Ten years ago, National Review fired longtime contributor John Derbyshire over a column urging white and Asian American parents to warn their children that Black people posed a danger to them. After his firing, Derbyshire, now cast out of mainstream conservative politics, began writing for VDARE, a more marginal far-right organ.
The lesson of this story is not that National Review was a bastion of enlightened anti-racism. Certain forms of racism have always been welcome in its pages. It is, rather, that conservative media once operated along an understanding that white nationalism was a distinct and unacceptable faction from which its movement had to be cordoned off.
The New York Times published a series this past weekend detailing Tucker Carlson’s descent into white nationalism. The Times amassed impressive detail to support its findings, revealing how Fox’s use of “minute by minute” ratings analysis displayed the popularity of white-nationalist themes, driving Carlson to ramp them up. Its description of Carlson as promoting white nationalism is supported by Fox employees both former (“He is going to double down on the white nationalism because the minute-by-minutes show that the audience eats it up”) and current (“Fox executives wanted to focus on ‘the grievance, the stuff that would get people boiled up’ … ‘They’re coming for you, the Blacks are coming for you, the Mexicans are coming for you’”).
It shows how Carlson’s obsessive overhyping of a narrative about Black people murdering white farmers in South Africa created serious concern within the network. (“Brian Jones, president of Fox Business Network and the highest-ranking Black man in Fox leadership, explained that almost everything Mr. Carlson was saying on the air was wrong … Mr. Jones told his fellow executives that Mr. Carlson’s coverage had been ripped from far-right sites, including the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.”)
Most alarmingly, it finds that an internal organization chart showed that Peter Brimelow, the founder of VDARE, reported directly to Rupert Murdoch and that employees curious about what Brimelow was doing were “given a variety of explanations.”
These findings are supported by an ample body of already public evidence: Carlson has described Iraqis as “semiliterate primitive monkeys”; he responded to a white supremacist murdering 22 people in El Paso to protest the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” by calling white supremacy a “hoax”; he endorsed replacement theory by name; and he self-proclaimed that white supremacists have gleefully embraced Carlson as a proponent of their ideas.
I’ve argued before against the blanket use of “white supremacist” as a label for either all conservative ideas or vast swaths of American society. Different kinds of ideas need different labels. Whatever problems we may identify with Mitt Romney’s ideas about race and racism, they are meaningfully different than Steve King’s ideas about racism and race. Donald Trump is clearly a racist, but if the president were David Duke, liberals would correctly feel more alarmed because Duke’s racism is meaningfully different. If we categorized the entire American right as white supremacist, we wouldn’t have any language to describe the significance of a Fox News host amplifying replacement theory.
But Carlson’s crossing the line from conservatism to white nationalism has not provoked any serious response from the rest of the conservative movement. Instead, the right has met the Times’ revelations about Carlson by defiantly circling the wagons around him.
Here is a sample of the right’s response to the Carlson series:
One explanation for this behavior is epistemic closure. The term describes the conservative movement’s practice of rejecting any evidence that comes from sources outside the movement itself. Its gleeful refusal to weigh any charges from the hated New York Times is a classically pure symptom of the malady.
But there is also something else at work. Conservatives have previously not only supported but, at times, celebrated their movement’s purging of white nationalists. A few years ago, Ben Shapiro gloated that the right “spends an inordinate amount of time self-policing. That’s a good thing.” His main evidence was the firing of a writer for having associated with “Peter Brimelow, creator of the white-supremacist site VDare.com.” (Note that this is Shapiro’s own description.)
Now Brimelow has popped up at Fox News and his worldview is finding its way onto the most popular program on cable news. You would think this would call for some of Shapiro’s vaunted self-policing. Instead, Shapiro is lambasting the “corporate media” for smearing any speech “that isn’t their own.”
Throwing a handful of low-level staffers and has-beens under the bus from time to time seems to be an acceptable price to pay for the movement to claim it has some anti-racism standards. But when the malefactor is a figure of Carlson’s stature, he is too big to fail.