On Tuesday, Tucker Carlson told his millions of viewers that public health officials were lying to them about the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. Noting that the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been paused due to a handful of instances of blood clots, Carlson suggested that the vaccines might not really work “and they’re simply not telling you that.”
Because people were still being asked to social distance after having received two doses of the vaccine, Carlson concluded that there must be something else going on. “At some point, no one’s asking this, but everyone should be, what is this about?” he asked. “If vaccines work, why are vaccinated people still banned from living normal lives? … So maybe it doesn’t work and they’re simply not telling you that. Well, you’d hate to think that, especially if you’ve gotten two shots, but what’s the other potential explanation? We can’t think of one.”
The suggestion—never explicitly stated, a Carlson specialty—was clear. Either the vaccines don’t work or they do work, but the government doesn’t want you to resume your normal life; the powers that be want to maintain the control they’ve had for the past year.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, dismissed Carlson’s monologue as a “typical crazy conspiracy theory.” It was, somehow, only the second most offensive thing the Fox News host had done in the past week.
Last Thursday, Carlson explicitly invoked the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, a white supremacist idea that suggests that elites (in this case, the Democratic Party) are trying to replace whites with a flood of more pliant nonwhite immigrants. Discussing immigration with Mark Steyn on his show, Carlson said, “Everyone wants to make a racial issue out of it—‘Ooh, the white replacement theory’—No, no, no,” Carlson said. “This is a voting rights question.”
“I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” Carlson continued. “But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.”
This was in some ways a typical Carlson rant, one that he has been delivering for years. Democrats suggest that accepting immigrants and refugees is a virtue, a key part of America’s national character, and often a humanitarian duty. But they are, as usual, covering up a sinister plan. The current (majority-white) electorate doesn’t elect Democrats enough, so they’re opening the borders to ensure they never lose an election again. Immigration, Carlson insists, isn’t about morality or even the economy. It’s about power.
But by invoking the great replacement theory by name, Carlson took it even further, all but endorsing a repulsive racist and antisemitic conspiracy theory. (The mass murderers in Christchurch and El Paso were adherents of the theory, as were rioters at Charlottesville who chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”) Carlson went so far as to suggest that this baseless conspiracy theory is Democratic Party dogma.
In response, the Anti-Defamation League called on Fox News to sack Carlson. “Given his long record of race-baiting, we believe it is time for Carlson to go,” the organization said in a statement.
Last summer, when one of Carlson’s top writers was discovered to have posted racist and sexist comments on online message boards, Fox News took the host off the air, sending him on vacation. This time, when Carlson himself was spreading racist trash, Fox News backed him. Lachlan Murdoch, Fox’s CEO, responded to the ADL by telling the organization that it didn’t really understand what Carlson was up to. “A full review of the guest interview indicates that Mr. Carlson decried and rejected replacement theory. As Mr. Carlson himself stated during the guest interview: ‘White replacement theory? No, no, this is a voting rights question.’” Carlson was, of course, reframing replacement theory as a voting rights question, not rejecting it.
Carlson clearly got the memo. On Monday, he doubled down—suggesting, with a hint of what passes for irony on his show—that tech executives from California were out to “replace” locals in Idaho and Montana. These executives, he continued, were fleeing the state, having already been replaced by migrants who have “concluded that there was no real penalty for breaking America’s laws. In fact there was a reward … free hospitals, free schools, amnesty if you get caught.” A day later, he devoted a chunk of his show to vaccine skepticism.
Carlson knows he can say whatever he wants and get away with it—not only that, he can say whatever he wants and Lachlan Murdoch will back him. He’s Fox’s biggest star. When the network was struggling with competition from the right after the 2020 election, his popularity helped beat back upstarts like Newsmax. Those ratings now are armor. He can tell his audience not to take Covid vaccines and that Democrats are engineering a massive conspiracy to “replace” them with nonwhite criminals, and he can double and triple down when he gets called out. No one at Fox cares, as long as he’s the network’s most bankable star.