This week Tucker Carlson crossed a new line, deliberately inciting his viewers to harm a specific group of people.
He read out the names of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s board of directors next to their photographs, “in the hope that these people will do something to stop these crimes before the lives of more children are destroyed,” referring to surgery to allow transgender people to transition. Carlson wasn’t just mildly “hoping” – he was threatening the people whose names he read.
Responses from members of his audience demonstrate that they understood him to be calling for violence, even though he didn’t say so explicitly. Almost immediately, one user of 4chan wrote that “the doctors who perform these surgeries should have their families slaughtered while they are forced to watch, not that I condone that sort of thing, but it would send a hell of a message.” A member of TheDonald (a subreddit for admirers of former President Donald Trump) called for a book burning at Vanderbilt, of all medical books “that have anything to do with gender.” That person understood the ominous historical significance of their proposal – the Nazis held regular public book burnings at which people were expected to cheer – very well: “Book burnings,” they went on. “They send a message.”
In the same way, Carlson understood the full import of the message he was sending, by threatening the board of directors, which includes several doctors. He knows that after he and other commentators attacked Boston Children’s Hospital for providing treatment to trans people, the hospital was inundated with threats to murder its doctors, and received a bomb threat on August 31. And Carlson surely knows how easy it is to inflame people by suggesting that children are in danger or already being harmed, as my colleague Cathy Buerger has described.
The current wave of threats and violence against doctors and other medical staff includes those who provide abortions. That also has horrible historical echoes: in the late 20th century the Nuremberg Files website published the names and home addresses of U.S. doctors who allegedly performed abortions. Their names were listed in three different fonts, explained this way: “Black font (working); Greyed-out Name (wounded); Strikethrough (fatality).” At least two doctors were murdered after being listed on the site, and several others were injured.
Carlson has made it clear that protest will not stop him from inciting murder and other crimes. And Fox News, his employer, appreciates both his views and the revenue they generate. On previous occasions, advertisers have pulled out of the Tucker Carlson show, but that has not been enough to discourage him or Fox. It’s time for cable and satellite TV providers to draw the line against inciting violence, and remove Fox from their offerings.