Fox News host Tucker Carlson ignited widespread condemnation on Wednesday after he attempted to justify the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old accused of fatally shooting two protesters during demonstrations in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday night.
“So are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder?” he asked on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”
Rittenhouse was reportedly arrested in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, and charged with first-degree murder on Wednesday. He’s accused of crossing the state border with a semiautomatic rifle and joining a group of heavily armed white vigilantes who sought to “protect” public property in Kenosha, where he shot three people, killing two.
Kenosha has been rocked by protests since Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times in the back by police Sunday while his children were nearby. Attorneys for Blake’s family have said he was trying to de-escalate a domestic situation when he walked away from police and back to his car.
Carlson began the broadcast by showing footage of chaotic scenes in Kenosha, claiming major media organizations have been trying to “downplay and ignore” the violence before he then showed footage of a victim dying from a gunshot wound.
“The 17-year-old who has now been charged tried to run from the mob. He tripped and fell in the middle of the street. A man ran up and smashed him in the head with a skateboard,” Carlson said. “The 17-year-old then fired his gun.”
“So what does that amount to?” Carlson asked. He then said a court will decide if it “qualifies as self-defense” and blamed the entire incident on Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, and city authorities.
“We do know why it all happened, though. Kenosha has devolved into anarchy, the authorities in charge of the city abandoned it. People in charge, from the governor of Wisconsin on down, refused to enforce the law,” he said.
Carlson has often spewed vitriol about the Black Lives Matter movement and, in the months since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, has persistently defaulted to fearmongering about the anti-racism protests gripping the nation. He’s described Minneapolis demonstrations over the Black man’s death as a “threat to every American,” called the Black Lives Matter movement “poison” and repeatedly sought to frame protesters as violent thugs.
He’s remained on Fox News airwaves despite routinely giving a platform to white supremacist conspiracy theories and talking points on his show. (Carlson, notably, has said he thinks white supremacy is a “hoax.”)
On Wednesday, he drew a storm of criticism for his latest comments. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said that if Fox News doesn’t take action after this, every one of the network’s “executives, directors and advertisers is complicit in Tucker Carlson’s racist, murderous rants.”
“An innocent black guy is killed by police and Tucker Carlson calls him a thug. A guilty white guy murders two people and Tucker Carlson calls him a patriot,” tweeted CNN commentator Keith Boykin.
And conservative commentator Bill Kristol shared the names of Fox News’ top executives in a “reminder that Tucker Carlson is employed and compensated by a corporation whose board of directors could insist that its employees, e.g., not excuse racial violence.”
Earlier in the evening, Fox News’ Jesse Watters similarly blamed the governor and the protest movement for Tuesday’s deaths. “Sadly, you’re going to have vigilante justice,” he said.
As noted in an analysis by Media Matters, many in the right-wing media have seized on this rhetoric, justifying vigilante violence and defending the alleged shooter in the wake of the incident.