In his primetime opinion hour Tuesday night, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson told his millions of viewers to prepare for a crackdown from federal law enforcement on parents’ complaints at school board meetings.
The host, and several Republican politicians eager for another bankable culture war, seemed to smell blood in the water — in the form of a one-page memo from Attorney General Merrick Garland published the day prior.
“If you are one of the troglodytes who thinks you should have some say in what your children are taught in the schools that you pay for, you should know that the Biden administration now views you as a domestic terrorist,” the Fox News star said.
“They are fully willing to use armed agents of the state to compel you to shut up.”
Carlson’s viewers never actually heard what the memo was about. He never told them.
Specifically, Garland announced a federal law enforcement effort to address “threats against public servants” — specifically school administrators, school board members, teachers and staff — and to “prosecute them when appropriate.”
In other words, criminal behavior. And amid right-wing anger at school mask rules and bogeyman issues like “critical race theory,” examples of potentially criminal behavior aimed at educators and public health officials at school board meetings are abundant, including reports of pushing, throwing things, alleged battery, numerous reports of threats, and comments like “we will find you” and “we know who you are.”
Garland’s memo explicitly noted that he wasn’t concerned with “spirited debate,” which he described as constitutional.
But Carlson and other conservatives looking for a wedge issue ignored that entirely. The Fox News host said at various points during his broadcast Wednesday that Garland was targeting “parents who complain about their school board” and “people who are committing wrongthink.”
“This basically puts normal parents, who are distressed by the propaganda their kids are being subjected to, in the same category as terrorists,” the host said of Garland’s memo.
That sort of bad faith mischaracterization of the memo was widespread on the right.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said Garland was using the DOJ to “target & persecute his political opponents.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Garland was “weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation.”
The list of Republican elected officials mischaracterizing the memo to fit their own political priors is extensive and ever-growing, as Breitbart News gleefully catalogued.
One early source of the spin was Christophe Rufo, the conservative writer who stoked the right-wing freakout over critical race theory, at one point calling it “the perfect villain.”
Though Garland’s memo did not say anything about critical race theory, Rufo wrote in a tweet, which then made the rounds among conservative influencers and politicians, that Garland had “instructed the FBI to mobilize against parents who oppose critical race theory in public schools, citing ‘threats.’”
Perhaps the most enthusiastic participant in the outrage theater was Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who grilled Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco about the memo at a hearing Tuesday.
“For those of us who missed the McCarthy era, I guess this president is intent on bringing it to us, but with new force, and new power, and new urgency unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” Hawley said. The senator said he wanted to drag Garland himself before the committee to answer questions.
Monaco said the document was simply reflective of the DOJ’s law enforcement responsibilities.
“The job of the Justice Department is to investigate crimes,” she said. “When the situation turns to violence, it’s the job of the Justice Department and local law enforcement to address that.” (Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) also tee’d off on the memo.)
In a laudatory interview with Hawley on his show, Carlson used a few seconds to tie the whole mess back to former President Barack Obama.
“That is the person, by the way, who actually runs the Justice Department,” he said of Monaco. “And she’s actually run by Susan Rice at the White House, who takes her direction from Barack Obama. Just so you know how it actually works.”
If the Fox News line-up is any indication, leadership at the network thinks Garland’s memo has outrage legs: Carlson was only one of a long list of hosts targeting the memo, including Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and the Fox & Friends crew.
As “America’s Newsroom” kicked off Wednesday morning, co-host Bill Hemmer opened by describing the memo as “a federal crackdown on concerned parents.”
“Whatever happened to just working things out? Now you’ve got to call the FBI?” co-host Dana Perino added. The chyron read, “Parents Fight Against Crackdown on CRT Protesters.”