There was a rupture in the American media landscape on Monday. In a surprise move, Fox News announced that it had “parted ways” with Tucker Carlson, the network’s most popular TV anchor. Despite his private resentments, Carlson had been a leading booster of Donald Trump’s political rhetoric, amplifying false claims that voting machines had been “rigged” against him in the 2020 election.
Dominion Voting Systems, the US’s second-largest seller of voting machines, sued for defamation in response to claims made by Carlson and others about the integrity of its equipment; last week, Fox agreed to pay it a $787.5 million settlement. Carlson’s true disdain for Trump became public during legal disclosure of text messages; it never seems to have inhibited his support on air.
Some reports suggest, however, that Carlson’s sacking has less to do with the Dominion lawsuit and more with fears over what may emerge in a new case brought by a former producer, who alleges that Carlson’s studio was riddled with “pervasive” sexism and antisemitism, with Jewish employees refused the right to take time off for the High Holidays. Fox denies the claims.
During the Trump years, some Jews in Britain and America were willing to overlook the antisemitism that litters Trumpland in the fervour of their espousal of his decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Any examination of Carlson’s career of far-right rhetoric should make clear why they were wrong. There was a time when British Jews didn’t need to pay too much attention to the internal politics of US TV networks. Fox News is not directly broadcast in the UK; American “voting machines” come across as alien contraptions to a nation capable of running our elections on pencil and paper.
That was before the rhetoric of the American far-right burst onto mainstream television. Before the Tree of Life synagogue became the site of the deadliest antisemitic massacre in US history. Before the murder of Pittsburgh’s Jews was followed by three more deadly attacks in a single year. At a San Diego Chabad, a kosher supermarket in New Jersey and a Chanukah party in the Chassidic community of Monsey, New York, the murders continued throughout 2019.
Robert Bowers, the man now on trial for the Tree of Life shootings, was an avid user of social media network Gab, known for its far-right user base. There he often posted about his belief in the “Great Replacement”, a far-right conspiracy theory that posits that Jews are working to bring non-white migrants into Western nations and force white Gentiles into a minority status. Bowers seems to have identified HIAS, a Jewish American humanitarian group that gives aid to asylum seekers, as an agent of the supposed Great Replacement; he told followers on Gab that one of the congregations that met at Tree of Life had supported a HIAS fundraiser.
In Bowers’ final post on the social media site, he identified this parochial American charity as a legitimate target. “HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people,” he wrote. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” A few hours later, 11 Jews were dead. In the past few years, Great Replacement has become the leitmotif of every manifesto left by a far-right American killer.
The victims are not only Jews. In 2022, ten black Americans were murdered at a supermarket by an 18-year old; he left a manifesto avowing his belief in Jewish culpability for the Great Replacement. He recognised that sympathisers might query why his first targets had not been Jewish people. “Why attack immigrants when the Jews are the issue?” he asked. “They can be dealt with in time,” came his own reply.
Carlson has never been found to have directly advocated violence against Jews. But over the last few years, his monologues on Fox News have veered closer to the rhetoric of the Great Replacement theory. The Buffalo shootings came shortly after Tucker directly accused Democrats of attempting to “replace the current electorate… with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World”. The CEO of the American Defamation League called for his sacking; Fox News responded that Tucker had merely been raising “a voting rights question”.
There was less explanation of how the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto came to echo Carlson’s language. A September 2018 segment of Carlson’s show began, “How precisely is diversity our strength?”; a segment of the Buffalo manifesto began: “Why is diversity said to be our greatest strength?” These are not isolated incidents. The New York Times has published an examination of 400 episodes of Carlson’s show in which he echoed the rhetoric of the Great Replacement.
The trial in Pittsburgh will provoke a new conversation in America about how to counter that conspiracy theory. Carlson’s sacking is a step in the right direction for Fox.
Given the reach of his audience, however, we can expect Carlson to pop up elsewhere with a new show, or even an electoral campaign. Jews should be wary.