“Whatever you think of Donald Trump, we know what Carlson thinks, thanks to private communications that Dominion Voting Systems uncovered through discovery in its defamation lawsuit against Carlson’s former employer, which agreed to pay $788 million rather than defend its promotion of Trump’s stolen-election fantasy. “There isn’t really an upside to Trump,” Carlson said in a January 4, 2021, text message to his staff, describing “the last four years” as “a disaster.” Back then, Carlson was eager to be rid of Trump: “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait. I hate him passionately.” The day after the January 6, 2021, riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol, Carlson privately called him “a demonic force” and “a destroyer.”
But that was then. Carlson, like the GOP politicians whose phoniness he claims to despise, has adjusted to the reality that Trump remains stubbornly popular among Republicans. He is even willing to reinforce the election conspiracy theory that he publicly called unfounded and privately called a lie. Carlson’s current coziness with Trump was on vivid display Wednesday night, starting with the question of why the “far-and-away front-runner,” whose views are of such keen interest to voters, decided to skip the Republican debate in Milwaukee and any other similar forum in which he might have to defend those views or his record as president against competitors keen to make a dent in his commanding lead.
Trump’s answer was that felt no need to go through that ordeal, precisely because he is so far ahead. Why put up with “all these people screaming at me, shouting questions at me”—which Trump contradictorily claimed he “love[s] answering”—when he could sit down with an interviewer who is desperate to please him, especially in light of the criticism revealed in those embarrassing messages? Anyway, Trump said, he would probably get better ratings “using this crazy forum” than he would on Fox News, which televised the debate that he skipped. “I’m grateful that you did,” Carlson replied.”
“Trump said Biden “is worse mentally than he is physically,” as evidenced by the fact that he “can’t put two sentences together.” Trump, by contrast, can put many, many sentences together, but they do not necessarily make sense, bear any logical relationship to each other, or stand up to critical scrutiny. Fortunately for Trump, Carlson was offering none of that.”
“In conversations with voters at an early-voting location in Virginia Beach, the economy weighed far more heavily than the attack on the Capitol. While jets from a nearby Naval Air Station roared overhead, those coming and going from casting their ballots didn’t view January 6 as a factor. Mike Malbon told Vox that he had voted for Kiggans. Although he had never voted for Luria, he described himself as a swing voter who had voted for Trump, Obama, and George W. Bush. Malbon said his vote was based on the fact that he was “just not really happy with what the Democrats were doing.” When asked if he’d thought about January 6 while voting, Malbon said, “I’ve thought about it for sure. I probably would never vote for Trump again, I would have otherwise.”
Melinda Salmons, who said she was voting for Kiggans because she thought Luria was in Nancy Pelosi’s pocket, echoed this. When asked about Trump, she told Vox, “Donald Trump doesn’t affect me one way or another. The man is not running. I’m like a lot of people, I like what my pocketbook says. I do not like what he says.””
“It’s easy to dismiss this kind of illiberal language as purely rhetorical: radical posturing with few practical implications. But the past year of conservative politics, from the January 6 riot to the spread of voting restrictions and extreme gerrymandering to the rise of Rufo’s war on the education system, has shown that the right’s illiberal impulses are actually shaping our reality.
Conservatism, in theory, is supposed to be an ideology of preservation. But the current right is increasingly being shaped by a reactionary impulse bent on the radical transformation — if not the outright destruction — of America’s leading institutions.”
“On Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, the message board TheDonald, and Parler, a “free speech social network” created in opposition to Twitter, some users blamed antifa for the attack while others claimed credit for it. Meanwhile, others were angry at the president for posting a video Thursday acknowledging a “new administration” would take over.
Even as the online right is divided about how to react to the events of this week, loyalty to President Donald Trump is still strong. Many online supporters refer to him as “GEOTUS,” or Grand Emperor of the United States, and have called fellow members to stand by him.
But there is fracturing within the movement: Some are confused about why they were asked to come to the January 6 rally if not to take extreme action, others are angry at Trump’s concession video posted on Twitter Thursday night where he described Wednesday’s events as a “heinous attack,” and others still are developing new conspiracy theories.”
“It’s hard to know how seriously to take any individual threat or comment made by members of these forums. Distinguishing between legitimate threats and trolling is difficult — and that reality is mirrored by the president himself. Trump will make “jokes” that target groups or individuals and undermine democratic norms. His supporters casually dismissed criticisms of these comments, or chastised observers for taking the president literally.”
“While the effort to remove extremism from mainstream social media companies could help curb the spread of extreme ideas to casual users of the internet, the ever-evolving web of right-wing social media and messaging boards will likely defy the control of these tech giants. Just take a look at TheDonald, formerly a part of Reddit; once banned there, it managed to migrate to its own outpost on the internet.”
“American insurrectionists, for the first time in the history of this country, stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday. Offices were vandalized. Windows were broken. Statues toppled. A woman was shot and killed. Four others have reportedly died, including a Capitol Police officer. It was ugly, embarrassing, and seditious.
But it wasn’t surprising.
We’ve been inching, inexorably, toward this moment for years. I know this because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the course of this presidency thinking and writing about what you might call the “epistemic crisis” or the “post-truth crisis” or the “misinformation crisis” — it all refers more or less to the same thing.
The American mind, or a sizable chunk of it at least, has been deranged by a poisoned information system. The way millions of citizens learn about the world, the way they form core beliefs, is irredeemably broken. And because the media environment has been blown apart by digital technology, “there is no longer any buffer between mainstream thought and the extreme elements of our politics,” as Politico’s Tim Alberta put it recently.
If the depth of that crisis wasn’t apparent before Wednesday, it sure as hell is now.”
“The road to this dark place was paved by lots of hands over many years. But the evolution of right-wing media into a fantasy-industrial complex is at the center of the story.
Propaganda has always been a bipartisan game, but media-driven polarization has become more asymmetric in recent years. The left mostly receives its news from organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or cable news networks like MSNBC or CNN. However biased some of this reporting can be (and there’s plenty of bias), most of it is anchored by basic journalistic ethics.
This just isn’t true on the right. A 2018 book called Network Propaganda by three Harvard researchers is probably the best survey on this disparity, and it shows that American conservative media functions very much like a closed system, with Fox News at the center (at least until recently). The people who inhabit this system rarely collide with information beyond it, and the competition within it — on the supply side — is continually intensifying in order to meet the demand from audiences consuming the high-stakes narratives. As Brian Stelter, longtime media reporter and author of Hoax, told me in November, anchors at Fox are now struggling “to keep up with their viewers’ demand for propaganda.””
“Consumers of this stuff have been fed a daily diet of conspiracies and panicked claims about the death of the republic and the plot to steal the election.”
“If you watch Newsmax and OAN every night, if you listen to talk radio hosts like Mark Levin claim that “Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are being destroyed by the Democratic Party and the media,” if you hear Sean Hannity (whose show pulls in 4 million viewers a night) insist, “We have a duty to investigate every legitimate claim of fraud and abuse,” if you’re inhaling QAnon fantasies online, you’re likely extremely deluded about the state of the world. Is it any surprise that we’re living in a golden age of conspiracy theories?
The president himself is the most consequential consumer of this stuff. Listen to his leaked hour-long call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and you’ll hear a hodgepodge of familiar conspiracy theories about hacked voting machines and forgeries and collusion among various election officials. It’s all laid out and distilled, just as you’d hear it on Newsmax or read on 4chan or Parler, the right-wing alternative to Twitter.
All these fictions have coursed through the conservative media ecosystem, and the insurrectionists who flooded the Capitol have imbibed it for months. It’s why they chanted, “Stop the steal,” and it’s why you can hear them saying, “They don’t get to steal it from us, they don’t get to tell us we didn’t see what we saw.” And it’s why something like 70 percent of Republicans do not believe the 2020 election was free and fair.
So we reached this precipice because millions of Americans have had a firehose of falsehoods blasted into their brains for months on end. They believe the election was rigged and stolen. And they believe that because they’ve been told exactly that, not just by the president but by a vast network of grifters and online provocateurs and political entrepreneurs who have cultivated and reinforced conspiracy theories about the election and god knows what else.
And all of this is facilitated by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, both of which, as Warzel told me last year, pretend they’re not “arbiters of truth” and insist they “don’t want to weigh in at all” — but they’re already in that position and have been for a long time. These tech companies may not be putting their thumbs on the scale in the conventional sense, but as Andrew Marantz, author of Antisocial, pointed out to me in a recent interview, they’re “outsourcing those decisions to algorithms” that continually push users into blackholes of mutually reinforcing content. Whatever their intentions, these companies helped lead us to this moment.”
“If you believed — I mean really believed — that the president you supported won a landslide victory that was systematically undermined by seditious Republicans and Democrats, and that that conspiracy was being covered up by a crooked and compromised media, and at the same time you saw over 100 Republican House members and multiple senators questioning the validity of the election, and the president was telling you to do something about it, it’s not hard to see how quickly you might move from shitposting online to storming the Capitol.”
“Everyone who participates in this system of misinformation shares responsibility for what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday. We are reaping what they sowed. Still, Tucker Carlson goes on Fox News primetime hours after a violent assault on the Capitol and, naturally, casts blame elsewhere: “We got to this sad, chaotic day for a reason. It is not your fault; it is their fault.””
“It was obvious when a man walked into a DC pizza shop in 2017 with a gun because he believed a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring. It was obvious when armed protesters occupied the Michigan Legislature to protest Covid-19 lockdowns after an incendiary Trump tweet. It was obvious when we learned the Nashville bombing suspect reportedly believed in various conspiracy theories about aliens and lizard people. As this Wall Street Journal report shows, it was obvious in recent weeks as various watchdog groups warned of growing threats online. And it’s painfully obvious now after we saw the Capitol ravaged by rioters who believed, without any evidence, that an election had been stolen from them.”
“Every member of the Republican Party — from senators like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to the toadies working in the Trump White House — bear special responsibility for this crisis. They’ve known exactly who and what Trump is from the start, and they rode the tiger straight into the abyss.
And so many of them performed this ridiculous two-step, parroting Trump’s nonsense in one breath and winking quietly while doing it. Even on Thursday, before the dust has settled at the Capitol, Republican House members like Paul Gosar (AZ) and Matt Gaetz (FL) are spreading baseless conspiracy theories suggesting the assault was some kind of “false flag” perpetuated by antifa. And despite everything that happened in the past 48 hours, nearly 150 Republican lawmakers formally objected to the election results anyway.
If the fantasy-industrial complex churning out lies and conspiracy theories wasn’t bad enough, we’re also dealing with a much more pervasive problem in the press. As I tried to explain last year, we’re facing a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age, something known as “flooding the zone with shit.” It’s less about perpetuating alternative realities and more about overwhelming the public with so many competing narratives, so much misinformation, that even well-intentioned people don’t know what to believe.”
“Without some kind of reckoning in right-wing media, there is no sustainable path forward for the country. And even if the complicit pull back from the brink, it’s probably too late anyway. So much of the damage is already done. The conspiracy theories that radicalized that mob are already out there, already implanted in millions of minds. Like some kind of political pathogen, they will keep working their will on the body politic.
“But despite the recent attention, some say the rise of Parler fits into the larger history of American conservatives and their relationship with the media.
“This follows a pattern of what the right wing has done [since] the rise of talk radio in the ’80s, and then through live cable TV, and then the rise of social media,” Lawrence Rosenthal, the chair of the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Right-Wing Studies, told Recode. “In each case, what you found is that the right wing gives up on participating in mainstream media and creates an alternative universe.””
“Based in Nevada, the company behind Parler is run primarily by two people: Matze and Jared Thomson, who serves as CTO. Neither of them had a particular public profile before creating the app. Jeffrey Wernick, a bitcoin enthusiast and early Airbnb investor, serves as the company’s chief operating officer. But there are other people funding the app.
Earlier this month, Parler confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that conservative megadonor Rebekah Mercer was the company’s lead investor and agreed to fund Parler only if it gave users control over what they saw on the platform.”