Why Is CNN Mainstreaming A Right-Wing Radio Host Who Promotes Violent, Extremist Rhetoric?
Why has CNN, which this week publicized death threats made against two of its journalists, continued to provide a platform for a right-wing talk radio host who promotes a man who has suggested it may nearly be time for Trump supporters to kill reporters and other prominent Americans?
There was a certain quiet drama when talk radio host John Fredericks appeared on a recent panelhosted by CNN and HLN anchor Carol Costello. The drama was what went unstated – something at least as important as the tabloid-style discussion of the Trump family’s differences of opinion over whether the press is the “enemy of the people.” What went undiscussed was that Fredericks has repeatedly used his radio show to promote an ex-CIA agent who says, as Salon reported on July 31, that it is nearly time for armed Trump voters to kill numerous public figures -- including reporters such as CNN’s own Jake Tapper and Jim Acosta.
Costello did not ask Fredericks -- a CNN regular since 2016, whom CNN has featured 53 times in the past year, including 30 interviews on its sister network HLN -- why his show amplifies the voice and promotes the blog of ex-CIA official Michael Scheuer, of McLean, Virginia, who for years has listed the names and occupations of people he says armed factions should prepare to kill with guns or ropes. Scheuer had offered a notional deadline of Aug. 1 before Trump supporters were to take matters into their own hands.
She also did not ask Fredericks -- who describes himself as “the Trump campaign’s Virginia chairman” and serves on Trump’s 2020 presidential advisory board -- about his recent interviewwith Scheuer, in which the latter characterized several prominent public officials as “maggots” and undocumented immigrants as “vermin.”
Such dehumanizing language is, according to David Neiwert, author of “Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump” and the Pacific Northwest correspondent for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a forerunner to justifications for murder, as seen in the rhetoric of 19th-century minister and self-proclaimed Indian-hater Col. John Chivington, which preceded a massacre; Bill O’Reilly’s demonization of Dr. George Tiller on Fox News, before the abortion provider’s assassination; and the “hate radio” talk that inspired genocide in Rwanda.
“Violent eliminationist rhetoric like this has a long and deep history in America,” Neiwert told Salon, “from Col. Chivington declaring ‘Nits make lice’ at Sand Creek to Bill O’Reilly labeling Dr. George Tiller ‘the Baby Killer.’ It creates permission for less stable, more violent actors to murder their targets in cold blood. We saw rhetoric like this inspire the massacre of thousands of people in Rwanda, and its purpose here is to do the same for our country and its citizens. It’s not just vile, it’s profoundly dangerous and profoundly un-American.”
Many CNN journalists, including Costello, Tapper and Acosta, have reported on President Trump’s claims that the media are “the enemy of the people.” They and others have sought to hold White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who has appeared on Fredericks’ show, and who has recently elevated and validated him at a White House press briefing) accountable for her silence, which some observers might view as complicity.
Recently, CNN’s Don Lemon held Fredericks accountable on-air for defending Trump’s characterization of nations in the developing world as “shithole countries” by cutting his mic. That CNN has continued to give Fredericks a platform is surprising. CNN could have and should have known about Fredericks’ and Scheuer’s promotion of eliminationist rhetoric –– and disclosed to viewers this fact and its significance –– lest anyone come to misinterpret CNN’s silence as complicity.
When Salon asked CNN spokesman Richard Hudock why the network continues to provide Fredericks a platform, despite his promotion of the views of an ex-CIA agent who has said it is almost time for armed Trump voters to murder journalists and other prominent Americans, including CNN's own Tapper and Acosta, he had no comment.
“Kill them. Kill them all!”
Scheuer is a frequent guest and occasional host of John Fredericks Radio, which routinely directs its listeners to his blog, where he wrote on July 14 that it was “quite near time” for “well-armed citizens who voted for Trump” to “kill those seeking to impose tyranny,” of whom there was a “long and very precise list” of journalists, activists, pundits, abortion providers, Republican and Democratic elected officials, federal judges, law professors, FBI agents, intelligence officials and Justice Department officials, along with “all who support them.”
“If Trump does not act soon to erase the above noted tyranny and tyrants,” he concluded, “the armed citizenry must step in and eliminate them.”
As recently as July 17, Scheuer, writing on his blog, cast as “traitors” a number of public officials – as well as journalists Tapper, Acosta, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and reporters for the Washington Post and New York Times. He said that these members of the media, along with members of Congress, federal bureaucrats, and “prominent Jewish-Americans” who participate in, oversee or report on the “Russia-hacking” investigation are “more than worthy of merciless annihilation.”
The same day, Scheuer appeared on John Fredericks Radio, on which he commended the example of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he said killed indiscriminately in Syria – as if suggesting that were a good thing. Fredericks said this reminded him of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who once said, “Kill them. Kill them all!”
“Kill them all,” Scheuer repeated. “And whoever supports them. Kill them, too.”
Fredericks echoed, “Kill them, too.”
John Fredericks’ signal-boosting of Scheuer’s eliminationist rhetoric escalated on the same day that Salon published its report, “Trump-endorsed radio show has promoted ex-CIA agent’s call for right-wing rebellion.”
Scheuer told Fredericks’ listeners that, while GoDaddy had taken down his website (archived here) after his inflammatory July 17 blog post, he planned to launch a new blog at the domain non-intervention2.com, which he said is “now registered” with JustHost, one of dozens of hosting companies owned by Endurance International Group (@EnduranceIntl) of Burlington, Massachusetts. The site at that domain, registered anonymously with JustHost on July 21, went live on Aug. 7.
Fredericks repeated the domain name for the benefit of listeners. He said that Scheuer’s website had offered “insight and analysis that no one else has, and I value that.”
“We look forward to your getting your website back up, so your blogs can get going,” said Fredericks. “You should be able to post whatever you please.” However, the Freedom Forum Institute – the education and outreach partner of the Freedom Forum and the Newseum – has pointed out that the First Amendment does not protect some types of speech, such as plagiarism, false advertising, defamation, child pornography, blackmail, solicitation to commit crimes, incitement to imminent lawless action or true threats.
Scheuer told Fredericks that he was attempting to transfer all his previous blog posts to the new domain. These collectively represent years of his vision of “a collective, armed, and wide-ranging American rebellion” to eradicate “tyranny,” along with lists of people whom he casts as “tyrants,” “traitors,” “miscreants,” “maggots” and “expendables,” and whom he says Trump voters should prepare to shoot or hang, and soon. For example, in a July 2 blog post, Scheuer advised giving Trump time to act, and holding off the “reckoning” until at least Aug. 1. He wrote, “If this period passes, Americans are in the happy position of already being well-armed and in possession of an initial, partial list of miscreants who are in desperate need of attrition.”
Scheuer’s inaugural blog post
This is why CNN’s platforming of Fredericks matters. Fredericks amplifies Scheuer’s voice and promotes his website; this call to armed rebellion is what readers will find when they go there. Scheuer filed his inaugural blog post on his new site on Aug. 7. He protested that GoDaddy had taken down his previous site due to his argument “that if Trump cannot/will not enforce the law and arrest, try, incarcerate, and, if the law allows, execute those who believe and act as if they are above it, American citizens will have to do their duty by using their weapons to snuff out the authors of tyranny” along with “those who support them.”
“I stand not as an inciter,” Scheuer claimed, despite his advocacy of armed rebellion, “but rather as the incited and as a responder to the clear threats of civil war” which, he said, come from Democrats, the media, academics, the financial and tech industries, antifa and Black Lives Matter activists, teachers’ unions, “the minority groups,” feminists, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community and advocates of the value of diversity. “Those are the sources that are solely responsible for the civil war that is nearing,” he wrote. “That they are ignorant, or feign ignorance, of that fact will add to their surprise if the time for Rob Reiner’s war comes and so many of them find themselves reaping the armed whirlwind they and ol’ Rob have sown.”
He also embraced Russian President Vladimir Putin as a champion for white people, adding that “it seemed ridiculous to worry about Russian meddling in U.S. elections.” Scheuer mused, “I have nattered on here longer than I intended.” He then excoriated the “tech giants” for removing content from “Alec Jones” [sic]. “In banning Jones,” he warned, “those on the left again have proven that they are the ones who are seeking to provoke a civil war. ... My own hunch is that if their provocations work, they will enjoy the reality of war with considerably less gusto than they did while so loudly calling for and provoking it.”
“The truth shall make you free”
Scheuer made clear to John Fredericks Radio listeners, in his July 31 interview, that he had no intention of tempering his violent visions or inflammatory rhetoric. Indeed, in defense of his recent blog posts, he said that the Declaration of Independence provides the American people “a duty to kill those who are trying to impose tyranny.” He said that “if you have a tyranny being imposed on you, it is your right, it’s your duty, to resist it.” When he added, “And that means using the Second Amendment,” Fredericks appeared to ratify this idea of gun violence, saying, “The truth, Dr. Scheuer, will set you free. No doubt.”
While any Christian listeners might have recognized “The truth shall make you free” as a quote from the Gospel of John, others who might have caught the broadcast, such as Scheuer’s wife, CIA senior official Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, would know it as the agency’s motto.
“The vermin we see running around”
Scheuer went on to characterize Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann of Mueller’s team, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as “maggots” who, he says, “have to be eradicated.”
“Weissmann, Mueller, Warner, these are not men, John,” he said. “These are maggots. And our system is loaded with these maggots. Whether it’s Clapper, or any of the rest of them that we’ve talked about this morning. And the system has to be cleaned. They have to be eradicated out of the system.”
“I think the vermin we see running around – ” Scheuer began, “without ICE, it would be up to the American people to stop immigration. And there’s only one way to do that, John. And that’s with weaponry. These people are playing with civil war, with fire, with horrible results.” He went on to suggest that without ICE, the situation would require “an armed citizenry” to take vigilante action.
In a series of essays, Neiwert has described eliminationist rhetoric as a shunning of “dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas” by advocating the “outright elimination of the opposing side,” often exemplified by descriptions of the “enemy” as “vermin.”
Such rhetoric “always depicts its opposition as simply beyond the pale,” Neiwert has written, “and in the end the embodiment of evil itself – unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus in need of elimination.”
“It often depicts its designated ‘enemy’ as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and loves to incessantly suggest that its targets are themselves disease carriers,” Neiwert continued. “A close corollary – but not as nakedly eliminationist – are claims that the opponents are traitors or criminals, or gross liabilities for our national security, and thus inherently fit for elimination or at least incarceration.”
Such depictions are “often voiced as crude ‘jokes’,” Neiwert noted, “the humor of which, when analyzed, is inevitably predicated on a venomous hatred. But what we also know about this rhetoric is that, as surely as night follows day, this kind of talk eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.”
CNN commentator Ana Navarro has responded forcefully to this kind of dehumanizing talk. On CNN’s “New Day,” Navarro has accused President Trump of “dehumanizing people” by referring to “animals” during a discussion on immigration. “It’s what the Nazis did,” she said. “It’s what slave owners did. It’s not what Americans do.” She advised Trump to “measure his words.”
This week, Apple, Google and Facebook announced that they had removed content from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars show, which Facebook said violated its policy against “dehumanizing language.” Whether one agrees with their actions or not, they were within their First Amendment rights to do so. As Freedom Forum Institute president Gene Policinski has stated, “the amendment is designed to restrain the government, not private companies.” It remains to be seen whether these corporations will respond in a similar fashion to John Fredericks Radio, which has its own Facebook page, and is available on YouTube and as an iTunes podcast.
Fredericks, however, neither questioned nor challenged Scheuer’s visions of civil war and vigilantes shooting immigrants like “vermin,” and eradicating public servants he dehumanizes as “maggots.” Instead, Fredericks thanked him for his “intriguing insight” and wished him well on the relaunch of his website.
Two days later, Carol Costello hosted Fredericks on HLN to discuss characterizations of journalists as enemies of the people. No doubt everyone at CNN understands the seriousness of such violent rhetoric and the urgency of holding Trump’s administration and his campaign accountable for their silence, which might fairly be seen as complicity.
When CNN journalists have received threats, the network has taken them seriously. CNN media critic Brian Stelter recently aired a C-SPAN clip of a caller threatening to shoot him and Lemon. Stelter said such calls and emails are “coming in more often.” But the fact remains that CNN has continued to provide a platform for Fredericks while turning a blind eye towards his involvement with Scheuer, who has called for the “merciless annihilation” of numerous people, including reporters for CNN and its competitors. CNN’s confusion about how best to respond to the notion that they are the enemy of the people recalls the ironic phrase often associated with Walt Kelly’s cartoon possum Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”