The extremist rhetoric from rightwing news networks and some elected Republicans is “intensifying”, experts have warned, after a Republican congressman compared Democrats to Nazis and a hard-right news host suggested tens of thousands of Americans should be executed.
Rightwing TV personalities, including Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, and Republican politicians have seized every opportunity to rail against Democrats and liberals in recent months, with race increasingly coming to the fore.
On his Fox News show on 24 June, Carlson, seated in front of a screen blaring the words “anti-white mania”, raged that the US could “become Rwanda”, apparently referencing the 1994 genocide in the country, when hundreds of thousands of Tutsi people were slaughtered.
The comments came a couple of months after the Anti-Defamation League called for Carlson to resign, following what it said was a “dangerous” and “impassioned defense of the white supremacist ‘great replacement theory’” by Carlson on his show.
“The rhetoric is both intensifying and it’s more widespread. It’s not like this is the first time rightwing media has had moments or flare-ups of intense or inflammatory rhetoric. But typically it would have been limited to one show or personality,” said Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog.
“What happened, especially without [Donald] Trump having social platforms, is that it did create this pretty big vacuum,” Carusone said.
“What you’ve seen is jockeying to get as much of that audience share but also influence share – everyone is kind of scrambling right now to grab as much as they can. That’s why they hit as many themes as they possibly can; you’re not just going to get more racial inflammatory rhetoric – there’s more conspiratorial stuff.”
Away from Fox News, Pearson Sharp, a host on the hard-right One America News Network (OANN), has been attempting to carve out his own niche of extremism. In late June, Sharp raised the unhinged and untrue theory that “tens of thousands” of people meddled in the election to prevent Trump winning, and went even further than Carlson in his comments.
“In the past, America had a very good solution for dealing with such traitors: execution,” Sharp said.
Robert Herring, the CEO of OANN, said: “He was only telling what [sic] could happen if you try to overthrow America … He gave the laws that would apply.”
As rightwing television hosts find themselves in competition to meet their audiences’ demands for pro-Trump conspiracy theories – claims those same hosts have frequently helped elevate – Carusone said the “inevitable consequence” is “that there’s going to be more violence”.
Brian Stelter, CNN’s chief media correspondent, whose newly released book Hoax explores how Fox News covered Trump, told an interviewer in June that the US had entered an environment “where the Fox base” prefers “propagandistic opinion shows [rather] than any semblance of news”.
“People want to be lied to, and it’s above my head to know what to do about that,” Stelter told the Washington Post. “What do we do about that, when millions of people want to be lied to every day?”
The hysteria is not limited to television. Last week Vice leaked video of a speech by Scott Perry, a Republican congressman and devotee of the false stolen election theory, in which Perry told the conservative Pennsylvania Leadership Conference that they should “go fight them”, referring to Democrats.
Vice reported that Perry claimed many Democrats did not share the same American values as conservatives.
“We can acknowledge that maybe not every one of them is that way, but that doesn’t matter,” Perry said, before drawing a dark parallel.
“We’ve seen this throughout history, right? Not every not every citizen in Germany in the 1930s and 40s was in the Nazi party. They weren’t. But what happened across Germany? That’s what’s important. What were the policies? What was the leadership? That’s what we have to focus on.”
The comments by Perry, an influential member of the rightwing House Freedom Caucus, add further context to what experts fear is the current state of the American right – dangerous, intensifying, and with no end in sight.