In his 2,300-word manifesto, the gunman who killed 22 people in El Paso earlier this month laid out his views on many topics including the environment, corporations, economics, automation and, most forcefully, the “invaders” who arrive in the United States from other countries. Speaking of Democrats, he wrote, “They intend to use open borders, free healthcare for illegals, citizenship and more to enact a political coup by importing and then legalizing millions of new voters.”
Compare those thoughts to what Fox News host Tucker Carlson said on air on May 17. In a standard anti-immigration riff, Carlson laid out what he saw as the partisan dimensions of the topic:
The left has aligned with business interests that profit from cheap, obedient workers. Low-skilled immigrants have a harder time assimilating into the American mainstream. They stay poor. They learn English more slowly. They’re more likely to remain an ethnic underclass, all of which makes them much more likely to vote Democratic long term. That’s the point, obviously.
Skilled immigrants might assimilate and become less reliable Democratic voters. They might even compete with the children of our ruling class. That’s not allowed. It’s safer to import serfs, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. Don’t let them tell you it’s about civil rights. It’s not; it’s about their convenience and their power.
See the overlap?
Many passages of the shooter’s manifesto, titled “The Inconvenient Truth," read like poorly articulated versions of a Carlson rant. Importing voters? Check. The ills of corporate America? Check. Unwise foreign wars? Check.
In an analysis published on Sunday, the New York Times cross-checked portions of the manifesto with the rhetoric broadcast on conservative media, including Fox News. It found a “shared vocabulary of intolerance that stokes fears centered on immigrants of color. The programs, on television and radio, reach an audience of millions.” Whereas the Texas gunman — who has confessed to killing 22 people at a Walmart — wrote of the “great replacement” of U.S. citizens by immigrants, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” pumped that theme on repeated occasions; whereas the Texas gunman wrote of an immigration “flood,” similar language was common on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show; and whereas the gunman spoke of “invaders," more than 300 Fox News programs across the network lineup in the past year have referenced an immigration “invasion,” according to the Times.
Do the findings draw a causal line between certain media organizations and the El Paso shooter? No. The man’s influences remain shrouded, though he did include this note in the manifesto: “My ideology has not changed for several years. My opinions on automation, immigration and the rest predate Trump and his campaign for president. I putting this here because certain people will blame the President or certain presidential candidates for the attack.”
All that said, it’s hard to avoid Fox News’s influence on immigration or any other contemporary controversy, especially for those inclined to seek out conservative news on the Internet. The influence is malign, too. Yochai Benkler, a scholar affiliated with Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, has studied the network’s ability to seed its ideas across the web. He told The Post last year:
Our data repeatedly show Fox as the transmission vector of widespread conspiracy theories. The original Seth Rich conspiracy did not take off when initially propagated in July 2016 by fringe and pro-Russia sites, but only a year later, as Fox News revived it when James Comey was fired. The Clinton pedophilia libel that resulted in Pizzagate was started by a Fox online report, repeated across the Fox TV schedule, and provided the prime source of validation across the right-wing media ecosystem.
In 2017 Fox repeatedly attacked the national security establishment and law enforcement whenever the Trump-Russia investigation heated up. Each attack involved significant online activity, but the spikes in attention and transition moments are associated with Hannity, “Fox & Friends” and others like Tucker Carlson or Lou Dobbs.
Which is to say, it is difficult to avoid the influence of Fox News. The Carlsons and the Ingrahams and the Hannitys — they’re the people who coin the language and forge the tone of the country’s immigration debate. If they say there’s an invasion, there must be an invasion. If they say there’s a replacement conspiracy afoot, well, believe it!
The rhetoric was dangerous before the emergence of the El Paso shooter’s manifesto; it will be dangerous once the document fades into the abyss of mass-shooter history. Consider that Carlson last December said that immigration makes the country “dirtier”; that Mexico is trying to change U.S. demographics; and that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was “living proof” of U.S. immigration failures. When Carlson unleashed his monologue on Omar, he teetered between policy critique and call for action:
Ilhan Omar is living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country. A system designed to strengthen America is instead undermining it. Some of the very people we try hardest to help have come to hate us passionately.
Maybe that’s our fault for asking too little of our immigrants. We aren’t self-confident enough to make them assimilate so they never feel fully American. Or maybe the problem is deeper than that. Maybe we’re importing people from places whose values are simply in antithetical to ours. Who knows what the problem is, but there is a problem and whatever the cause, this cannot continue. It’s not sustainable.
So Fox News provides the hatred of immigrants; what viewers may choose to do with that hatred is up to them. Some may ignore it; others may vote only for politicians with hard-line stances on the topic; others may denounce immigrants at social functions or shout them down in person. Could yet others grind it into violent ideations?
Whatever the perils, Fox News isn’t talking about them. It had no comment for the New York Times. A follow-up from the Erik Wemple Blog fetched nothing. The same nonresponse greeted this blog’s inquiries about Cesar Sayoc, the confessed domestic terrorist — he mailed improvised explosive devices to prominent Democrats and CNN; they didn’t detonate — whose lawyers claimed in a court filing that he was radicalized in part by Fox News.
It’s gut-check time for Fox News, in other words. The work of its opinion-side hosts in siding with Trump’s racist, anti-immigration agenda is creating fresh exposure for the network, with clear warning signals on the public record. As Peter Maass wrote in the Intercept after Carlson’s attacks on Omar, the outrages are rightly laid at the door not only of the Fox News hosts but more appropriately the Murdoch family, whose trust owns 39 percent of Fox Corp.
How comfortable are the Murdochs with the echoes between a killer’s manifesto and their network’s bread and butter?