An anti-fascist group of around twenty or so people gathered at the two-story Colonial home of Fox News host Tucker Carlson to protest how he spreads fear and racism on television.
Reports on the protest and misinformation spread by right-wing media outlets fueled a backlash to the demonstration. Twitter even suspended the account of Smash Racism D.C., the group that organized the protest, without providing any notice.
Police in Washington, D.C., told the press they were investigating the protest as a “suspected hate crime” and that the motivation for the “incident” was “anti-political.” Officers went to the home of Dylan Petrohilos, who was part of the protest and a former #J20 defendant (one of several people who faced charges after protesting on President Donald Trump’s inauguration day).
The language used by figures in media yielded to right-wing attacks on dissent and reinforced how law enforcement criminalizes protest.
Stephen Colbert, host of “The Late Show” on CBS, declared, “Fighting Tucker Carlson’s ideas is an American right. Targeting his home and terrorizing his family is an act of monstrous cowardice. Obviously don’t do this, but also, take no pleasure in its happening. Feeding monsters just makes more monsters.”
CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said of the protesters, “They say they need to speak truth to power and hold Carlson accountable. Look, everybody has first amendment rights. But to show up at someone’s house, to be knocking on the door, to be spray painting an anarchy symbol in the driveway, that has been denounced from the right and from the left today. Everyone from folks over at Fox to Stephen Colbert today saying that crosses a line. You shouldn’t be showing up at somebody’s house like that.”
The public relations department for CNN stated, “Something CNN and Fox News can agree on: it’s completely unacceptable to threaten a TV host and his/her family.”
Matthew Gertz, a senior fellow for Media Matters, joined others in the liberal establishment in scolding protesters. “This behavior is way over the line. Going to someone’s home, breaking their door, and terrorizing their family is unacceptable. It’s also extremely counterproductive if your interest is actually reducing his influence.”
Karen Tumulty, a columnist for the Washington Post, pontificated. “If you don’t like him, what exactly is accomplished by terrorizing his family? Wouldn’t something else—say, organizing a boycott of his advertisers—be more effective means of protest?”
Max Boot, a conservative columnist who has become a darling of moderate Democrats because he left the Republican Party over their support for Trump, said, “I think Tucker is a terrible influence on modern America but that doesn’t justify harassing him at home,” and, “Go high, not low.”
A narrative of the protest formed following the Washington Post and The Hill‘s coverage. Carlson was not home. His wife told him she was in the kitchen, prepared to go to dinner. She heard “pounding on the front door and screaming.” She apparently thought it was a home invasion and dialed 9-1-1.
“Someone started throwing himself against the front door and actually cracked the front door,” Carlson added.
A photograph of the front door shows there was no damage to the door. A police report on the protest does not list any damage to the door.
Joe Concha, a columnist for The Hill, reported a “mob” converged and forced Carlson’s wife to “hide in the pantry.” He spread uncorroborated false information, claiming the front door was “banged on and eventually broken while a female was home alone, believing it was a home invasion, so she protected herself.”
In a livestreamed video of the protest, an organizer speaks through a bullhorn: “Tucker Carlson, we are outside your home,” they said, adding, “You promote hate.” The organizer accuses him of promoting a brand of politics that has “led to thousands of people dying at the hands of the police” and to “trans-women being murdered in the streets.”
Protesters declared, “We want you to know we know where you sleep at night.” Right-wing media, especially Fox News and Carlson, transformed this into a threat. But it was clearly intended to inform Carlson that they would be back for another demonstration outside his home if he continues to spread hate on television.
The police report indicates:
On the listed date, R-1 reports she heard loud banging and pounding on her front door. R-1 went to investigate and saw a large group in front of her home. They had a bull horn and were chanting loudly. She retreated to a room in the rear of her home and summoned police. MPD arrived on scene and found a group of approximately 20 people. It was discovered that unknown persons spray painted an anarchy symbol on the driveway. There were also signs left on the vehicles parked in the driveways as well as a sign left on the front door of the home. The signs made reference to [Carlson’s] political affiliation.
There was no vandalism to Carlson’s property mentioned by police. No damage to vehicles was reported. Spray paint can be easily washed from a driveway.
Black comedian W. Kamau Bell, known for his show, “United Shades of America,” on CNN, appropriately responded to Carlson’s reaction by reminding him that Carlson once lied to his audience about Bell’s involvement in antifa groups. Bell received a “barrage of threats and hate” and “had to take major steps to protect” his family.
“Lot of people on both sides are rushing to Tucker Carlson’s defense like there are prizes involved,” Bell added. “How about you have the same energy when he targets people, especially when those people don’t have the privilege or the budgets to defend themselves.”
He further stated, “Are people aware of the extreme position of privilege you must have to be able to get protection from the police just in case something happens? Many Americans can’t even begin to imagine this. And many of them are regularly targeted by Tucker Carlson.”
The Daily Caller, which is Tucker Carlson’s website, has been condemned for doxxing individuals and feeding an audience that issues death threats against those perceived as enemies.
Video of police responding to the incident, which was posted by Black Lives Matter D.C., shows how non-threatening the anti-fascist protesters were. They mill around waiting to see what officers do next when one says, “Is there anywhere else that you guys can go before going to that person’s house? Because they’re going to call every time. Just sayin’.”
He sounds exasperated, like he’s dealing with his teenage son’s kids. “Did everyone hear me over here? You can’t go on people’s private property and spray paint things and leave trash on their property, okay? Alright?”
None of the officers are in riot or tactical gear. This is not how police would typically deal with mob action.
When a protester claims they didn’t see anyone put signs on vehicles, he curtly replies, “Of course you didn’t.” Then, “But if I grabbed one of you guys, you’d have seen that, right?”
It is clear why right-wing media jumped all over the protest and treated it like it was some kind of terrorist attack. With recent acts of violence from far right individuals, they needed to paint themselves as victims to suggest left-wing activists do it too, even though there is absolutely no equivalency.
Liberal and center-left Democrats, as well as media personalities, panicked because they were afraid this may impair their ability to resist Trump. A similar response occurred when Smash Racism D.C. confronted Senator Ted Cruz and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. They freaked out about the optics.
Such a reaction encourages law enforcement efforts to clamp down on protests that erupt anywhere. They reinforce censorship by social media companies against dissident individuals or groups. They allow authorities to twist laws intended to protect marginalized people into laws that can control and silence citizens. That only empowers the right-wing forces that constantly revitalize the Trump administration.