Tucker Carlson points U.S. conservatives toward European fascism

The top-rated Fox News host has designated Hungary’s anti-democratic leader Viktor Orbán as a role model
Fox News host Tucker Carlson speaks with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán during an August, 2021 trip. Photo: Fox News

The Daily Beast’s report (8/3/21) that Fox News host Tucker Carlson would speak at “MCC Feszt, a far-right conference in Budapest that is backed by Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister Viktor Orbán,” may just be one item on the host’s long list of potentially racist and fascist-friendly acts. But it stands out as an international incident, casting his range beyond American politics.

The report said that “news of Carlson’s appearance” came after an “apparent meeting between [Carlson] and Orbán,” and a “friendly photo posted to the leader’s Facebook page revealed on Monday that Carlson had hosted Orbán on his online show for Fox Nation.”

Carlson, the top-rated host on the Murdoch-owned network, has been heavily criticized by civil rights groups for years. He came under fire for endorsing the white nationalist “great replacement” theory (New York, 4/9/21), and lost advertisers when he lambasted the Black Lives Matter movement (LA Times, 6/11/20), telling his viewers, “They [will] come for you.” Such views have earned Carlson the support of white supremacists like David Duke (Newsweek, 7/9/20) and the group Identity Evrope (Forward, 3/14/19).

Orbán’s declaration against the modern European ideal of multiculturalism (Reuters, 6/3/15) helped usher in a new era for the global right that sees hardline anti-immigration policies as necessary to preserve national homogeneity, a rejection of 21st century transnationalism that fits neatly into the rise of the Brexit movement in Britain and former President Donald Trump’s slogan “America First.”

Unsurprisingly, Orbán is a big Trump fan (AP, 9/11/20). Orbán fights the claim that he and his party are antisemitic, often doing so by posing as a friend of Israel, as his anti-liberalism and opposition to the rise of Islam in Europe gained the favor of then–Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AP, 7/19/18).

Still, Jewish groups have documented  antisemitism in Hungary under his reign (London Times, 3/30/19; Guardian, 2/13/19; Deutsche Welle, 12/17/20), in addition to showing how the regime has downplayed the Holocaust in Hungarian history. Politico (5/13/19) said Orbán featured antisemitic “imagery of powerful Jewish financiers scheming to control the world,” with “posters of a grinning Soros with the slogan ‘Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh!’” Orbán has long been an idol for the white supremacist right throughout the West (Think Progress, 11/29/17).

Carlson’s endorsement of the Orbán administration is not just a mainstreaming of Orbán’s politics, but a signal of what kind of society Carlson, along with other Trump supporters and the January 6 rioters, would like to see in the United States. Unlike other European far-right parties like the French National Rally or the Alternative for Germany, Orbán enjoys relatively unchecked power. The coalition between Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party and the Christian Democrats holds 133 out of 199 seats in the National Assembly, making the opposition effectively powerless (Reuters, 4/7/18; Guardian, 4/8/18). And some of the opposition isn’t friendly to democracy either, as the largest minority faction is Jobbik, which many see as an outright Nazi party (Independent, 4/8/14).

Hungary has stood out in Europe as a nation that has regressed, not just in terms of immigration and multiculturalism, but on academic freedom, freedom of the press and the right to dissent. An EU court ruled that the Orbán government illegally forced Central European University to move most of its operations outside the country (BBC, 10/6/20).

As far as the press is concerned, in 2010, the government introduced a law where “journalists can face huge fines if their coverage is deemed unbalanced” (VOA, 12/30/10), after one of the last independent radio stations was taken off the air. “Critics say the EU has been slow to punish Hungary for repeatedly violating democratic principles,” NPR (3/4/21) reported, and Reporters Without Borders recently included Orbán on a list of “enemies of press freedom” that includes “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad” (RFE/RL, 4/5/21).

Imagine the right’s reaction if Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s top host, echoed talking points from the Workers World Party and ended up broadcasting from Myanmar in support of the recent coup. It’s a wild thought, but far from reality. Meanwhile, Carlson currently has an average of more than 3 million viewers (Deadline, 4/27/21).

Ben Lorber, a research analyst at Political Research Associates, told FAIR:

Carlson’s affinity for Orbán borders on self-caricature. The two leaders have perfected an illiberal and anti-democratic style of demagoguery centered around the scapegoating and demonization of immigrants, refugees and other maligned “others” in pursuit of their ultranationalist agenda.

Whether from a Fox newsroom in the USA or from the halls of power in Hungary, Carlson and Orbán inflame the race and gender-based grievances of millions of followers, offering a world in which conspiracy theory is substituted for reality, democratic norms and institutions are delegitimized, and vulnerable minorities are stripped of human rights and singled out for acts of bigotry, political persecution and worse.

Growing transnational alliances between far-right leaders such as these further threaten the already tenuous fabric of multiracial democracy around the world.

Orbán’s model of consolidating government power in order to destroy the “liberal democracy” of the post–World War II and post–Cold War eras (Deutsche Welle, 5/10/18), and his record attacking institutions of free discourse and the press, should be frightening to mainstream American conservatism. Even the Wall Street Journal is worried by Orbán’s extremism, with columnist William Galston (5/14/19) writing that his government has “undermined the independence of the judiciary,” and the editorial board (3/21/19) pointing out that he shares the US right’s vilification of “Hungarian-born financier George Soros, whom the government has attacked with antisemitic tropes.”

Carlson and Fox News are giving Orbán and his government legitimacy to millions of cable television viewers. This makes him part of the agenda of the dominant wing of US conservatism that is still loyal to Trump. As extreme as it may seem, Hungarian fascism has been endorsed by one of the most powerful microphones in US media.