Fox News host Tucker Carlson distanced himself and the network from the alleged shooter in Saturday’s killing of 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket who allegedly wrote a document endorsing “great replacement theory,” a once-fringe racist idea that’s been a refrain for Carlson and other prominent conservative media figures.
In doing so, Fox News’s most-watched host argued Monday night that the lengthy document allegedly posted by Payton S. Gendron that invoked the idea that White Americans were at risk of being “replaced” by people of color because of immigration and higher birthrates was not politically motivated — and that the response by Democrats to the mass shooting was an attack on free speech.
“What he wrote does not add up to a manifesto,” Carlson said, noting that what Gendron allegedly wrote was racist. “It is not a blueprint for a new extremist political movement, much less the inspiration for racist revolution. Anyone who claims that it is lying or hasn’t read it.”
Carlson did not directly mention the racist theory during the monologue at the top of his show. The host, who denounced racism and described the alleged document from Gendron, 18, as “a rambling pastiche of slogans and Internet memes, some of which flatly contradict one another,” said, “The document is not recognizably left-wing or right-wing; it’s not really political at all. The document is crazy.”
Carlson — who has faced scrutiny from critics like Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) in the days since the shooting for repeatedly promoting parts of replacement theory on his show — lashed out at media outlets and President Biden, accusing Democrats of using the mass shooting to curb free speech from conservatives.
“So what is hate speech? Well, it’s speech that our leaders hate,” he said. “So because a mentally ill teenager murdered strangers, you cannot be allowed to express your political views out loud. That’s what they’re telling you. That’s what they’ve wanted to tell you for a long time, but Saturday’s massacre gives them a pretext, a justification.”
Tucker Carlson’s message in the wake of the Buffalo attack: “So what is hate speech? Well, it’s speech that our leaders hate. So because a mentally ill teenager murdered strangers, you cannot be allowed to express your political views out loud. That’s what they’re telling you.” pic.twitter.com/DMSNa9YoEt— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 17, 2022
Carlson’s remarks come as a Washington Post review of more than 600 pages of messages found that Gendron, who is White, decided in February to target Buffalo’s Tops grocery store based on its local Black population. In the 180-page document that Gendron, of Conklin, N.Y., is suspected to have written, he indicated that he was radicalized online. Gendron’s alleged document does not mention that he watched Carlson or his show.
Gendron has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in relation to an attack on Saturday that was streamed live online.
The replacement theory once espoused by just far-right White extremists has gained attention in recent years thanks, in part, to Carlson promoting it to millions of viewers. He has mentioned variations on the idea in more than 400 episodes since 2016, according to a New York Times analysis of his program.
Hours before Carlson’s show Monday, Schumer directly accused Fox News and Carlson of fomenting hate in the nation by “spewing” the “poison” of the racist “great replacement theory.” In a Senate floor speech, Schumer also accused Republicans, who adhere to former president Donald Trump’s philosophy, of spreading this dangerous rhetoric “that people of color and minority communities are somehow posing a threat … to the American way of life.”
“This is replacement theory in a nutshell,” Schumer said. “It is dangerous and a deeply anti-American worldview. It is poisoning peoples’ minds who spend hours wandering the darkest wasteland of the Internet. And let’s be clear, it’s a message that’s also found a special home in several right-wing outlets and on one cable news channel in particular, Fox News.”
Schumer, who called on Fox News “to stop spreading ideas like replacement theory on their shows,” repeated the Times’s analysis that Carlson has mentioned versions of the theory more than 400 times.
“Four hundred times,” Schumer repeated. “This is a poison being spread by one of the largest news organizations in the country.”
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) echoed Schumer, saying on the Senate floor, “Ten people died in Buffalo. Will Tucker Carlson take 10 minutes to say he’s sorry for any role he might have played in that outcome? We’ll see.”
Durbin: Many Americans will be tuned in this week to Tucker Carlson’s show to see if he has any reaction to what happened in Buffalo… 10 people died in Buffalo. Will Tucker Carlson take 10 minutes to say he’s sorry for any role he might have played in that outcome? We’ll see pic.twitter.com/g3t3Y8BtDM— Acyn (@Acyn) May 16, 2022
On his Monday show, Carlson opened the program noting the gun violence across the United States over the weekend, including the massacre in Buffalo. In calling the alleged document racist but not political, Carlson pointed to how Gendron allegedly suggested that Fox News was “part of some global conspiracy against him.”
“He writes like the mental patient he is — disjointed, irrational, paranoid,” he said, calling Gendron a “diseased” mind. “Now that’s true, not that it makes the atrocities he committed easier to bear. If your daughter was murdered Saturday in Buffalo, you wouldn’t care why the killer did it or who he voted for.”
Then, Carlson turned his attention away from replacement theory and Gendron’s alleged writings and toward the reaction of Democrats who, he said, “coordinated campaign to blame those murders on their political opponents.”
“‘They did it!’ they said immediately. ‘Peyton Gendron was the heir to Donald Trump,’ they told us. Trumpism committed mass murder in Buffalo,’” Carlson said.
The host also took aim at Biden, citing a Politico report about how the president “has taken to telling aides that he no longer recognizes the GOP, which he now views as an existential threat to the nation’s democracy.” Carlson claimed Biden, who is visiting with the families in Buffalo on Tuesday, was using “racial wounds in order to make his point.” Above a chyron that read, “Time to treat people as human beings,” Carlson invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. before blasting Biden for using what he described as “race politics.”
“There is no behavior worse than this,” he said. “All race politics is bad, no matter what flavor those politics happens to be.”
The Fox News host was faced criticism on social media for not directly addressing the great replacement theory. Among those critics was Joe Walsh, the former GOP congressman from Illinois who has since become a vocal critic of Trump and his allies in the Republican Party.
“.@TuckerCarlson telling his audience that THEY are the victims. Not the 10 innocent souls killed in Buffalo,” Walsh wrote. “Nope, Tucker’s audience are the real victims here.”
Paul Farhi contributed to this report.