A few hours after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, Fox News host Tucker Carlson opened his nightly white-power hour with a typically misinformation-filled rant about the decision.
“The jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial came to a unanimous and unequivocal verdict this afternoon: ‘Please don’t hurt us,’” Carlson said. “Everyone understood perfectly well the consequences of an acquittal in this case. After nearly a year of burning and looting and murder by BLM, that was never in doubt.”
Ninety-six percent of the racial justice uprisings that followed Floyd’s murder last summer were peaceful, but Carlson is in the business of amplifying white hysteria over truth, and he was only getting started. The beloved broadcaster of white nationalists—who spends much of his airtime these days promoting the “great replacement theory,” which holds that brown foreigners are trying to replace all the good white Americans—continued apace, claiming “decent productive people will leave” the United States if Black protesters keep demanding that police stop killing them and white cops keep getting jail sentences for murdering Black folks. “The country as we knew it will be over,” Carlson added. “So we must stop this current insanity. It’s an attack on civilization.”
Across the conservative echo chamber, white right-wingers and their abettors also amped up the false complaint that the Chauvin guilty verdict had been a miscarriage of justice coerced by militant Black protest mobs. Representative Madison Cawthorne, only three months out from the white supremacist Capitol insurrection he helped incite, tweeted, “American businesses are going to burn tonight regardless of the verdict,” nearly a cut-and-paste of Ben Shapiro’s claim that no matter “the verdict, the fact that the entire country knows that cities will burn if Chauvin isn’t convicted is a deep indictment of the state of the country.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Newsmax’s paid talking heads, and Candace Owens—a Black conservative whose opinion white conservatives solicit only when they need a Black person to give an A-OK to their racism—also said Chauvin hadn’t gotten a fair trial and mob justice had been rendered instead.
This is the white backlash on naked and shameless display, flaunting its blatant dishonesty and luxuriating in its seething anti-Black racial resentment. The riots Cawthorne predicted never happened, a testament to how much Black folks are relieved when this country does even the absolute bare minimum to recognize Black humanity. And yet, even this simulacrum of justice for Black folks, delivered centuries overdue and only after a Black life was snuffed out on video, elicited a reflexive and reactionary pushback from white right-wingers, who overwhelmingly view racial equality as an existential threat—“an inexcusable undermining of what they [see] as deserved white privileges and prerogative,” according to Cornell historian Lawrence Glickman. Research shows that white people overall view racism as a zero-sum relay, and in that self-serving formulation, any Black advancement is a gain that threatens to overtake white supremacy. The subtext of all this racist hand-wringing is that the racial justice movement is out of control, Black anger is innately violent and dangerous, and, of course, anti-racist uprisings themselves prove the need for police to do whatever necessary to protect white property and keep Black folks in check. (But white folks’ turning over cars for sports wins and beating Capitol cops for electoral losses? That’s cool.) Why fret over dead n—words when we’ve got a racial hierarchy to uphold?
The retaliatory motives of the white backlash are apparent in the more than 80 bills across 34 states that dole out various punishments to protesters, such as the denial of “student loans, unemployment benefits or housing assistance.” For example, Oklahoma just made it legal for drivers to run protesters over with their cars, killing or injuring them, as long as they assert that the accident happened while “fleeing from a riot.” (“I remain unequivocally committed to protecting every Oklahoman’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest as well as their right to feel safe in their community,” Governor Kevin Stitt said at the signing.)
After Brooklyn Center, Minn., law enforcement killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright roughly 10 miles from the courthouse where Chauvin was on trial, the department raised a “Thin Blue Line” flag in front of the precinct, a reminder of who’s boss around here. Minutes before the Chauvin verdict was read, police in Columbus, Ohio, fired four fatal shots at 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant—though white mass shooters always seem to be taken alive and cops even treated Dylann Roof to Burger King; police on the scene where the teen girl was killed were later filmed shouting at her bereaved neighbors that “blue lives Matter.” One day after Bryant was shot dead, cops killed Andrew Brown Jr., a 40-year-old Black man from North Carolina. And Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latinx child, was killed by Chicago police on March 29. That’s four Black and brown people dead at the hands of police around the country in just four weeks, though there are surely more beyond the headlines.
Multiple cops donated money to Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenager charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., with one police sergeant including a note that read, “You’ve done nothing wrong. Every rank and file police officer supports you.” In response to increased police retirements and resignations than in previous years, and reports of low morale in departments around the country, white backlashers are apparently suggesting that an increase in police shootings is the cost of criticism.
“Daunte Wright might still be alive if we didn’t have so much pressure against the police,” said Doug Wardlow, a Republican candidate running for Minnesota attorney general. “But the morale of police is so low, it makes it more likely for them to make mistakes and for accidents like this to happen.”
In other words, the killings will continue until morale improves.
All this white backlash is pure racial derangement, divorced from the reality that America remains fundamentally unchanged: Black people are still more than three times more likely than white folks to be killed by cops, Chauvin is the first and only police officer to be convicted of killing a Black person in Minnesota’s 163-year history, and just seven cops have been convicted of murder in the roughly 15,000 fatal police shootings since 2005. The anti-protest laws being proposed across the country indicate that plenty of jurisdictions have zero interest in changing policing in any substantive way, and policies like qualified immunity make police prosecution awfully hard in even the most egregious of cases. And copaganda continues to proliferate, with major media outlets still running with police officers’ versions of events—as they did in the Toledo and Floyd cases—although “testilying” has been a known issue for years now.
Both Democratic and Republican advisers are reportedly hoping challenges to our racist policing system will die down because of the verdict finding Chauvin guilty, but the case was built on exceptional circumstances, and the conviction amounts to a minor concession by a system that’s still killing Black and brown folks with impunity every day. What’s more, this white backlash isn’t just about policing. Instead, it’s vast and multipronged, with contemporaneous efforts ranging from trivial to genuinely threatening. You cannot tease out from the pushback on criminal justice reform the GOP’s ongoing work to legally disenfranchise Black voters, the ridiculous and now-scrapped congressional caucus built on white “Anglo-Saxon political traditions,” the right wing’s made-up “cancel culture” scourge, and backlashers such as Bari Weiss promoting every wordy missive charging reverse racism. Thing is, if they weren’t so blinded by irrational racial hysteria, white backlashers would see the America they conditionally love for its racial order not only survives but absolutely thrives.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article stated that Minneapolis law enforcement killed Duante Wright. In fact, Wright was killed by Brooklyn Center, Minn., law enforcement. The error has been corrected.