The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tucker Carlson’s toxic ‘replacement’ rhetoric gets picked up in the House

Freedom Caucus members Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), left, Scott Perry (R-Pa.), center, and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speak to journalists on Oct. 14, 2019. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

From the moment Fox News’s Tucker Carlson explicitly advocated the idea that immigrants are “replacing” real Americans — a rhetorical construct popular among self-proclaimed white nationalists — the danger was obvious. Carlson and allies such as author J.D. Vance like to position the outcry over his comments as being centered on his purported willingness to speak truth to power. The reality, though, is that Carlson is espousing an obviously false line in an effort to both denigrate Democrats as desperate and to cast immigrants as a dangerous force aimed at toppling America as we know it. The more this dishonest rhetoric spreads, the more risk it poses.

On Wednesday morning, it was offered by a sitting member of the House.

A subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee was meeting to examine the root causes of migration from Central American countries that make up a disproportionate portion of migrants seeking to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The State Department’s envoy to the region, Ricardo Zúniga, was offering testimony on the subject when Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) was given the floor.

“For many Americans,” Perry began, “what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is, what appears to them is we’re replacing national-born American — native-born Americans to permanently transform the political landscape of this very nation.”

He went on to note the record number of children apprehended at the border in March, a figure which is roughly equivalent to one-half of 1 percent of the number of American children born in 2019, suggesting that the “replacement” is progressing awfully slowly. Perry then chastised the Biden administration’s idea of potentially increasing funding to the region in an effort to enable potential migrants to remain in their home countries, coupling that with criticism that the administration wasn’t continuing President Donald Trump’s border wall — a construction project that would do little to stem the number of migrants arriving at the border who are seeking asylum in the United States.

Setting those dubious arguments aside, it’s important to note how and where Perry picked up the Carlson line of attack. He simply throws it out with an indifferent “people are saying” line, as though it were not the subject of intense national controversy after being articulated by one of the most-watched cable-news shows in the country. Members of Congress often drop clippable sound bites into their speeches in hopes they’ll make it onto cable news, so it’s possible this was simply an effort to gin up a bit of media attention from Carlson or other right-wing media personalities.

But the effect was to inject into a discussion of the causes undergirding the migration increase a claim that “we” are replacing “native-born Americans” to “transform” the country. Perry argued that Biden policies were spurring the aforementioned migration — implying that Biden was part of the “we” seeking to do that replacement. To which, of course, Carlson would offer vigorous nodding.

The irony is that Perry was at the heart of the efforts in January to “transform the landscape of this very nation” by overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election. He signed on to a lawsuit filed by the attorney general of Texas aimed at throwing out the votes from Perry’s own state. On Jan. 6, after rioters had stormed the U.S. Capitol to block the finalization of the election, Perry joined the majority of his Republican colleagues in voting to do precisely what the rioters had sought: blocking the counting of electoral votes from Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Perry was also at the center of Trump’s brief flirtation with the idea that he might replace his acting attorney general with a Justice Department official who had claimed without evidence that rampant fraud had occurred in the election. That official, Jeffrey Clark, was introduced to Trump by Perry, leading to a dramatic confrontation in the Oval Office shortly before Jan. 6. Perry subsequently faced calls to resign.

To casually reinforce Carlson’s rhetoric, for whatever reason, in a hearing focused on actually elucidating the causes of migration from the region is jarring. It replaces the sort of considered study of a complex subject that is ostensibly the point of such gatherings with false, toxic rhetoric. It’s part of the now-common prioritization of talking points over policy that is a feature of the House.

But it is also a reminder that the effort to cast immigrants as dangerous invaders aided by cynical leftist politicians may have started with self-identified white nationalists but isn’t stopping at Carlson. It’s progressing to others in the conservative media and, now, to the House.

And that, all along, was the risk posed by pretending his comments were simply about “voting rights.”


The original version of this story accidentally omitted the word "political" from Perry's quote.