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Tucker Carlson

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Right-wing media figures have been putting on a master class in stochastic terrorism in the past month, targeting children’s hospitals with conspiracy theories claiming they are “maiming” and “mutilating” young people by providing them with gender-affirming care—after which the hospitals are barraged with threats of violence. The most notorious of these involved the mob that descended on Boston Children’s Hospital, leading to a bomb threat that forced a lockdown, after leading right-wing social-media influencers like LibsOfTikTok and Matt Walsh falsely claimed it was performing hysterectomies and other forms of “butchery” on children.

The firehose of smears, however, became an overwhelming deluge when Fox News—with Tucker Carlson once again taking the lead—ran multiple segments amplifying them to their audience of millions. Moreover, as Mia Gingerich reports for Media Matters, Fox News eagerly amplified the claims, but ran zero segments reporting the attacks and bomb threats that resulted. That’s exactly how stochastic terrorism works.

The barrage is based on a vicious mischaracterization of “gender-affirming care,” which is the practice all of these hospitals use. As Scientific American recently explained, the term describes a range of medical care from simple recognition of transgender children’s needs and rights to providing hormone treatments including puberty blockers, and “supporting the process of gender development rather than directing children through a specific course of gender transition or maintenance of cisgender presentation.” Only a limited number of transgender youth opt for surgery, and most cannot receive genital replacement surgery until they are adults.

Boston Children’s Hospital explained that, contrary to the claims of right-wing provocateurs, it only provides gender-affirming hysterectomies to transgender people 18 and older. Nonetheless, it was barraged with “hostile internet activity, phone calls, and harassing emails including threats of violence toward our clinicians and staff,” culminating in a bomb threat that brought police to the hospital.

“It’s actually crazy. I can’t even imagine being one of my patients,” Justine Lee, a craniofacial and pediatric plastic surgeon in Los Angeles who performs gender-affirming surgeries, told The Washington Post. “I can’t think of any other medical condition that would result in this level of hate.”

Vice’s David Gilbert reported on the wave of right-wing extremist threats on Aug. 17. “Long past time to start executing these ‘doctors,’” wrote participant in the pro-Trump message board formerly known as TheDonald. “Demons like this do not deserve to breathe! Crimes against humanity=DEATH,” one Telegram user. “These people are physcopaths [sic] and should be locked up,” commented another.

As Gingerich reports, Fox News has played a central role in generating the deluge of threats, primarily by endorsing and amplifying the smear artists on social media and other political figures, including QAnon-loving Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene:

Between August 18, when the network’s first segment attacking Boston Children’s Hospital aired, and August 31, when Fox aired its most recent segment, attacking Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital, the network aired 7 segments and spent more than 20 minutes vilifying the hospitals. Notably, three of the Fox prime-time shows featuring the attacks are in the top 10 most-watched cable news programs in the country — Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Ingraham Angle, and Jesse Watters Primetime.

Carlson’s program has been leading the pitchfork parade. A day after Vice reported on the wave of threats, Carlson hosted a segment in which he called gender-affirming the “sexual mutilation of children.” It included anti-trans extremist Chris Elston of Canada, who called it “the biggest child abuse scandal in modern medicine history.”

Greene also appeared as part of the discussion, discussing her proposal for national legislation to outlaw gender-affirming care. She said these practices are “actually an assault, and it’s child abuse,” adding: “This practice should never happen. It’s disgusting and appalling. It’s an embarrassment to our country.”

Gender-affirming care, she claimed, “is really genital mutilation, it’s puberty blockers that cause chemical castration, teenage girls actually having their breasts chopped off, teenage boys being castrated. This needs to be illegal, and I’m going to introduce a bill, called Protect Children’s Innocence Act, and it would create a law that would cause it to be a Class C felony for any person involved in so-called ‘gender-affirming care.’”

On Aug. 30, Carlson invited LibsOfTikTok proprietor Chaya Raichik onto his show after Boston Children’s was hit with a bomb threat to counter the growing narrative about the violence. He claimed that Raichik had provided proof of nefarious intent at Children’s National Hospital in D.C. by calling up two care providers there and claiming (dubiously) she had a 16-year-old daughter and was wondering if she could obtain a hysterectomy, then being told she could.

“Yeah, castrating kids,” Carlson intoned. “They admitted it, flat out.” He went on to claim that Children’s National was “castrating young people, minors for no legitimate purpose whatsoever,” adding that Raichik, whose tweets were taken down, was “committing actual journalism.”

Children’s National spokespersons explained to The Washington Post that neither of the people to whom Raichik spoke were qualified to respond accurately, and that it does not perform hysterectomies on women under 18.

The next night, Carlson continued the narrative by intoning: “Most people trust children's hospitals implicitly. They just didn't know the details — but thanks to the internet, we now do.” He went on to claim that “some of these hospitals are performing horrifying experiments on children,” including “things you think would be crimes but that apparently aren't and that are going on in children's hospitals in the United States.”

He then invited right-wing propagandist Chris Rufo—progenitor of the phony “critical race trheory” hysteria—onto his show to explore the claims further. Rufo falsely claimed that Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago was promoting “‘trans-friendly’ sex toys for children,” citing a resource document designed for teachers.

Gingerich found that while Fox only covered the threats as a springboard for attacking the hospitals, both CNN and MSNBC did cover them specifically—but spent relatively little airtime (five minutes and 13 minutes, respectively) on the story.

This is how stochastic terrorism—also known as “scripted violence”—has always worked: create messages that target a specific “enemy” or threat with extreme demonization and dehumanization, then disavow the consequences when your audience unsurprisingly acts on them in violent and threatening fashion.

As Chip Berlet explains in his essay on scripted violence:

The potential for violence in a society increases when the mass media carries rhetorical vilification by high profile and respected figures who scapegoat a named ‘Other’. This dangerous ‘constitutive rhetoric’ can build an actual constituency of persons feeling threatened or displaced. Or to put it another way, when rhetorical fecal matter hits the spinning verbal blades of a bigoted demagogue’s exhortations, bad stuff happens.

The resulting violence can incite a mob, a mass movement, a war, or an individual actor. Individual actors who engage in violence can emerge in three ways. They can be assigned the task of violence by an existing organizational leadership; they can be members or participants in an existing organization, yet decide to act on their own; or they can be unconnected to an existing organization and act on their own. According to the US government definition, a ‘Lone Wolf’ is a person who engages in political violence and is not known by law enforcement agencies to have any current or previous ties to an organization under surveillance as potential lawbreakers. The person committing the violence may expect or even welcome martyrdom, or may plan for a successful escape to carry on being a political soldier in a hoped-for insurgency. Either way, the hope is that ‘a little spark can cause a prairie fire’. Revolution is seldom the result, but violence and death remains as a legacy.

We saw this in action recently, when anti-LGBTQ “groomer” hysteria generated by far-right social media whipped up right-wing extremists into threatening a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and even more recently in Boise. As Daily Kos’ Hunter says, the right is stoking fascist violence against transgender Americans, and it’s working.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

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Crime scene outside Cincinnati, Ohio where state police shot FBI attacker Ricky Shiffer

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Ricky Shiffer was like a lot of MAGA “patriots,” often proclaiming his willingness to die for Donald Trump. Like seemingly all Trump fans, he was outraged that the FBI served a search warrant on the ex-president’s Florida estate, eager to declare “civil war” on “the Deep State.” Shiffer was such a True Believer that on Thursday, he tried to attack the FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio, and ended up dying next to a cornfield a few miles away.

Shiffer believed he was dying a martyr to the cause. But his only reward was for the community of terminally online Trumpists with whom he spent his time to immediately denounce him as a “crisis actor” who had performed a “false flag” operation with the sole purpose of smearing MAGA people by association.

The 42-year-old from Columbus walked into the FBI’s security station outside its Cincinnati offices Thursday morning carrying a nail gun and an AR-15, and opened fire on the ballistic glass protecting agents inside with the nail gun, apparently out of the YouTube-fostered belief that such guns are capable of breaking bulletproof glass. After firing at the glass several times to no discernible effect other than setting off alarms that sent agents running in his direction, Shiffer fled the building and drove away in his car.

Shiffer was a prolific user of the Trump-sponsored social-media platform Truth Social. Somehow, in the brief time between when he attacked the FBI and when police caught up with him, he was able to file one last post, though it ended in an incomplete sentence as though he had been interrupted. It read:

Well, I thought I had a way through bulletproof glass, and I didn’t. If you don’t hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I., and it’ll mean either I was taken off the internet, the F.B.I. got me, or they sent the regular cops while

About 20 minutes after the attack, Ohio Highway Patrol officers found Shiffer parked in his Ford Crown Victoria at an Interstate 71 rest area. When they attempted to confront him, he fled down the freeway, police in pursuit. Police say he fired shots at them. He exited at state Route 73 and stopped shortly afterward near a cornfield. Shiffer emerged from the car with a gun and began firing at officers from behind his car. Police then engaged him in negotiations that went on for nearly two hours. When those talks broke down, police say they attempted to capture him using “less lethal” weapons, but when he fired on officers, they returned the gunfire, and he was shot and killed.

Shiffer was a true MAGA loyalist who had traveled to Washington on January 6, 2021, and participated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The night before, he participated in a pro-Trump rally led by the Proud Boys at Washington’s Black Lives Matter Plaza that turned into a violent clash with police, previewing the next day’s historic events. He also turns up in a number of photographs and videos of the mob that attacked the Capitol.

On Twitter, he later urged readers to support the Proud Boys. “Save ammunition, get in touch with the Proud Boys, and learn how they did it in the Revolutionary War, because submitting to tyranny while lawfully protesting was never the American way,” Shiffer wrote.

He also complained to Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene on Twitter about the 2020 election. “Congresswoman Greene, they got away with fixing elections in plain sight,” Shiffer wrote. “It’s over. The next step is the one we used in 1775.”

In more recent weeks, his Truth Social posts had become even more militant. “This country has never had a worse enemy,” he posted on Aug 5. 1776 was for far less, even World War II was for less.”

“Save ammunition and be ready and willing to hit the road as soon as you hear it has started,” he wrote the same day in a post liked by 24 readers. “Someone who wanted to be a hero could not have lived in a better time period.”

When the FBI served its warrant on Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Monday, Shiffer went completely off the deep end, joining the deluge of MAGA fans who immediately declared the search a case of political persecution by the “Deep State,” and proclaimed their desire to wage “civil war” against Biden administration “tyranny.”

That day, Shiffer posted a declaration of sorts at Truth Social:

People, this is it. I hope a call to arms comes from someone better qualified, but if not, this is your call to arms from me. Leave work tomorrow as soon as the gun shop/Army-Navy store/pawn shop opens, get whatever you need to be ready for combat. We must not tolerate this one. They have been conditioning us to accept tyranny and think we can’t do anything for 2 years. This time we must respond with force. If you know of any protests or attacks, please post here.

An interlocutor asked him: “Are you proposing terrorism?” He answered:

Very important question.

No, I am proposing war. Be ready to kill the enemy, not mass shootings where leftists go, not lighting busses on fire with transexuals in them, not finding people with leftist signs in their yards and beating them up. Violence is not (all) terrorism. Kill the F.B.I. on sight, and be ready to take down other active enemies of the people and those who try to prevent you from doing it.

He also began reviewing his options for action and apparently considered heading to Florida in order to defend the ex-president from FBI perfidy:

I’m having trouble getting information, but Viva Frei said patriots are heading to Palm Beach (where Mar a Lago is). I recommend going, and being in Florida, I think the feds won’t break it up. If they do, kill them.

Another Truth Social user named Grizzly Mama was horrified: “Oh dear we can’t resort to that! Not now not here.”

Shiffer replied: “Why not?” He later expanded on the point: “It won’t matter if we don’t get violent. We see the courts are unfair and unconstitutional, all that is left is force.”

The attack was not a surprise to anyone who had monitored the kinds of extremist rhetoric that flooded social media after the FBI served its warrant, much of it from ostensibly mainstream Republican political figures and right-wing media such as Fox News. FBI Director Christopher Wray addressed the rhetoric in discussing the attack with reporters.

"There has been a lot of commentary about the FBI this week questioning our work and motives," Wray said. "Much of it is from critics and pundits on the outside who don't know what we know and don't see what we see. What I know—and what I see—is an organization made up of men and women who are committed to doing their jobs professionally and by the book every day; this week is no exception."

As Laura Clawson has already explored, Shiffer’s actions were almost inevitable after weeks of radicalization among right-wing leaders about federal law enforcement, especially related to investigations of Trump, topped by their immediate declarations that the Mar-a-Lago search was an illegitimate attack not just on Trump but on all Americans.

Naturally, very few of these unhinged “thought” leaders were willing to discuss the attack on the FBI afterward. One of the only right-wing figures to do so, Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, naturally continued to blame the FBI, apparently for being attacked:

I am sure this will now be the main focus, even though we have said repeatedly to remain peaceful and stay focused on constructive things that we can do. They're now going to try to play the victim after they occupied Donald Trump's home, a military occupation.

A handful of his fellow MAGA enthusiasts later saluted Shiffer for his martyrdom. But at the forums such as 4chan and the Trumpist site The Donald where much of the same conspiracist fearmongering that fueled Shiffer were generated and amplified, the response was largely unanimous: It was all part of a fake Deep State psyop operation, using a “false flag” to smear Trump supporters.

As NBC reporter Ben Collins noted: “Every top post on TheDonald is claiming the Cincinnati FBI situation is a false flag. They constantly agitate for these kinds of attacks and never, ever take credit for them. It allows them a permanent victimhood.”

The conversations at The Donald varied little in their conspiracist self-assurance that they were able to pierce the media veil:

Only one, and he was apprehended eh?

How convenient. It's either a false flag, or one if the "boohoo- nobody's doing nothing" commenters from this website, playing right into their hands

False flag. To lock it down further. We all know Trump supporters don't do this. Wake up!

Its too bad that it wasn't actual real and just another false flag by these faggot feds. They want so bad for people to react but its not happening so they have to make up these fake false flags.

Fake. They staged an attack on themselves to play the victim. It won't work. No one feels bad for these faggots.

See how they always try to tie the two together? This is why why false flags occur, when they don't get the response they want from their commie raids, lets scape goat a "crazy White guy with a Rifle" for further narrative control. Typical bullshit.

One of The Donald commenters summed up the prevailing attitude—namely, that it no longer mattered whether the attack was real or not, because they all could see the “truth”:

Exactly, I don't give a shit anymore. They fired the first shot yesterday by attacking Trump. The line has been crossed, the game has begun. The tyrannical left is going to stop any nothing to put us into slavery so fuck it all.

The whole point of this rhetoric, as researcher Melissa Ryan told Insider, is to sow as much confusion and misunderstanding about the activities of the multitudes of far-right extremists who operate within Trumpworld. That’s especially the case when the inspiration for right-wing violence like Shiffer’s comes from so many of the same sources now dismissing his actions as a “false flag.”

“These folks have been calling for civil war, violent terrorism, harassment of the judge who issued the warrant, doxxing FBI agents,” Ryan said. “And then the minute violence against the FBI happens, they're like, 'Oh, not it, obviously it was a false flag, they're trying to make us look bad.'"

As Columbus resident @almostdomi observed on Twitter: “Imagine literally dying for Trump, but then the entire MAGA movement just calls it a false flag.”

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.