Fox News Star Tucker Carlson Faces Accusations of 'White Nationalism' From Left

Fox personality Tucker Carlson speaks at the "Business Insider Ignition: Future of Media" conference in New York on November 30, 2017. Lucas Jackson/Reuters

The gypsies were coming, and Fox News's Tucker Carlson was going to do something about it. Actually, the gypsies—Roma, as the nomadic European people are known—had already come: Forty of them had settled in a small Pennsylvania town named California, and Carlson had taken it onto himself to expose what he saw as their manifold depredations, lest their invasion grow into something grander, more malign.

Carlson focused, in particular, on reports of Roma defecating outdoors. "That seems to me a hostile act," the Fox News host concluded. While some longtime residents of California did bristle at their unexpected Roma neighbors, who'd been resettled by the federal government, others welcomed the newcomers. Carlson hyped the fears of the former while hardly mentioning the hospitality of the latter.

"Integration is not going well," Carlson declared grimly.

This is a conclusion he has frequently come to in recent months. From his prime time perch at Fox News, Carlson has become the network's staunchest defender of President Donald Trump's anti-immigration policies. For having assumed that role, he has also become a favorite target of liberals, who worry that Carlson's fear-mongering about immigration has tipped into xenophobia. "Why white supremacists love Tucker Carlson," ran one headline on the liberal news site Vox last summer.

The most recent outcry over Carlson's shift to the right came in mid-January, after a segment in which he interviewed Mark Steyn, a conservative pundit who is a frequent guest. As they discussed immigration, Steyn said, "The white supremacists are American citizens. The illegal immigrants are people who shouldn't be here." He added, a little later: "The Democrats are getting very close to saying that foreigners are God's apology for Americans."

"That's exactly right," Carlson said.

Dismay at this exchange was widespread among liberals, reflecting a curious opinion of Carlson: that he's smarter than Sean Hannity, more influential than Laura Ingraham. Because he was once on CNN and on MSNBC, there's an expectation that Carlson is a conservative who will articulate sophisticated truths, raising the level of discourse on a network where blustery denunciation is the norm.

When that expectation is confounded, outrage explodes, as it did after the Steyn exchange.

"The unrepentant racism of Tucker Carlson Tonight," read a headline on ThinkProgress, a liberal website.

"Tucker's been one of the more aggressive at putting forward what a lot of people have seen as a pretty blatantly white nationalist view of what immigration should be like," MSNBC's Joy Reid said. As this is not exactly a time of pacific cheek-turning, Carlson answered on his show: "Reid's entire public career has been built on race-baiting. Try to watch her show for 20 minutes and see for yourself."

Even some conservatives have become uneasy with Carlson's strident rhetoric. Bill Kristol, who once employed Carlson at the Weekly Standard, spoke harshly of his former protégé on CNBC earlier this week. "It is close now to racism," he said of Tucker Carlson Tonight. "I mean, I don't know if it's racism exactly—but ethno-nationalism of some kind, let's call it."

Carlson responded to my questions about his views on immigration through a statement relayed by a Fox News publicist. "I'm not even sure what 'white nationalism' is, but I'm pretty sure I'm against it," that statement said. "But your question isn't serious. It's an attempt to shout down legitimate questions about the effect of our immigration policies on America. Tough luck. We're going to keep asking them."

Carlson took over the 9 p.m. slot in early 2017 (he has since moved to 8 p.m.). The onetime establishment conservative is now a vociferous Trump supporter, and national identity is of particular concern to both. "For Carlson, as for Trump, there is virtually no issue more salient than immigration," Kelefa Sanneh wrote of Carlson in a recent New Yorker profile. Carlson's views on immigration, however, can lapse into a broader defense of white identity that can be those discomfiting to those who value multiethnic multiculturalism.

For example, after white nationalists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, causing violence that left three dead, Carlson defended their original reason for converging on the college town, which was to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

"Watch out, Abraham Lincoln, you're next," he said. This echoed Trump's sentiments on Charlottesville. Like the president's initial reaction to the violence, he seemed to excuse, at least in part, the torch-carrying mob of racists.

Several weeks after that, Carlson lambasted the creator and star of the HBO series Insecure, Issa Rae, for saying she was rooting for all African-American nominees to win at the Emmy Awards. This was, Carlson said, "open race hostility" that had been sanctioned by liberals. "I think looking at the world like that gets you to civil war," he said. More recently, he defended the "It's Okay to Be White" campaign, which originated in far-right segments of the internet.

Carlson was raised in relative affluence in Southern California and went to a prestigious boarding school in Rhode Island. A graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut—long regarded as a patrician redoubt—he has been a member of the political establishment for decades. Nevertheless, he appears to have quickly—and completely—grasped how much influence Trump would exert on the media, conservative media in particular. Instead of speaking truth to power, as have Fox News hosts like Shepard Smith and Chris Wallace, Carlson has cast himself as Trump's blocking back. As Stephen Rodrick wrote in a recent GQ profile, "Carlson, more than anyone else at the network, has proved adept at papering over the crisis brought on the Republican Party by Trump's presidency, mostly by deflecting blame onto the left."

He does so with an acute understanding of the liberal media. That adds a measure of sophistication to his critiques, even if those are, ultimately, an expression of straightforward racial grievance. Earlier this month, for example, he criticized the internet outlets BuzzFeed and The Root as trafficking in anti-white sentiment: "Now some smug private-school kid from Brooklyn is lecturing you about how you are the problem, because the color of your skin, and the privilege it conveys. How much of that are you going to take before you explode at the unfairness of it all?"

And though criticism of social justice college protests is a feature of virtually every Fox News program, Carlson—who famously used to wear a bowtie—approaches the matter less like a Bible Belt conservative than a disapproving professor who is too old to care about silly outrages. (Carlson is 48.)

Carlson does, occasionally, make feints at moderation. Last summer, HuffPost's Pablo Manriquez challenged Carlson to a debate on immigration. Carlson agreed and invited Manriquez on his show. "We had a gentlemen's exchange on the issue," Manriquez later wrote. "Some #MAGA viewers on Twitter were surprised that a primetime debate on immigration could also be an honest, respectful conversation."

Not infrequently one hears, in media and politics circles, that Carlson is putting on an act, one that doesn't truly reflect his convictions. That would suggest masterful calculation on his part—and even more masterful mimicry of an establishment Republican moving ever further to the right.

To some, it doesn't matter whether Carlson is acting or not. "What Tucker Carlson 'actually thinks' is irrelevant to the wildly damaging, bigoted, and, frankly, anti-journalistic content he spews every night at 8 p.m.," says Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca, who famously clashed with Carlson. "He promotes the rhetoric of a white nationalist, and should be regarded as such."

Certainly, white nationalists are happy to claim Carlson as one of their own. "Carlson is a one man gas chamber who gasses Jews and feminists on a nightly basis. He is literally and figuratively Hitler," wrote a contributor to the neo-Nazi news outlet InfoStormer. Andrew Anglin, who founded the Daily Stormer, a more prominent and influential neo-Nazi site, agrees.

"Tucker Carlson is literally our greatest ally," he said recently. "I don't believe that he doesn't hate the Jews."