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The Buffalo shooter blamed his problems on the Jews. Tucker Carlson’s response will only make things worse

The horrific mass shooting in Buffalo, which left 10 dead and three injured, followed a predictable pattern.

The tragic attack in Buffalo was bound to happen somewhere. 

The horrific mass shooting, which left 10 dead and three injured, followed a predictable pattern. A white American man who felt small was whipped into a violent rage by conspiracy-peddlers online and on TV. He wrote a rambling screed full of hate toward Jews and other minorities. And after methodically choosing the site of his attack, he terrorized a Black community he saw as “other.”

I’m not quite sure how I expected Tucker Carlson, one of the main proponents of the conspiracy that white Americans are under constant threat, to respond to the white supremacist shooting, or well-founded allegations that his rhetoric was in part to blame. But I certainly didn’t expect him to start his hourlong nightly show by addressing it in a way that can only be described as gaslighting.

In Carlson’s telling, the greatest threat to Americans is not the hateful rhetoric espoused by the shooter — which Carlson admitted was “definitely racist, and bitterly so,” while dismissing the shooter as “diseased.”

No: it’s the “ruthlessness and dishonesty” of Democrats, whom Carlson claims want to limit the proliferation of any speech they hate.

Instead of reporting on the radicalization of an 18-year-old shooter, or the too-short lives of his victims, he asks us to interrogate the motivations of Democrats — a truly absurd twist. And no, it doesn’t make any more sense than you think.

Tucker Carlson speaks onstage during Politicon 2018 at Los Angeles Convention Center. Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Politicon

For over a year, anti-extremism organizations have sounded the alarm about Carlson’s “dangerous race-baiting” and defense of white nationalists. As his cable ratings attest, he can hold an audience’s attention like few other anchors — a talent that depends on his ability to convince his viewers they are constantly under attack. He is an emphatic and convincing presenter, rattling off a dozen money lines a minute, even when spewing obvious lies.

A steady drip of such toxic rhetoric and lies can be insidious. An April investigation by The New York Times showed that Carlson has “amplified the idea that Democratic politicians and others want to force demographic change through immigration” in more than 400 episodes of his show, which in 2021 was the most-watched cable news show in the country. His Monday show, which opened with his ludicrous reflections on the Buffalo shooting, is now one of them. 

Mere minutes after Carlson’s segment on the shooting, his show pivoted to a video of a long line of immigrants seeking shelter: Carlson’s guest decried that “migrant encounters” were on the rise, as if immigrants are wild animals rather than human beings in search of a better life. 

The Buffalo shooter wrote in his screed that “there was little to no influence on my personal beliefs by people I met in person.” Like the Jan. 6 insurrectionists and other violent extremists before him, he was largely radicalized by antisemitic and anti-immigrant conspiracies circulating at a dizzying pace in the media he consumed. A fear of the white race being replaced and overtaken by non-white people animates his 180-page screed.

Yet Carlson, whose show works to inflame that fear, said the shooter “writes like the mental patient he is — disjointed, irrational, and paranoid.” 

Those are precisely the qualities that Carlson’s rhetoric seeks to foster in his viewers, in order to suck them deeper into a world in which he and those who share his views are the only authorities they can trust.

Despite a labor shortage and the lowest unemployment rate in decades, inflation and supply chain shortages have left many low-income Americans strapped for cash — and in search of a scapegoat.

Conspiracies such as QAnon or the great replacement theory provide convenient answers, claiming that a powerful cabal — sometimes Democrats; sometimes, as Carlson claimed Monday, “very troubled” Republicans; almost always Jews — are working to destroy the middle class and keep white people, and particularly white men, down.

“There is an explanation,” they whisper, to anyone disaffected enough to follow the breadcrumbs.

The success of these lies relies on some truth. Global democracy and freedom are under assault, although rarely from the forces Carlson blames. Crime is rising. And for the past several decades, America has grown steadily more diverse. 

If voting trends continue, this last shift will result in Democratic candidates winning larger and larger shares of the electorate. In desperation, the loudest voices within the right-wing media ecosystem paint this reality not as an obstacle to easy legislative victories, but rather as an existential threat to the nation.

What was once relegated to anonymous forums is now broadcast from even the halls of government: Immigrants are coming to replace you. The election was stolen. The Jews are behind it all. 

When his ego would not permit him to admit electoral defeat, President Donald Trump, insisting that the election had been stolen from him, told his supporters to “fight like hell.” Why are we surprised that they listened — and that many are still listening? 

The line connecting conspiracy and violence is straight. These shootings are a result of disaffected white men and the lies they have been sold. Nothing short of a full-throated condemnation by the very pundits and politicians who have benefited from whipping them into a frenzy can stop this epidemic of violence.

Tucker Carlson had ample opportunity to do so Monday night, as he will every weeknight for the foreseeable future. Until he finally decides enough is enough, we are all at the mercy of those tuning in. 

Laura E. Adkins is the Opinion Editor of the Forward. To contact the author, email [email protected].

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