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What the shooting in Buffalo has to do with Fox News host Tucker Carlson

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The man accused of murdering 10 people in Buffalo and wounding several others intentionally targeted Black people. He was obsessed with a racist belief pushed by white supremacists that shadowy elites are seeking to replace white Americans with immigrants and people of color. This is called replacement theory, and we are going to spend some time examining it and some of the people who embrace it, including prominent Republican politicians and conservative media figures, most notably Fox News star Tucker Carlson. Joining me now, two colleagues, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Welcome to you both.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having us.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: David, you start. And let's start there with Tucker Carlson, who - just to be clear, he is not mentioned in this 180-page screed that authorities say the alleged gunman posted online. Right?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. He's not anywhere in there, not at all. Instead, he cites the influences of 4chan and invokes what's called the so-called "great replacement theory," this idea that these amorphous forces are trying to replace whites - started a century ago in France, moved around, different targets in different places.

KELLY: So in this century, why is why is Tucker Carlson part of this conversation? What's his role here?

FOLKENFLIK: Because he's made it acceptable to talk about it. If you look at what leading white supremacists have said, a number of them really hail him for popularizing their views, and particularly on this. I think there are two ways to think about Carlson being part of this. One is through the sheer volume of his coverage. And the other is the influence he has in the Trump wing of the Republican Party on and off the air. He's one of Fox's most popular shows. And if you think about him as a political force, people have even - talking about him as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024 should Trump not run.

KELLY: OK. So can we hear some of this? If we tune in to Fox, what's the kind of thing we would be hearing?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let me give you a sample of what you'd hear if you turned into his show on any regular basis. Let's start with this first clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

TUCKER CARLSON: They're trying to change the population of the United States, and they hate it when you say that because it's true.

FOLKENFLIK: And then there's one like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

CARLSON: The Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate - the voters now casting ballots - with new people, more obedient voters, from the third world.

FOLKENFLIK: Who are those people again? Listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

CARLSON: This policy is called the great replacement, the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.

FOLKENFLIK: So that's just a small sampling. The New York Times earlier this month presented findings in which they found hundreds of instances just like this in recent years, not in passing, but in great length, and more explicitly embracing it in just the last year or so.

KELLY: Well, let me turn us to the politics of this, which brings me to you, Domenico. How influential is this? How does this filter into the politics of the right in America?

MONTANARO: I mean, David's documented pretty well how conservative media, particularly Tucker Carlson, has played a pretty big role in all of this. We have seen his influence with the base of Republican voters, certainly in that Trump base. We've seen in polling, for example, that people who watch conservative media far more likely to believe in the tenets of replacement that - and that it's, in fact, happening in this country. Almost half of Republicans believe replacement is happening, according to a recent AP-NORC poll.

So it's taken some degree of hold. But the seeds of this go pretty far back. You know, the fights over affirmative action in the 1980s when manufacturing jobs were being outsourced in huge numbers. Blue-collar jobs were becoming increasingly scarce. And that led some politicians to try and exploit that for political gain. I think back to 1990, for example, in this ad run by the late North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms called "White Hands." Take a listen to part of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "WHITE HANDS")

JESSE HELMS: You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?

MONTANARO: And you see in that a white man in a flannel shirt crumple up a piece of paper. And fast-forward to the fights over immigration in this century, and that narrative really took hold on the right. Here was Donald Trump as a candidate for president three months before the 2016 presidential election, backstage at the Values Voter Summit to the Christian Broadcasting Network.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you're going to have people flowing across the borders. You're going to have illegal immigrants coming in, and they're going to be legalized, and they're going to be able to vote. And once that all happens, you can forget it.

KELLY: So he's not actually using the word replacement - not using it explicitly - but clearly talking about it, and then taking that and moving into the White House.

MONTANARO: Right. And when he was in the White House and when he campaigned again, he's been - he did it in very intentional ways and continues to do it. I mean, earlier this year, Trump was at a rally, and he exaggerated what was happening with a COVID program in New York. He claimed that whites were being made to go, quote, "to the back of the line" for therapeutics. So I called up Casey Kelly a professor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, who has studied Trump's language. He says what Trump has tried to do to exploit white grievance is to reframe experiences of alienation that many in rural America feel that pop culture doesn't reflect who they are anymore and show it as something purposeful that's being done to them.

CASEY KELLY: And that's happening concurrently with a burgeoning opioid crisis, combined with the collapse of infrastructure and manufacturing and good-quality union jobs in rural areas of the country. He enables them to view that as a systematic dispossession, but it's by design to hurt them because it's an effort by progressives to institute their version of America.

MONTANARO: And look - the fact here is that demographic change has accelerated the ability for politicians on the right to do this. Since 1990, whites have declined from 76% of the population to 60%. And by 2045, the census estimates whites will be the minority in this country. And even if all the borders were closed right now and there was a hundred-foot wall and no one was let back in until then, it would still hold true. As of 2018, whites dropped to less than half of the under-15 population in this country for the first time. And when it comes to politics and society, it's introducing a lot of volatility and deliberately pushed by many on the right to get people to the polls.

KELLY: And what about media on the right? Let me bring it back to you to close us out, David Folkenflik. Is there any pushback? Is there any - say, at Fox News, which employs Tucker Carlson, is there any sign that they're addressing this rhetoric?

FOLKENFLIK: None whatsoever. Fox News almost invariably - and again, in this case today - doesn't comment, just points you to what Carlson has had to say on his show about this subject. In his case last night, Tucker Carlson called the shooting horrific, said the accused shooter was racist and also mentally ill. But he's turning the tables, essentially using this to lay into President Biden and Democrats for playing what he says are racial politics. The parent company, Fox Corporation under Lachlan Murdoch, says this is just all part of an open, lively debate and discussion, won't really engage on it now. But in reality, Fox News has stripped away restraint. And you aren't seeing repercussions for Carlson. And what that means is you're seeing other opinion hosts dip into these waters. And some news anchors essentially allow guests to propagate the same racial replacement racist theories without any pushback or contradiction. And in doing that, they're simply following Carlson, who is clearly the leader of the pack at Fox.

KELLY: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Thanks to you both.

MONTANARO: Always a pleasure. Thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "COOL DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.