On January 29, Fox News republished a post from conservative mouthpiece the Daily Caller (which was originally founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson) that contained a jocular “highlight reel” of video clips showing vehicles hitting protesters. The accompanying commentary from writer Mike Raust read, “Here’s a compilation of liberal protesters getting pushed out of the way by cars and trucks. Study the technique; it may prove useful in the next four years.”
During that same month, and seemingly inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, North Dakota state representative Keith Kempenich from the Republican Party proposed legislation that would waive a motorist’s liability for any damages caused by striking any person who was “obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway”, including injury or death.
Legislators from multiple states, including North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Rhode Island, and Florida followed suit with similar bills aimed at limiting the liability of any motorist who hits protesters with their vehicle – as long as said motorist is exercising “due care”. While most of these bills failed, North Carolina’s passed 67-to-48, and is currently waiting for action in the state senate. As the criminalisation of dissent continues apace under the Trump regime, it’s almost unsurprising to see this level of animus directed at dissenters, even who chose to protest peacefully – but it’s still shocking.
The effect that this outpouring of government, media, and presidential aggression towards protesters has had on the way the public perceives them has yet to be fully understood, but it’s no real stretch of the imagination to opine that it hasn’t exactly helped.
The Fox News post remained live until three days after a white supremacist terrorist rammed his car into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Charlottesville, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer. At that point, both Fox News and the Daily Caller quietly removed the video, and Fox News released a statement from Noah Kotch, the editor-in-chief of Fox News Digital, saying, “The item was inappropriate and we’ve taken it down. We regret posting it in January.”
But, as has become all too apparent, the damage had already been done. The “technique” that so thrilled Mike Raust and that has been used by terrorists across Europe, the UK, and the Middle East has now become a signature move of American white supremacist terrorists – like the one who attempted to mow down a crowd of protesters in in the city of Vancouver, Washington state, this past weekend.
With US flags hanging from the sides of his black Chevy Silverado and a Confederate flag sticker proudly affixed to his back window, the driver allegedly put his vehicle in reverse and accelerated towards the protesters, who had gathered to protest a rally by the right-wing group, Patriot Prayer. Witnesses say he then circled the block to confront the angry crowd again, cutting the marchers off. According to local media, Vancouver police initially arrested the driver, but eventually released him without charges.
What happened in Charlottesville sent shockwaves through the nation, but James Alex Fields' shocking act of hatred was not the first time that a political extremist had used a car as a weapon on American soil - and as the attempted Vancouver attack shows, it won't be the last, not until legislators and the media take responsibility for their role in the perpetuation of this horrific 'technique'.
Following the charged protests at Berkeley earlier this month, the media latched onto a video shot by Mother Jones journalist Shane Bauer, in which several Antifa activists appear to assault a man on the right-wing side. Many outlets ignored the rest of his reporting and any attempts to contextualise the event, instead zeroing in on the violence. They readily took the opportunity to paint Antifa activists – who’d received a substantial amount of positive press following Cornel West’s comments on their actions in Charlottesville – as an unruly menace.
But now that an attempted copycat attack from another white terrorist was narrowly avoided, where is the outrage? Where are the front-page headlines, the op-eds, the cable TV segments? Where is the Tucker Carlson interview with survivors of the Vancouver protest?
Save for several write-ups by local news outlets and a mention at the tail end of a Washington Post article, there’s been next to nothing. Salon, the Portland Mercury and the Guardian published pieces later on Monday, but the coverage is a mere dribble compared with the floods of negative pieces on the Antifa that have become the norm.
The same media outlets who delight in publishing endless depictions of left-wing violence owe it to their readership to do the same when the right wing lashes out. Legislators need to speak out and stand up for their constituents, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof.
The president should roundly condemn right-wing terrorist violence (though given his tepid, divisive response to Charlottesville, perhaps it’s best he stays mum). Now is the time for Fox News and the Daily Caller to issue a strong, definitive apology for posting the inflammatory, anti-protester footage, to disavow this attack, and to take responsibility for the anti-protester sentiment they’ve encouraged.
Their silence is deafening, especially as it comes from a source that will trip over itself to howl “all lives matter” whenever a black or brown person asserts their right to exist. The message that’s being conveyed right now is that all lives matter – as long as they voted for Trump.
What happened in Charlottesville sent shockwaves through the nation, but James Alex Fields‘ shocking act of hatred was not the first time that a political extremist had used a car as a weapon on US soil – and as the attempted Vancouver attack shows, it won’t be the last, not until legislators and the media take responsibility for their role in the perpetuation of this horrific “technique”.
The Trump Administration made it crystal clear how it feels about dissenting voices quite early on, kicking off its reign with the mass arrest of over 200 J20 protesters at his inauguration and following up with a prolonged war on the free press.
Trump’s goal is universal adoration – and barring that, the silencing of those who refuse to toe the party line. Those in government and the media who support this madness through inflammatory rhetoric, misleading news stories and anti-protester legislation must be held accountable. They have Heather Heyer‘s blood on their hands, and it’s not going to wash off easily.
Kim Kelly’s writings on music, culture, and politics have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, the Atlantic, Rolling Stone, VICE, and Pitchfork, among others. She’s currently an editor at Noisey, VICE’s music and culture channel, and is based in New York City.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.