That moment has prompted the Great Civility Debate of June 2018. Some people find Wilkinson’s approach uncivil; others endorse the chasing of Trump officials from restaurants. No matter where you land on civility, however, one fact remains: The request that Sanders depart; the heckling of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen at a Washington restaurant; and similar actions against White House aide Stephen Miller — they’re all examples of peaceful activism. In-your-face peaceful activism, to be sure, but peaceful activism nonetheless.
Over at Fox News, though, host Tucker Carlson sees greasy inclined plane. The left, ranted Carlson on his Tuesday night program, is “telling us that people who disagree with them no longer have freedom of movement or association. They can’t go to the movies or to restaurants,” continued Carlson. “If they dare leave their homes, they will be surrounded by mobs and threatened. It’s happening. Last Friday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her family were forced to leave a restaurant in Virginia because the owner didn’t like their politics. Sanders and her husband went home, but the rest of their family went to another restaurant. That wasn’t good enough; they had committed the sin of being related to someone who works at the White House, so progressives continued to harangue them as they tried to eat.”
Sandwiched together with the Miller situation, a report that a DHS employee found a burned and decapitated animal carcass at his residence and Rep. Maxine Waters’s call for people to assemble a “crowd” to oppose Trump officials in the public square, the episodes led Carlson to this conclusion: “Activists on the left are moving toward violence. They are aware of this and some applaud it,” he said. That’s not all. Lefties have overreached in their opposition to the Trump administration’s policies, he said. “The more they accuse the administration of extremism, the more extreme they become. And that’s not surprising because once you decide that the people who disagree with you are Nazis, everything is allowed,” argued Carlson.
“Why wouldn’t you threaten them in restaurants or burn their houses down, or who knows?”
Way to stick up for peace, Tucker Carlson. The country needs a strong voice on conservative television who can eyeball peaceful protests and sound the alarm that things might just get violent down the road. And surely, beyond question, without a doubt, such a principled and anti-violence cable-news anchor climbed to the rooftop of Fox News’s New York headquarters last August and screamed about a bloody weekend in Charlottesville in which incivility actually did spill over into political violence. Surely at the time Carlson deplored all the white men armed for battle on the streets of a college town. Right? Well, perhaps we missed that episode of “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” A review of the transcripts from the week after the Charlottesville protests showcases a different Carlson. Broadcasting just after the weekend of clashes, Carlson surely deplored the goings-on, but then shifted into a condemnation of law enforcement. “All of this happening on the city street in midday and no one trying to stop them. What country was this? Where were the authorities? What happened to the police? Is this America?” said Carlson on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. He wondered whether officials prevented the cops from doing their job, complete with a reference to David Dinkins — the former Democratic mayor of New York — handling the Crown Heights riots in 1991.
Then he pivoted to the tumbling of some statue, an act that “will be applauded by the left,” predicted Carlson. “My question is, if a crowd of people with strong political views can destroy a statue, why can’t they set your house on fire?” Sound familiar?
All week long, Carlson grazed the Charlottesville violence story en route to other topics, like Google’s power over the Internet and terrorism. In one glancing look, Carlson summed up the situation this way: “Well, good evening and welcome to ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight.’ The president, as you may have heard, fired back at the media today in New York after delivering a short speech on his proposal for a national infrastructure project. President Trump held a heated news conference where he defended his reaction to the street fighting and the car attack in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.”
That “street fighting” was a series of clashes in which groups of well-armed white nationalists and neo-Nazis engaged with counter-protesters. BuzzFeed’s Blake Montgomery was there: “Most white supremacist and Nazi groups arrived armed like a paramilitary force — carrying shields, protective gear, rods, and yes, lots of guns, utilizing Virginia’s loose firearm laws. They used militarized defensive maneuvers, shouting commands at one another to ‘move forward’ or ‘retreat,’ and would form a line of shields or a phalanx — it’s like they watched 300 a few times — to gain ground or shepherd someone through projectiles. It seemed that they had practiced for this. Virginia’s governor said that the right’s weaponry was better than that of the state police. The opposition was largely winging it, preferring to establish bases in other parks with water, coffee, food, first aid, and comfort.”
As the Guardian reported, “There was violence from some counter-protesters. But most, like Heather Heyer, who was allegedly killed by one of the far-right marchers, were entirely peaceful.”
And that “car attack”? It was an act of terrorism in which then-20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly thrust his Dodge Challenger into a throng of counterprotesters, injuring 19 and killing Heyer. Fields had marched with a white nationalist group. On Wednesday, he was charged with multiple hate-crime counts.
Dedicated viewers of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” might have been shocked by Charlottesville. On May 25, 2017, after all, Carlson told his people that troubles were looming from the other side of the political divide. “America does face a threat of political violence. It does not come, by and large from baby boomer evangelicals in Montana. Nor does it come from President Trump, whatever his flaws. The threat today comes from the progressive left and its growing enthusiasm for force as a political tool,” said Carlson. As for corroborating evidence, Carlson started out by citing a tweet by liberal writer Lauren Duca.
Back to this Tuesday night: In concluding his riff, Carlson appealed to “Democratic members of Congress, entertainment figures, religious leaders, media chieftains like Jeff Zucker at CNN or Andy Lack at NBC. They are silent now, cowering and complicit in all of this, but the country badly needs them to cool the rhetoric and rein in the mob,” said Carlson. “No more Nazi talk on their TV channels. No more screaming at people in restaurants. There is a point of no return, and we are approaching it. And we need their help to pull back.”
On the other hand, if we’re moving from alleged second-degree murder to restaurant interruptions, perhaps that’s progress.
Final word goes to Carlson himself, who issued this statement through a Fox News spokeswoman: “Like your column itself, this question is moronic. It’s not even a question, but a dopey editorial.”