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Tucker Carlson’s botched efforts to capitalize on the Highland Park shooting

Fox News host Tucker Carlson benefits from his format. He begins each show with a whimper at his perceived adversaries, quickly skipping before viewers can stop and consider his claims. This works perfectly for a guy whose main interest is stirring up an emotion – usually fear or anger – and not informing those who tune in.

You get riffs like the one he came up with on Tuesday. The subject of Carlson’s opening monologue was the mass shooting at a July 4 parade outside Chicago on Monday. He condemned elected Democrats and people on social media for “leaping[ing] to blame the other team” – i.e. the political right – for what happened… then, in the first few minutes of his show after the shooting, he continued to blame the other team for the slaughter.Democratic lawmakers and officials have been ridiculed and mocked as ignorant or out of touch, because that is what he does.

“The first question a fan asks never changes,” Carlson said at one point. “That’s it: how can I use the misery of others to become more powerful myself?

This is called “talking about yourself”.

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Carlson’s monologue included an effort to link the mass shootings to prescription drug use, which is likely to be met with much criticism. It’s not worth parsing the shaky rhetoric Carlson has assembled to bolster this claim; it fell apart even as Carlson offered it, and none of his loyal viewers will read it anyway.

We can, on the contrary, underline the incoherence of the assertion even in its broad lines. The suspected Illinois shooter, Robert Crimo III, “looked like a lunatic,” Carlson claimed, judging by a photograph of the suspect. A number of other mass shooters were also “crazy”, he diagnosed. And then, disturbingly, he noted that several were known to have been on antidepressants at the time of the shooting. He was operating in his standard “just asking questions” mode, the way he whitewashes his conspiracy theories to make them seem more intellectual. But the implication was obvious: it might not have been the guns, but the drugs.

Never mind that anyone who pauses for even a moment might think, “Isn’t it more likely that the common root here is mental illness, not its treatment?” Insisting that those who commit mass shootings are mentally ill is a crutch for those looking to move away from the wide availability of high-powered rifles, of course, but some of those who commit such shootings suffer in terms of mental illness. So isn’t it more likely that people with mental illness who commit mass killings are also taking drugs to treat that illness?

Notice the other deviation here. Carlson claims there is a common trait among shooters that causes the shootings, ignoring the most obvious common trait: having a gun.

Crimo was reportedly visited by police in 2019 when they confiscated a number of knives he had purchased. Carlson took the opportunity to scoff at the idea that a “red flag” law would have been helpful.

“What would they have done?” Take away his weapons? ” He asked. “You get more knives!” As if someone sitting on top of a store throwing knives at people would have killed seven people and injured dozens.

At one point, Carlson showed a graph of mass shootings since 1991, saying antidepressant prescriptions had increased 3,000% since that time. This is not surprising, given that drugs such as sertraline were only approved for use then. But the graph was meant to show how the killings had soared.

Except they started skyrocketing not in 1991 but more recently, about 20 years ago. Shortly after the ban on assault weapons like AR-15 style rifles expired.

You will notice that this table shows shooters and suspected shooters who were young males aged 25 or younger. That’s because that was another Carlson goal.

‘Why didn’t anyone raise the alarm’ about how Carlson thought Crimo looked like he was going to buy his gun? “Well, maybe because he didn’t stand out,” he continued. “Maybe because there are a lot of young men in America who suddenly look and act a lot like this guy.” The young men live in “a lonely fantasy world of social media, pornography and video games”, smoking “government-approved” marijuana, Carlson said.

Yes, many recent mass shooters have been young men, often young white men. It’s unclear how important this is as a standalone factor, given the number of shooters who don’t fall into this category. Over the past five years, 16 of the 37 shooters and suspected shooters tracked in the Mother Jones incident database were males under the age of 26.

There are obvious reasons, of course. Teenagers in particular are known to have weaker impulse control than adults, although this varies from person to person. And American men are more likely than women to own guns by nearly 2 to 1, according to a poll a few years ago by the Pew Research Center.

There is also a large and growing gap between political parties when it comes to gun ownership. According to the General Social Survey, the difference in gun ownership between Democrats and Republicans was larger in 2021 than at any other time, with Republicans nearly twice as likely to own guns.

That doesn’t mean Republicans are more likely to commit mass shootings. This suggests that young men in Republican households are more likely to have access to firearms. In the Pew poll, 60% of Republicans said they owned a gun or had one in their home, compared to 25% of Democrats.

” They are angry. They know that their life will not be better than that of their parents. They will be worse. It’s almost guaranteed,” Carlson said of young men he says are inspired to commit acts of mass violence. “…Yet the authorities in their lives, mostly women, keep lecturing them about their so-called privilege. ” You are a man ! You are privileged! And so “a lot of young men in America are going crazy.”

This line of rhetoric is not important as an effort to excuse mass shootings. It is, instead, important as a representation of a narrative that is also promoted among young men: that they are oppressed and discriminated against by women and the left. Carlson, who has often portrayed the men as being attacked in the United States, suggests a theory for the cause of the mass shootings, when in reality he uses the mass shooting to bolster his theory.

Carlson pushes a far-right view of the United States as being attacked by leftists and immigrants and does so by promoting autocrats like the rulers of Hungary and Brazil. He uses mass shootings to argue that more Americans need to worry about their guns being grabbed by government boots, indicating that his viewers need to be better armed. He often frames his arguments in religious terms, as a battle between Christian rationality and evil.

By the time his breathless monologues end, his audience has no choice but to agree.

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