Skip to Content

The ‘mainstreaming’ of ‘hateful and dehumanizing rhetoric’ in right-wing media is leading to violence, experts say

<i>KYW</i><br/>Law enforcement work the scene where a man in his 60s was found beheaded and covered in blood in Bucks County
Law enforcement work the scene where a man in his 60s was found beheaded and covered in blood in Bucks County

Analysis by Oliver Darcy, CNN

New York (CNN) — Far-left woke mobs ravaging the country. Hordes of illegal immigrants invading the southern border. Gender ideology warping young minds in schools. Sinister globalists plotting in the shadows.

These are the toxic themes espoused in right-wing media, delivered each day through a mix of internet pipelines and broadcasts to millions of homes across the country. They are also the perturbed views of a 32-year-old man who police say decapitated his father, a federal employee, and then uploaded a highly disturbing video to YouTube showcasing the grisly murder while spewing a toxic potpourri of conspiratorial grievances.

It’s part of a larger trend of right-wing violence afflicting the country. Over the course of the last several years, America has witnessed a spate of such incidents: the Charlottesville car attack, the Charleston church shooting, the Buffalo supermarket shooting, the El Paso Walmart shooting, and, of course, the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, among others.

“In recent years, violent and alarming actions by far-right extremists, from seditious plots to interfere with election results to white supremacist mass killing attacks, have thrust the issue of right-wing extremist violence into the headlines on a regular basis,” the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks such incidents, said in a November report. “In today’s America, such terrorism is not merely a threat, it’s a fact of life.”

The ADL noted in its report that “right-wing extremist terror incidents in the U.S. have been increasing since the mid-2000s,” but stressed that “the past six years have seen their sharpest rise yet.”

The timing coincides with Donald Trump’s arrival on the national political scene, seizing control of the right-wing media machine and refashioning it into his personal propaganda mouthpiece that pollutes the country’s information environment.

Prior to Trump’s ascension, conspiracy-laden messages were largely confined to the seedy cesspools of the web like 4chan and Infowars, where fringe hosts such as Alex Jones ranted to marginalized audiences. But the media landscape has deteriorated considerably in recent years. Now, extremist commentary airs regularly on Fox News. It is dispersed on A.M. radios from coast to coast. It is commonplace on conservative news and commentary websites. And it proliferates on social media platforms, where right-wing extremists maintain a loud presence and boast millions of followers.

“To tap into these ideas, you [once] had to be literally on mailing lists from extremist groups like the Klan,” Andrew McCabe, the former deputy FBI director turned CNN law enforcement analyst, told me Wednesday. “By virtue of logistics, that limited the number of eyeballs consuming this stuff.”

“Then you have the internet age dawn and outlets like Stormfront bring these views to more audiences. Now, take that times one thousand,” McCabe continued. “You don’t have to go to the fringes. You can just turn your cable news outlet to Fox News or Newsmax or OAN and you’re getting the same kind of content. The same ideas of the Great Replacement Theory. The same ideas of vilifying immigrants. It’s the same messages. It’s a little slicker and better produced. But these messages have the same corrosive effect on people.”

Millions of people have been trained to distrust credible news organizations and only put their faith in the dishonest voices feeding them a diet of radical rhetoric. And while not everyone who hears such messages will resort to violence, the charged language can suck some people in and eventually lead to real-world action.

“This act of violence represents the threat posed by mainstreaming hateful and dehumanizing rhetoric,” Luke Baumgartner, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University told me when I asked about the views the suspect in the decapitation recited.

“This shared belief that a ‘cabal of global elites’ run by Jews and the left are conspiring to steal white America from Christians allows for a tangled web of conspiracies to connect: anti-government extremists, white supremacists, fascists, and everyone in between, sometimes forging unlikely alliances,” Baumgartner added.
“This, in turn, allows grievances like a border crisis or a global conflict to inspire a range of ideologically disparate extremists in the name of violence against the other.”

Too often, however, the public — and journalists whose job it is to shine a bright light on it — turn a blind eye to the dangerous propaganda machine motivating these actors and operating in plain sight.

Reporters, in particular, very often fail to connect the obvious dots between words and actions. They will note that trees have been cut down in the forest but shy away from pointing out those who are holding the chainsaws in their hands. Media reporting largely is viewed as niche; not vital. Rarely will you see a segment about the information crisis on the evening news or delivered prominently via other vessels of mainstream media. The symptoms of the cancer are discussed at length (election denialism, Trump’s firm grip on the Republican Party, etcetera), but rarely is the underlying disease confronted with the vigor it demands.

“Top media outlets too often separate political coverage and reporters from incitement/violence/election denialism coverage,” Juliette Kayyem, the faculty chair of the Homeland Security and Security and Global Health Projects at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, told me via email.

The media figures who peddle extremism to the public, Kayyem added, employ sly tactics to shield themselves from accountability when a perpetrator acts on their words. The language they use, she said, “winks at,” “nurtures,” and “flirts with violence,” but also offers them just enough “plausible deniability” when things go south.

“The only way to defeat it,” Kayyem said, “is to call it out.”

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Business/Consumer

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content