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Opinion | What Oprah Winfrey Knows About American History That Tucker Carlson Doesn’t


As Ms. Winfrey’s comments suggest, appearing on such shows was part of a deliberate media strategy by white-power groups. In these mainstream appearances, men like Mr. Metzger and the ex-Klan leader David Duke showed up in suits, speaking in cleaned-up language in an attempt to present their violent ideologies as mere political differences. Mr. Duke, for instance, spoke the language of “white rights,” attempting to launder his beliefs with a kind of legalistic advocacy language at odds with his former membership in a domestic terrorist organization, a mission that succeeded well enough for him to be elected as a Louisiana state representative and run as a candidate for senator, governor and president.

Part of the strategy was to present white-power ideas as more palatable. Another was to draw in new recruits attracted, or at least intrigued, by the ideas they heard. Potential recruits could, even in the 1980s and 1990s, find their way to a wide array of alternative media: newsletters, VHS tapes, internet message boards, radio shows. The arrival of more sophisticated digital and social media has made accessing this material easier, but the basic process of the mainstream bait luring recruits onto the hook of radicalism has remained the same.

To understand all this, it is useful to think about traditional and social media in tandem, part of an infrastructure of radicalization. Not only because they are part of the same strategy, but also because they overlap more than we generally think.

For instance, while Fox News’s audience skews much older, younger people encounter Tucker Carlson’s content on social media, where clips circulate regularly in right-wing and far-right spaces, and ideas from the more extreme parts of the internet often find their way on to the show. That such a prominent and charismatic media figure gives voice to those conspiracy theories gives them a power and legitimacy they might not have if they were just random ideas presented on 4chan or a meme-cluttered subreddit.

So how should we think about Mr. Carlson’s show and the radicalization around the great replacement conspiracy theory?

As a prime-time host on Fox News, Mr. Carlson has refashioned himself into a right-wing economic populist who emphasized and empathizes with people’s financial struggles, then offers pungent conspiracy theories to explain their plight. It’s a familiar figure in American politics. There was Tom Watson, the Georgia congressman who, after first attempting to build biracial alliances in the South, became an ardent white supremacist and anti-Semite in the early 20th century. And there was Father Charles Coughlin, who fought for a bountiful economic security program during the Great Depression while becoming increasingly anti-Semitic.

By arguing that white Americans face economic and cultural decline purposefully engineered by political elites, Mr. Carlson’s show plays an important role in spreading and legitimating the great replacement conspiracy theory and other white-supremacist ideas, He has regularly invoked great replacement, even after that same theory inspired a number of massacres. Rather than backing away, he has doubled down, insisting that white supremacy does not exist and that the great replacement conspiracy theory isn’t racist. On his Tuesday night show, Mr. Carlson first professed ignorance of the conspiracy theory, then said it was true, then insisted, “The great replacement theory is coming from the left.”


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