Fox News ignores bomb threat inspired by right-wing conspiracy theory culture

A Thursday night news brief on Fox News contained a remarkable claim — that the network doesn’t have enough information to determine what motivated a man spouting right-wing conspiracy theories to shut down a significant portion of Washington, DC, around the Library of Congress by claiming to have a bomb earlier in the day.

“So far, no word on a possible motive,” said anchor Jackie Ibanez at the conclusion of a 15-second brief that amounted to the entirety of Fox News’s Thursday night coverage of the incident.

The brevity could conceivably be excused: No one was injured, and US Capitol Police announced Thursday evening they had cleared the suspect’s black pickup truck. And Fox News covered the incident as it was ongoing earlier in the day. But Ibanez’s claim about motive bears more scrutiny.

It’s true that after the bomb threat suspect — later identified as 49-year-old Floyd Ray Roseberry, of Grover, North Carolina — surrendered to law enforcement, police said “we don’t know what his motives are at this time.” (Fox News didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry from Vox asking the network to explain Ibanez’s “no word on a possible motive” report.)

But Ibanez’s comment may have been intended to obscure an uncomfortable truth for America’s most-watched cable news network. In videos streamed to Facebook before and during the bomb threat while he sat in a truck, Roseberry made clear he’s immersed in right-wing conspiracy theories and grievances that receive heavy play on Fox.

“Once this dickhead Biden’s out of office and the Democrats sitting down there in the f**kin’ jailhouse, our president’s gonna be Donald Trump, and this is no limit on his pardons,” claimed Roseberry in a video posted early Tuesday morning, alluding to a lie propagated by former President Donald Trump on Fox News as recently as Wednesday about the 2020 election being stolen from him.

“I just got chose for the job. Unlike you,” Roseberry added. “This ain’t about politics. I don’t care if Donald Trump ever becomes president again. I think y’all Democrats need to step down. Y’all need to understand people don’t want you there.”

Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall reviewed Roseberry’s videos and concluded that “his core grievance seemed to be focused on the illegitimacy of Joe Biden and his need to resign from office,” adding:

As the day grew nearer he would speak to Joe Biden, essentially saying that if anyone were killed in Washington it would be the President’s fault since he wouldn’t fire the first shot. The videos are strewn with what we might call the ideational detritus of Trumpism: Trump’s reinstatement as President, the imprisonment of Democratic leaders, refusals to mask, claims that Hunter Biden was wealthy enough that Biden could afford to retire peacefully, etc.

Roseberry ranted about alleged Facebook shadow-banning and complained about immigrants receiving government subsidies for health care — gripes regularly stoked by Fox during segments that frame social media companies’ effort to root out hate speech and disinformation as censorship and portray immigration as an existential threat to white America. He complained about the quality of American coinage, said “Southern boys are here,” and vowed, “You can take me out. But when you do, you know what’s going to happen, Joe Biden? There’s going to be a chain reaction. And that chain reaction’s going to be on your hands.” He ultimately surrendered to police.

Facebook eventually removed Roseberry’s profile, but not before his videos were widely watched and summarized in media reports. Yet if you’d watched Fox News Thursday night, you’d have no idea those videos existed.

The bomb threat isn’t just the story of an individual conspiracy theorist — it’s about US political culture, too

It’s certainly possible to dismiss Roseberry as a disturbed individual, but notably, one of the Trumpiest members of Congress went out of his way on Thursday to do the opposite.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who’s perhaps best known for the speech he delivered before the January 6 Capitol insurrection urging Trump supporters to start “kicking ass,” released a statement condemning the suspect’s tactics — even as he expressed sympathy with Roseberry’s views.

“Although this terrorist’s motivation is not yet publicly known, and generally speaking, I understand citizenry anger directed at dictatorial Socialism and its threat to liberty, freedom and the very fabric of American society. The way to stop Socialism’s march is for patriotic Americans to fight back in the 2022 and 2024 election,” Brooks wrote.

Brooks wasn’t alone among members of Congress in identifying Thursday’s bomb threat as a symptom of political culture. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) decried the incident as a manifestation of the “violent cult” surrounding Trump that views “violence as an extension of politics.”

Meanwhile, another Democratic senator, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, tweeted in response to Brooks’s statement that “I know it seems like hyperbole when we say that Republicans have become enemies of democracy, but here is a mainstream Republican taking the side of the bomber.”

But Brooks’s remarkable statement and the backlash to it have been totally ignored by Fox, which didn’t mention the bomb threat a single time on Friday morning after barely covering it Thursday evening, even as CNN and MSNBC covered the incident and its fallout extensively.

This isn’t the first time in recent years a violent right-wing extremist has been motivated by the same sort of incendiary rhetoric that the network traffics in.

In October 2018, social media posts from the lone suspect in a shooting that killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh indicated he was motivated by conspiracy theories about migrant caravans to the southern border representing an “invasion” of the country, conspiracy theories that continued to receive play on the network even in the days immediately following the shooting.

That same month, Fox News strained to avoid acknowledging the right-wing fanaticism that inspired a man to send explosive devices to CNN and other perceived enemies of then-President Trump.

Hammering people with lies about Democrats stealing elections and overseeing an immigrant invasion of the country can have deadly consequences. It’s notable but not surprising that Fox News is unwilling to reckon with those consequences — especially in comparison to the wall-to-wall coverage that would likely ensue if an adherent of antifa or Black Lives Matter shut down the Capitol area with a bomb threat.

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