As Ms. Winfrey’s comments suggest, appearing on such shows was part of a deliberate media strategy by white power groups. In these mainstream appearances, men like Mr. Metzger and ex-Klan leader David Duke showed up in suits, speaking in polished language in an attempt to portray their violent ideologies as mere political differences. Mr. Duke, for example, spoke the language of “white rights,” trying to whitewash his beliefs with a sort of legalistic advocacy that ran counter to his former membership of a domestic terrorist organization, a mission that succeeded well enough to are elected as a Louisiana State Representative and candidate for Senator, Governor, and President.
Part of the strategy was to present white-power ideas as tastier. Another was to attract new recruits, or at least intrigued by the ideas they heard. Even in the 1980s and 1990s, potential recruits were able to find their way into a wide variety of alternative media: newsletters, VHS tapes, Internet bulletin boards, radio shows. The advent of more sophisticated digital and social media has made access to this material easier, but the basic process of the mainstream bait that lures recruits onto the hook of radicalism has remained the same.
To understand all this, it is useful to think about traditional and social media in tandem, part of an infrastructure of radicalization. Not only because they are part of the same strategy, but also because they overlap more than we generally think.
For example, while Fox News’ audiences are much older, younger people are meeting Tucker Carlson’s content on social media, where clips regularly circulate in right-wing and far-right spaces, and ideas from the more extreme parts of the internet often find their way onto the show. . That such a prominent and charismatic media figure gives voice to those conspiracy theories gives them a power and legitimacy that they might not have if they were just random ideas being presented on 4chan or some meme-messy subreddit.
So how should we think about Mr. Carlson and the radicalization around the great replacement conspiracy theory?
As a host on Fox News, Mr. Carlson transformed himself into a right-wing economic populist who emphasizes and empathizes with people’s financial problems, then presents sharp conspiracy theories to explain their plight. It is a well-known figure in American politics. There was Tom Watson, the congressman from Georgia who, after first trying to build biracial alliances in the South, became a staunch white supremacist and anti-Semite in the early 20th century. And there was Father Charles Coughlin, who fought for a lavish economic security program during the Great Depression while becoming increasingly anti-Semitic.
By arguing that white Americans face economic and cultural decline, purposefully designed by political elites, Mr. Carlson played an important role in spreading and legitimizing the great replacement conspiracy theory and other white supremacist ideas. He has regularly called upon major replacements, even after that the same theory inspired a number of massacres. Rather than back down, he has doubled down and maintained that white supremacy does not exist and that the great replacement conspiracy theory is not racist. On his Tuesday night show, Mr. Carlson first claimed ignorance about the conspiracy theory, then said it was true, then insisted, “The great replacement theory comes from the left.”