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Fox News’s FBI coup conspiracy theory, explained

Fox News is upping its conspiracy theory game to suggest a White House coup.

Fox News host Jesse Watters
Fox News host Jesse Watters.
John Lamparski/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Some on the right are really ratcheting things up on the secret government conspiracy theory front. The latest suggestion: The FBI is orchestrating a coup.

Fox News host Jesse Watters criticized Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation at the FBI, suggesting it’s been “crooked from the jump.”

“If that’s true,” he said on Saturday, “we have a coup on our hands in America.”

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway appeared on Watters’s show shortly after his comment, and a chyron appeared below her reading: “A coup in America?”

“The fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning, and they were pro-Hillary,” Conway said, referring to the FBI. “They can’t possibly be seen as objective or transparent or even-handed or fair.”

Watters and Conway were reacting to revelations that a senior FBI counterintelligence official, Peter Strzok, who had until recently been part of Mueller’s investigation, spent months sending text messages to a colleague in the runup to the 2016 election deriding Trump as a “douche,” “utter idiot,” and “loathsome human.” Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team in late July.

Coup talk spurred a backlash

Fox News’s weekend “coup” question picked up steam online, sparking backlash.

Kevin Baron, the editor of Atlantic Media’s Defense One and a war correspondent, was stunned.

Democracy scholar Brian Klaas raised the question of whether it’s a threat to democracy.

Newsweek defense and foreign affairs writer John Haltiwanger tweeted out the actual definition of a coup.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough on Monday slammed Fox News for “fomenting constitutional crisis” in suggesting someone is attempting a coup.

Fox is still talking about a coup

But the coup talk has kept on.

Jeanine Pirro on her Fox News program on Saturday said that never in presidential election history has there been “as great a crime or as large a stain on our democracy than that committed by a criminal cabal in our FBI and the Department of Justice who think they know better than we who our president should be.”

On Sunday morning, Fox & Friends co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy said we have “potentially one of the biggest scandals in American history where we’re seeing our justice system being used to really change the outcome of an election,” Politico’s Morning Media newsletter noted.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in his Monday newsletter continued the “attempted coup” chatter. Last week, he promoted one of his appearances on Fox News on Twitter, declaring, “It’s an attempted coup d’etat!”

Breitbart wrote a story flagging Watters’s coup talk as well.

The coup talk isn’t new on the right, but still

This weekend’s coup chatter on the right isn’t a new phenomenon.

Fox News host and growing media conspiracy theorist Sean Hannity in June said a “soft coup is underway” in America aiming to overturn Trump’s election. “Sinister forces quickly aligning, in what is becoming now, in my mind, a clear and present danger.”

As the Washington Post’s Samantha Schmidt pointed out, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in a speech on the House floor in November called for special counsel Mueller to be fired. “We are at risk of a coup d’état in this country if we allow an unaccountable person with no oversight to undermine the duly elected president of the United States,” Gaetz said.

Conservative radio host Mark Levin has warned that the Obama administration orchestrated a “silent coup” against Trump, claiming Obama wiretapped and spied on the Trump campaign. And in 1991, a private investigator Len Colodny published Silent Coup, which sought to prove that President Richard Nixon was forced out of office because a “formidable national security party” opposed his foreign policy.

Just so we’re all being clear, the Russia investigation is not a coup, which generally involves an attempted forced violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group (often people within the government already). There is no evidence that the FBI or special counsel Mueller are attempting anything of the sort.