat as a left-wing coup -- and encouraging the president toward an authoritarian response.
Their deranged statements are fed by -- and fuel -- the president’s own unhinged remarks. Trump has portrayed himself as “saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country.” He describes his political opposition as supporters of “angry mobs,” “far-left fascism,” and “left-wing cultural revolution” so dangerous that he has even endorsed extrajudicial executions. And all the while, he’s been openly claiming that he could not possibly lose a fairly held election, and that any defeat would be the result of a Democratic election fraud conspiracy.
Carlson’s show is the most prominent vehicle fearmongering about a Democratic coup, but it is not the only one. A new special from The Blaze TV’s Glenn Beck is titled “CIVIL WAR: The Way America Could End in 2020,” and it details how “the Left is grooming us for an Eastern European-style color revolution this election.” His complex plot sprawls over three chalkboards and features mail-in voting as a vector for “something dangerous happening in November if we don’t act now.” (Beck praised Carlson during the program for the way he has been “putting the puzzle pieces together.”) The Trumpist publication The Federalist has offered up a similar “coup” theory.
The right-wing “coup” talk is the natural result of their demagoguery and dehumanization of the political opposition. Months ago, Trumpist media figures began warning that civilization itself was on the ballot in the fall, with Trump standing as the only thing preventing the left from making America “unrecognizable.” That type of rhetoric has only escalated, producing ever-more-inflammatory claims about what Trump’s defeat might mean to the safety and security of his supporters.
Over the last week or so alone:
- Carlson described Black Lives Matter as “poison” that “we have to fight” because “if we’re going to survive as a country, we must defeat this.”
- Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn explained that he bought a gun in case “100 or 200 people bent on violence” show up in his suburb.
- Fox’s Laura Ingraham and the pro-Trump podcaster Joe Rogan baselessly attributed the massive western wildfires to left-wing arsonists, blasting false rumors circulating on social media to millions of viewers and listeners.
- Fox contributor Dan Bongino claimed that “we're watching the greatest nation in the history of sentient beings collapse in front of our face.”
- Fox host Sean Hannity said that U.S. cities have become “war zones” and that there is a “war on police now.”
- And Charlie Kirk, a frequent Fox guest and head of the Trumpist youth group Turning Point USA, warned on his podcast that if Trump loses, leftists seeking “bloodthirsty revenge” will “come for us all. They will come for your children.”
Some are taking their hatred of the left to lawless, authoritarian conclusions.
Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of the president, said during an appearance earlier this month on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars network that if Trump were to lose (illegitimately as a result of voter fraud, of course), he should try to retain power by having federal agents seize purportedly tainted ballots, using martial law or the Insurrection Act to carry out widespread arrests, and nationalizing state police forces.
Fox’s Mark Levin, meanwhile, has also urged Trump to consider invoking the Insurrection Act -- but he argued that it would be needed if he wins. “He will have to use it to put down the enemy,” Levin explained on his radio show last week.
“The enemy is antifa, the enemy is Black Lives Matter, and the enemy is anybody that is going to use rioting, arson, looting, violence against our country to try to overthrow our country,” he added. “Those are traitors. That's treasonous.”
Extremist violent rhetoric is nothing new for right-wing media. Glenn Beck made it a staple of Fox News during President Barack Obama’s first term. Before the midterm elections, Fox warned its audience members that they needed to vote for Republicans to protect themselves from being killed by Democratic mobs.
But this sort of demagoguery can come with a heavy price. Beck’s rhetoric inspired an attempted domestic terror attack against one of his regular targets that ended with a firefight with law enforcement. And in the days before the 2018 midterm elections, a Trump superfan sent bombs to leftist leaders whom Fox commentators had attacked.
There’s still six weeks to go before the election. How will this spate of violent rhetoric end?