Video from Fox host Tucker Carlson drove threats online, analysts find – USA TODAY

Tucker Carlson‘s portrayal of the deadly Jan. 6 attack as a largely peaceful event on his prime-time Fox News show set off a dangerous new wave of social media chatter that includes death threats against Capitol police officers and Democratic leaders, according to experts who monitor extremism and a report from Advance Democracy shared exclusively with USA TODAY. 
The segment that aired last week downplayed the violence at the Capitol two years ago, recasting the Washington mob that breached the Capitol as an “orderly and meek” gathering of “sightseers.” 
Carlson’s claims, which accompanied clips of Capitol security footage, drew an angry reaction from right-wing users who fired off threats on Twitter and in pro-Trump forums directed at politicians who have made public inquiries into the violence, especially the congressional Jan. 6 committee.  
Those threats came in far greater numbers than before the broadcast, according to the Advance Democracy report.
Jan. 6 riot:Hundreds of identifiable people remain free. FBI arrests could take years
Crowdfunding extremism:Extremists raised $6.2 million on crowdfunding websites in ‘heyday’ of financing
On Twitter, posts relating to Jan. 6 using violent rhetoric increased fivefold from the previous week, the report shows.
The outpouring of violence concerns extremism experts, who said Carlson and Fox News are playing with fire by spreading disinformation that could inspire violence against the targets of their coverage.
“If there were an attack right now on one of the groups or individuals that was mentioned in Tucker’s report – one of the dumping grounds for his ire – I would not be surprised at all,” said Megan Squire, deputy director for data analytics at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “I mean, that’s basically what we’re expecting right now.”
Fact check:False claim about ‘QAnon shaman’ amid Jan. 6 tapes
On pro-Trump forum, users called for violence, with one commenting: “SOLUTION HAS NEVER CHANGED.” He added, “GALLOWS. FOR ALL OF THEM.”
Incendiary comments spread on other social media platforms such as Gab, Getter, 4chan and Trump’s own Truth Social, according to the Advance Democracy report. Violent threats included calls to lynch Jan. 6 Committee members and Democratic lawmakers such as “hang them high” and “hang ’em all.”
“God does not sleep,” a Gettr user wrote. “Every one of them in the January 6 committee will have to pay for what they did.”
Streaming platforms Rumble and TikTok were also rife with incendiary talk including claims that Jan. 6 was a so-called false flag operation. (In such a case, conspiracy theorists allege, a destructive event is actually faked to pin blame on the opposite side.)
Users called for mass arrests and charges of treason against Jan. 6 Committee members, Advance Democracy found.
“Nuremberg 2.0 for the Commies and their propagandists,” one Rumble user wrote. “If not a single person is arrested for the immense corruption then there are no more peaceful solutions,” another wrote.
One TikTok commenter threatened mainstream media outlets: “It’s time to burn these media outlets to the ground.” 
Squire said Advance Democracy’s findings mirror what she and her team at SPLC are seeing on social media in the wake of Carlson’s reports.
Jared Holt, a senior researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and an expert on domestic extremism, said he also noted a significant uptick in violent and hateful rhetoric online after the Carlson piece aired.
Holt said a quick analysis showed Carlson’s name, and referenced to the Jan. 6 riot increased 15-fold in the days after the segment. He said the coverage is a deliberate attempt to distort the truth and convince Fox News watchers the insurrection was not as serious as it was.  
“Disagreements are at the heart of politics,” Holt said. “The political process is about resolving those disagreements. But if one party of that conversation is attempting to erase what, objectively, was an attack on the democratic process itself – it’s just appalling.”
Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.  
Daniel Jones, president of nonprofit research organization Advance Democracy, accused Fox News of “promoting dangerous false narratives for ratings.”
Carlson’s show last week was the highest-rated program on cable TV, reeling in nearly 3.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
“Fox News is knowingly misleading its viewers again by cherry-picking footage to suggest the events of Jan. 6 were largely nonviolent. Fox News personality Tucker Carlson is telling his viewers that they have been misled,” Jones told USA TODAY. “Our research found that these comments have directly led to violent threats being made against the January 6th Committee members, federal judges and others.”
Carlson’s report was unscrupulous by the standards of any journalist, said Kelly McBride, chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics & Leadership at the Poynter Institute.
“It is unethical and immoral to lie to people, period. And when you have as large of a platform as Fox News does, that lie causes a lot of harm,” McBride said. “It is antithetical to journalism.” 
But what Carlson does should not be considered journalism, McBride said. As recent revelations from the Dominion Voting Machines defamation lawsuit against Fox News have shown, Carlson and many of his colleagues at Fox are engaged in a deeply cynical disinformation effort, she said.
“There’s no way you can look at his (Carlson’s) Jan. 6 special and conclude that he has any interest in doing journalism,” McBride said.   
More:Two years since the Jan. 6 insurrection, extremist groups are fragmented, but live on
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave Carlson exclusive access to Capitol security footage from Jan. 6.
Carlson, who has spread conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 attack, opened the broadcast with the claim that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Trump and was “a grave betrayal of American democracy.”
He showed clips of rioters in the Capitol not engaged in violent activities. The released footage “demolishes the claim” that an insurrection occurred, Carlson said.
House GOP leaders promoted the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” segment. On Tuesday, the House Republican Conference tweeted: “MUST WATCH” and four siren emojis.
Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger condemned the segment as “offensive and misleading.”
The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, criticized Fox News for depicting the Jan. 6 attack “in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said Carlson’s broadcast was “dangerous and disgusting.”
The Biden administration criticized Carlson for his “false depiction of the unprecedented, violent attack on our Constitution and the rule of law – which cost police officers their lives.” 
“We also agree with what Fox News’s own attorneys and executives have now repeatedly stressed in multiple courts of law: that Tucker Carlson is not credible,” deputy White House press secretary Andrew J. Bates said in a statement.
Bates was referring to the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed against Fox News by Dominion Voting Systems.
In a deposition released Tuesday, David Clark, who oversaw Fox News’ weekend programming, said he did not consider Carlson’s program a credible source of news.
According to court documents, Carlson admitted that the voter fraud claims were false.


Leave a Comment