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Tucker Carlson is Putin's Lord Haw-Haw

William Joyce was an American-born fascist. Throughout World War II, he broadcast pro-Nazi propaganda across Europe, spreading slogans and attempting to incite anti-semitism. As the most prominent English-speaking Nazi “influencer” of the war, Joyce earned the moniker "Lord Haw Haw" for his upper-class-styled faux British accent and sneering delivery. His nightly broadcasts, dripping with contempt for the Allied war effort, aimed to demoralize British troops and civilians.

Eight decades later, as war broke out once again in Europe, a new Lord Haw-Haw crawled out of the studios of Fox News. Night after night, Tucker Carlson, the network's top-rated host, served up searing monologues that uncannily echoed Kremlin talking points on the conflict in Ukraine. With an average nightly audience of over 3 million Americans, Carlson became the most prominent pro-Putin voice in the U.S. media landscape. And like Joyce before him, he weaponized the power of propaganda on behalf of an authoritarian regime hostile to Western democracy.

The question is, why?

Why would Carlson, a preppy son of privilege suddenly sound indistinguishable from a Russia Today anchor? Why would he risk his reputation and ratings to cast doubt on Vladimir Putin's well-documented crimes and brutality?

The answer is in the emerging alignment between Putin's illiberal nationalism and a strain of right-wing populism ascendant within the modern Republican Party. For years, Carlson and others on the Trumpist (Née Gingrichian, Née Limbaughist) right have flirted with Putin's brand of macho authoritarianism, extolling his defense of traditional values against the decadent, secular West. They see in Putin a kindred spirit - a strong, virile leader unencumbered by the restraints of liberal democracy, a bulwark against feminism and LGBTQ rights. In their eyes, Putin's Russia is an aspirational goal.

So when Putin launched his bloody invasion of Ukraine, it was inevitable that Carlson would serve as his most prominent American apologist. Never mind that the war is a naked act of imperialist aggression, a blatant violation of international law that has killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions more. In Carlson's telling, the real villain is not Putin, it’s the "neocon" warmongers in the Biden administration and "deep state" who are using the conflict to enrich defense contractors and escalate tensions with nuclear-armed Russia.

Now a free agent, Carlson gaslights his millions of loyal viewers with a dizzying array of Kremlin-friendly conspiracy theories and revisionist history. He downplays Russian war crimes and spins elaborate fantasies about clandestine U.S.-funded bioweapons labs in Ukraine. He portrays Volodymyr Zelensky - a “Rat” and a “Pimp” in Carlson’s own words - as a corrupt autocrat propped up by the globalist elite. NATO's eastward expansion, a long-standing Putin grievance, is framed as the real cause of the “Border Dispute” - a provocation that forced Putin's hand.

Lost in this funhouse mirror of disinformation is any semblance of moral clarity. The fact that Ukraine is an independent, sovereign nation that posed no threat to Russia prior to the invasion. That Putin is a brutal dictator who has crushed dissent, jailed and murdered his opponents, and nurtured a kleptocratic system enriching himself and his cronies. That the "denazification" pretext for the invasion is a cynical lie, a fascist regime's projection of its own totalitarian nature onto its victims.

But moral clarity has never been Carlson's strong suit. Like Lord Haw Haw before him, he is mining the insecurities and resentments of his audience, of stoking fear and anger toward the "other." Ukrainians, in his telling, are not innocents suffering under the weight of Russian aggression. They’re foot soldiers in the globalist war on old-fashioned American (and somehow, Russian) values. Support for their cause is tantamount to betrayal—of the working-class heartland, of a besieged white, Christian way of life.

Carlson, of course, is no William Joyce—he is not literally on the Kremlin payroll, and he would bristle at any suggestion that he is engaged in propaganda on behalf of a hostile foreign power. But his pro-Russia bias has effectively made him the most prominent English-language voice of the Russian war machine. Just as Lord Haw Haw's broadcasts were intended to sap British morale, Carlson's rhetoric is engineered to undermine American resolve in standing up to Putin's aggression. His lies and distortions muddy the moral waters, sowing doubt and confusion that benefit the Kremlin.

The danger of this propaganda offensive is twofold. First, and most immediately, it threatens to erode American support for Ukraine, and for the sovereignty of independent nations at a critical moment. As the war grinds on and the economic fallout mounts, Putin is hoping that American voters will pressure their representatives to curtail aid to Ukraine and push for a negotiated settlement favorable to Moscow. Carlson is working overtime to help him achieve that goal, hammering the narrative that the war is a costly quagmire unrelated to American interests.

But the more insidious threat is to the fabric of global democracy itself. By aligning himself with the Kremlin and popularizing Russian disinformation, Carlson is actively undermining faith in democratic institutions and widening the fissures in an already dangerously fractured body politic. He is sowing doubt about the integrity of elections, the reliability of the free press, and the basic competence and patriotism of elected leaders. And he is weakening resilience in the face of concerted efforts by Russia and other hostile actors to destabilize free society and discredit liberal democracy.

There are fundamental values and principles that have long animated the democratic experiment - a belief in freedom, human rights, and the rule of law; a commitment to the sovereignty of nations and the inviolability of borders; a conviction that democracy, for all its flaws, is preferable to the alternatives of authoritarianism and fascism. By carrying water for a despot like Putin, Carlson is betraying those values.

We have to call out Carlson's rhetoric for what it is - dangerous disinformation in service of a hostile foreign power. Advertisers, sponsors and broadcasters with any sense of democratic responsibility should withdraw their support for his work. Elected officials who parrot his talking points should be held accountable at the ballot box.

Tucker Carlson is not just a rogue TV host. He’s a case study in the power of propaganda to change minds, sow discord, and destabilize societies, and a lesson in the dangers of allowing anti-democratic mouth-pieces to spew misinformation in service of a despotic power. Eighty years after Lord Haw Haw's heyday, that lesson is more urgent than ever.

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