On January 11, just a few days after the Capitol riot, Fox host Mark Levin opened his show by outlining a grand conspiracy involving the Democrats, the media, Black Lives Matter, football and basketball players, Twitter, and Facebook—powerful forces that had schemed to “exploit” the riot and silence conservatives “in the most fascistic ways imaginable.”
Levin was far from the only conservative personality to allege that Silicon Valley and the left were forming a united front to deny Trumpism a hearing in the digital marketplace of ideas. The Federalist argued that companies like Twitter and Facebook had “colluded” with “leftist journalists” to ban Donald Trump from their platforms. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board announced that “the progressive purge” had begun, and its contributors begged jurists to “save the Constitution from Big Tech.” Tucker Carlson, for his part, declared that “actions taken to suppress extremism will cause it.” Others jumped straight to a familiar historical parallel: Banning Trump was “the kind of thing that happened in Nazi Germany,” said one Newsmax guest; Jeanine Pirro, the host of Fox’s weekend show Justice with Judge Jeanine, said Amazon’s decision to deny Parler—an alternative social network favored by conservatives—web services, was “akin to Kristallnacht”; and Glenn Beck said it was “like the Germans with the Jews behind the wall.” The Capitol riot, in other words, was less Beer Hall Putsch than Reichstag fire.
Even as the Republican Party ate itself alive, with then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blaming Trump for feeding his base lies, the various regiments of the conservative media continued to walk in lockstep on the issue of Big Tech censorship. This was a testament not only to the rise of free speech rhetoric on the right, but also to the power of victimhood as a bedrock principle of modern conservatism. The Federalist’s wackadoodle fantasy and the Journal’s posturing about campus Stalinists and “progressive purges” hinge on the same conception of the right as an endangered, persecuted minority—a Rebel Alliance resisting the Democratic Party, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley. Even as every faction of the conservative media rushed to disavow the rioters who stormed the Capitol, so, too, did these factions cast themselves as the victims of the retribution that followed.
This victim complex is so powerful that it exercises a veto over other components of conservative ideology. It has turned the right against the powerful corporations whose freedom they once defended, and led them to abandon their former “law and order” posturing in the wake of a violent riot. The party of Joseph McCarthy now imagines itself the victim of a reverse red scare, one in which Communist institutions hunt down those who dissent from woke orthodoxy.
This victim fantasy underlines the extent to which culture warfare has come to consume the rest of conservative politics, rendering today’s GOP little more than an empty vessel for a rancorous tribal sensibility. The more cantankerous sections of the right may have reconciled themselves to “owning the libs” for the past four years, but the events of January offered conservative gurus the perfect chance to revive the persecution fantasies that bind them together.