In the wake of a Manhattan grand jury’s indictment of former President Donald Trump, several Fox News personalities spoke openly about violent reactions they expected from viewers. While some cautioned against a physical response, others seemed to relish the idea.
The network’s star anchor Tucker Carlson said during his prime time slot Thursday night that the combination of Trump’s indictment and the White House defending the humanity of trans people felt like a provocation.
“It almost feels like they’re pushing the population to react,” Carlson said. “‘We think they’re demoralized and passive, let’s see if they really are.’ At what point do we conclude they’re doing this in order to produce a reaction?”
His guest, Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, concurred. “If you’re skating on thin ice, you don’t take a hammer to that thin ice and crack it.”
The assumption that a critical mass of Americans is ready to spring into violent action over the prosecution of Trump has not, so far, been borne out. But the cable network’s relentless hype about imminent violence could have the effect of transforming predictions into permission.
At times, the rhetoric veered away from ominous predictions and into something more direct. Later in Carlson’s broadcast, commentator Jason Whitlock said he was “ready for whatever’s next, and I hope every other man out there watching this show — I hope you’re ready for whatever’s next. If that’s what they want, let’s get to it.”
“It feels like this is not the behavior of people who want the current system to continue,” Carlson said in response.
The agitation was not confined to Carlson’s show.
“The country’s not going to stand for it, and people better be careful, and that’s all I’ll say about that,” Jesse Watters said soon after news of the indictment broke.
Dan Bongino, another network personality, said Americans were living in a “police state” and recalled the time he’d spent in a country that had “troubles with the democratic process.” Bongino said a military official in that country told him: “He who has the guns has the power.”
“Little did I know that that was going to be where we are now: If you’ve got the guns, you’ve got the power,” Bongino said.
Some network guests attempted to shift the blame for any violence to Democrats.
“I think it’s bait to have MAGA Republicans overreact to incite some sort of violence, or outlash,” former GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz said of Trump’s indictment. “They really want that to happen.”
Former Fox star Glenn Beck, during a brief appearance, told viewers: “What this is all about, I believe, is trying to inflame this country. They’ve wanted violence from the right from the beginning.”
Some talking heads did explicitly urge calm. Sean Hannity warned viewers: “The liberal media, they always keep talking, ‘Republicans are going to be violent! Conservatives are going to be violent!’ I want to say to every conservative, to every Republican, to every Donald Trump supporter: Do not take their bait. We are peaceful, we are law-abiding, we are God-fearing. You are the people that really make this country great.”
But many others offered no such warning. Ned Ryun, a right-wing activist and CEO of the conservative activist group American Majority, told Carlson he believed America was no longer a constitutional republic, and urged Republican state attorneys general to engage in “lawfare” — or “law as a weapon.”
“We’re in a cold war, civil war-era in this country, in which we have to decide and commit to the policy of mutually assured destruction,” Ryun said. “Democrats are launching nukes at us, we better decide we’re launching nukes back at them until they stop.”
If Republicans don’t fight back, Ryun warned, “we will slouch our way into a one-party state, one-party system, which ultimately ends up in authoritarianism.”
“Probably not the best time to give up your AR-15, and I think most people know that,” Carlson responded.