This article has been updated.

The Atlantic has devoted an entire feature to the question, “What Does Tucker Carlson Believe?

That’s a silly pursuit, considering that the Fox News host over the summer confessed, “My politics are evolving — well, I don’t really have politics. I just have reactions to things.”

What’s not evolving in Carlson’s politics is his hostility toward immigrants.

Here’s a choice exchange between Carlson and the feature’s reporter, Elaina Plott:

“I hate litter,” he said. For 35 years now, he said, he has fished in the Potomac River, and “it has gotten dirtier and dirtier and dirtier and dirtier. I go down there and that litter is left almost exclusively by immigrants, who I’m sure are good people, but nobody in our country —”
“Wait,” I said, cutting him off, “how do you know they’re —”
“Because I’m there,” he said. “I watch it.”

Those remarks recommit Carlson to the racist and xenophobic comments he made on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” a year ago. “It’s indefensible, so nobody even tries to defend it. Instead, our leaders demand that you shut up and accept this. We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poor and dirtier and more divided.” Faced with a backlash — not to mention some advertiser pullouts — Carlson cited trash left near the southern border by undocumented immigrants.

In his appraisal of the Potomac litter situation, Carlson didn’t specify how he determined that the people he’d seen dropping litter are immigrants or native-born U.S. citizens. So we asked him. We will update this post if we receive a response.

Another empirical question relates to his characterization of the Potomac as “dirtier and dirtier and dirtier and dirtier” over the past 35 years. Could that be the case?

Considering that Carlson is addressing litter — and not water quality — we checked in with the Alice Ferguson Foundation, which has been organizing cleanups along the Potomac’s shores for three decades. Part of that big job has included keeping data on the number of trash bags that volunteers drag out of the watershed’s environs, and then some. The organization’s spreadsheets include entries for loose tires, bags per volunteer, number of cigarette butts, number of straws, top brands and so on.

Have a look at the bag-per-volunteer graph at Fletcher’s Cove, a fishing spot that’s within a 10-minute drive of Carlson’s home in the District.

Is Fletcher’s Cove the area where Carlson espied runaway immigrant littering? He didn’t respond to emails about this matter. Just in case he is talking about other spots along the Potomac, we’ll float the aggregate data from the Alice Ferguson Foundation, which encompasses hundreds of annual cleanup events around the watershed. Here goes:

And now for the bag-per-volunteer count for all of the organization’s cleanups:

The data do not mean that Carlson isn’t entitled to his view that immigrant-originated littering along the Potomac has reached crisis levels. We’re not certain what particular hive of the watershed he is addressing. The data does show, however, that the experience that Carlson evokes to slander immigrants conflicts with the experience of Potomac cleanup activists. “I think the litter has definitely decreased because of the awareness of trash,” says Samantha Battersby, a program coordinator for the Alice Ferguson Foundation. “I’ve definitely seen a downward trend in all areas.”

The Potomac Conservancy issued this statement to the Erik Wemple Blog regarding litter levels: “It’s difficult to measure litter pollution in a precise way, but we fully support Alice Ferguson Foundation’s methodical data tracking and their assessment that there’s been a [downward trend] in litter pollution in the last decade. Based on their data and our experiences at our river cleanups, we can’t agree that litter has exploded,” reads the statement. “Anecdotally, we can report that our volunteers are seeing less litter from plastic bags than they were when we started hosting local shoreline cleanups more than 15 years ago; the local fees on plastic bags, and now bans on other items like plastic straws, do seem to be having a positive result on our local environment.”

As for Carlson’s larger point about immigrants, we refer you to Hedrick Belin, president of the Potomac Conservancy: “We at Potomac Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust and leading clean water advocate in the region, feel compelled to respond to this groundless accusation not just because it’s factually incorrect, but because it’s racist plain and simple.”

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