Fox News personalities are now dishonestly engaging in rhetorical whataboutism in response to threats against federal law enforcement from supporters of former President Donald Trump after the FBI searched his Mar-a-Lago resort. In their fictional retelling, the Department of Justice under Attorney General Merrick Garland has taken a hard line against Trump and his supporters, yet has done nothing to protect right-wing Supreme Court justices such as Trump-nominated Justice Brett Kavanaugh who have also received violent threats.
In fact, when an armed suspect was arrested outside Kavanaugh’s home in early June for allegedly threatening to kill Kavanaugh, Garland strongly condemned threats of violence against the justices and described the measures that the Justice Department has taken to protect them.
“Threats of violence and actual violence against the justices of course strike at the heart of our democracy, and we will do everything we can to prevent them and to hold people who do them accountable,” Garland said on June 8. He further outlined actions he had taken the previous month to increase security at the justices’ homes “24/7,” and a meeting he had with court security and law enforcement officials “to ensure every degree of protection available as possible.”
Fox News, however, is telling a different story now. Last Thursday, the network posted an article on FoxNews.com promoting a million-dollar ad buy from the right-wing activist group Judicial Crisis Network attacking Garland for neglecting to protect Kavanaugh, specifically. The article quoted Carrie Severino, the group’s president and a frequent Fox guest, who accused Garland of “continuing to not enforce the law,” apparently referring to a federal law prohibiting protests outside judges’ homes. Many experts believe, however, that this law poses serious constitutional difficulties on free speech grounds regarding protests of Supreme Court justices, and in response the Justice Department has resolved to prosecute any threats of violence or actual violence.
The ad itself, however, did not even discuss the specific law about protests at judges’ homes. Instead, it simply declared that Kavanaugh was being “harassed,” and “threatened,” adding, “even an armed assassin was after him.” The ad then falsely concluded that Garland “could stop it, but doesn’t.” It currently has nearly 1.2 million views on YouTube in addition to viewers who may have seen the commercial airing on TV.
Other Fox News programs have pushed the same flagrantly dishonest talking point in the past several days, attempting to discredit Garland and the Justice Department in the wake of the search at Mar-a-Lago.
On Jesse Watters Primetime, a program which has pushed multiple conspiracy theories following the search at Mar-a-Lago, Watters wrongly claimed Friday night that Garland “wouldn't lift a finger to protect Supreme Court justices, even after a lunatic showed up at Brett Kavanaugh's front door trying to assassinate him.”
Likewise, Fox host Mark Levin claimed on his show Sunday night that Supreme Court justices were being threatened by people gathered at their homes, “and we have an attorney general who will not enforce federal criminal law against them.” In fact, the man who allegedly threatened Kavanaugh is currently facing federal charges.
And, on Tuesday’s edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney asked former Trump administration Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about a man who was just arrested for posting online threats to kill FBI personnel. Whitaker at first claimed that “the American people, I think, are upset, especially Donald Trump supporters are upset,” essentially reiterating similar comments he had made on Monday blaming the FBI.
He then pivoted to the spurious claim that threats to Supreme Court justices were not being similarly punished. “In my experience, we need to make sure that we treat all political violence as not only abhorrent, but treat it similarly,” Whitaker said. “And there are examples where that hasn’t always been the case, including the threats to, you know, Supreme Court justices.”
The entire point here is that the Justice Department is addressing far-right threats against the FBI just as it is treating far-left threats to conservative justices. But this whole story has revealed the extent to which conservative media have demanded that the laws may not be applied against their side.