The best lack all conviction

Our institutions will not save us

The “great replacement” is a white supremacist conspiracy theory positing that shadowy elites are inviting hordes of black and brown immigrants into the country to replace white Americans.

“The Great Replacement theory is able to inspire calls for extreme action from its adherents, ranging from non-violent ethnic cleansing through ‘remigration’ to genocide,” explain Jacob Davey and Julia Ebner of the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a human rights group. “This is in part because the theory is able to inspire a sense of urgency by calling on crisis narratives.”

The conspiracy theory was cited in the final social media post of a white supremacist who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, and it was the title of a manifesto released by the New Zealand white supremacist who murdered 51 people at two mosques that same year. It was also cited in the manifestos of white supremacists who murdered multiple people at a California synagogue and an El Paso Walmart in 2019.

And then, last night, it was openly embraced by the host of the most-watched cable news show in America.

In a characteristically dishonest rant about Joe Biden’s immigration policies, Carlson said the following:

An unrelenting stream of immigration. But why? Well, Joe Biden just said it, to change the racial mix of the country. That's the reason, to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly-arrived from the third world. And then Biden went further, he said that non-white DNA is the quote, "the source of our strength." Imagine saying that. This is the language of eugenics, it's horrifying. But there's a reason Biden said it.

In political terms, this policy is called "the great replacement," the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries.

[emphasis added]

This is unalloyed white supremacist propaganda, being broadcast into the homes of millions. It’s not exactly a surprise at this point — Carlson’s been playing footsie with white nationalists for years now. But what’s especially depressing to me is that there are plenty of people and institutions with real power to put a stop to this, and so far they haven’t done anything.

Take Paul Ryan, for instance. The former Speaker of the House is about as mainstream a Republican as you can get, and he also happens to sit on the board of Fox. Presumably he could put some pressure on executives there to make Carlson clean up his act, or at the very least resign or issue a statement indicating his disgust with what the network is doing. But he’s done none of those things. Instead, he’s effectively lent the network his reputation, allowing them to use his name and prestige as a shield against accusations of extremism.

Of course, it’s foolish at this point to expect a righteous stand from the guy who tolerated and even welcomed the relentless racism of Steve King and Donald Trump for so many years. But there are other groups with plenty of power to apply pressure to Fox. Fox reporters, for instance, remain members in good standing of the White House Correspondent’s Association and make frequent appearances in the White House Briefing Room.

The WHCA doesn’t allow “reporters” from white supremacist media outlets like, say, Stormfront into their organization. Is it time to apply the same standard to Fox? Similarly, the White House doesn’t issue press passes to racist organizations. Why should it give those privileges to reporters from Fox, now that the network is openly embracing white supremacist conspiracies?

But Carlson is far from the only extremist who continues to be tolerated by mainstream institutions. Consider John Eastman, the Federalist Society lawyer who, it was revealed this week, authored a memo for the Trump White House detailing a six-point plan that would supposedly allow Vice President Pence to toss out certified election results from a handful of states and declare Trump the winner. After presenting the memo to the White House, Eastman went on to speak at the notorious January 6 rally preceding the riot at the Capitol.

You’d think that attempting to overthrow democracy is one of those things that would get you shunned from polite society. But Eastman remains a member in good standing of the Federalist Society, the backbone of the conservative legal movement. Again: we’re past the point of expecting conservatives to police their own. But it came to light this week that Eastman has also been invited to speak at this year’s annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, the organization representing political scientists in the U.S.

While it lacks the agenda-setting power of say, Fox News, APSA is nevertheless highly influential in the academic world. Getting a paper published in an APSA journal or giving a talk at an APSA event are important markers of seriousness and legitimacy in the field. Following the January 6 insurrection, APSA put out a statement saying, among other things, “We strongly condemn the insurrection and violent and deadly attack upon the U.S. Capitol. No tolerance should be given to the insurrectionists and the hatred and lies that motivate them.”

Why, then, are they now lending their platform and their legitimacy to one of the chief architects of those lies?

Other depressing examples abound. The press, for instance, continues to be all-too eager to give their microphone to conspiracy theorists, insurrectionists, and other people actively working to undermine the very values the media supposedly stands for. Following the Capitol insurrection, for instance, Senator Josh Hawley voted in support of one of the rioters’ main goals — the tossing out of certified ballots in the hope of installing Trump as president.

Barely four months later the Washington Post — of Democracy Dies in Darkness fame — invited him to spend a full half an hour promoting his new book on Post Live.

Over and over again, the institutions that traditionally have played an aggressive role in policing the boundaries of acceptable discourse have failed to use that power to marginalize dangerous fringe ideas. It bears noting that the behavior in question here falls well outside of any grey areas of acceptability, as least as those grey areas used to be framed. Promoting white supremacy and overturning free and fair elections used to be enough to get you shunned from polite society for good! But not anymore.

Note also that I’m explicitly not calling for government crackdowns on any of these bad actors. The First Amendment exists, after all. But while you have a right to free speech in this country, you are not entitled by the Constitution to be a member of the White House Correspondent’s Association, or to receive a White House press pass, or to speak at a conference of political scientists, or to give 30-minute interviews to the press about your new book.

Those are privileges. And I’m asking the individuals and organizations that grant those privileges to use that power to protect the values they stay they stand for.