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Far-right radio and the fight for American democracy

Dan Bongino, a conservative commentator, is photographed in Stuart, Florida on Thursday, March 18, 2021. (Photo by Calla Kessler for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Dan Bongino, a conservative commentator, is photographed in Stuart, Florida on Thursday, March 18, 2021. (Photo by Calla Kessler for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On the Jan. 6 episode of Steve Bannon’s show War Room, the message is clear:

“Trump won. And Biden’s illegitimate. And you’re just gonna have to live with it, okay? Because we’re not backing off one inch.”

Right-wing talk radio and podcasts have influence and reach. For their audiences, the Jan. 6 insurrection was just the beginning.

“To them, Jan. 6 was just the start in an ongoing fight to wrest the country away from those they believe have stolen from them,” The Bulwark’s Tim Miller says.

Today, On Point: We explore what far-right radio and podcasts are telling Americans about their own democracy.


Tim Miller, writer-at-large at The Bulwark. Author of the recent piece “I Spent Insurrection Week Listening to Steve Bannon.” Host of Not My Party on Snapchat. (@Timodc)

Cynthia Miller-Idriss, professor of law and criminology at American University and director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL). Author of “Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right.” (@milleridriss)

Communities can visit this link for more information on PERIL.  

Interview Highlights

On takeaways from Steve Bannon’s insurrection week shows

Tim Miller: “There are these bubbles, these information bubbles in this country that there are certain people that are living exclusively in. And I think it’s important to examine what is happening outside of your bubble. And I think that had more people in the period between November and January been listening and taking seriously the comments from people like Bannon. I think that we would have been better prepared for what was going to happen on January 6th, and I don’t want to make that mistake again.

“And my biggest takeaway from spending 16 hours with Steve Bannon recently was that I wasn’t even exactly sure that the tape that you played in the intro from Jan. 5, 2021, whether that was the clip from before the insurrection, or whether that was a clip from recently. And that is how unchanged the tone is from his show. That is how unchanged the fact that Joe Biden was inaugurated has made his show, and others in this universe.

“And I would sort of separate the avowedly insurrectionist, the alternate universe description of what happened in the 2020 election. And what should happen in the 2024 election, which is a call to arms to ensure that this never happens again. This being the Democrats are allowed to win an election. I would separate that, which happens on Bannon’s and Bongino’s show, from some of the other conservative talk radio.

“I think that there is an explicitly pernicious strain that emanates from Bannon and a handful of others, that is a religious crusade that is calling people to ensure that Donald Trump and his minions are in power forever. And to delegitimize anyone who claims otherwise. And I think that that strain led to Jan. 6.”

On the influence and reach of far-right radio and podcasts  

Tim Miller: “Distrust of the media on the right … goes back to Spiro Agnew, probably before. Here’s the difference. Is again, in that time in the 60s, 70s, 80s, there were still only so many options. You still had to read your local paper. You still saw your local news that night. Different information sources were getting in. If you’re listening to Bongino, and Bannon and watching Tucker at night, you know that’s seven hours of content a day right there. No other information is breaking in. So I think this is important.

“If you look at the numbers, just in the podcast, Bongino and Bannon are always in the top 10. They’re right next to the NPR Morning podcast at the top of the list, for a sense of how big their audience is. But it’s not just also podcasts. I mean, Bannon’s show, for example, is streaming on Apple TV, and Roku and the Dish. Bongino has over-the-air radio, which is six times bigger than podcasts, in markets all across the country.

“So Bannon claims, you said there are 30 million at the start. Now they’re claiming up to 100 million. Who knows, this is probably some exaggeration. But I think there’s no doubt if you look at objective metrics that these are the most listened to shows, on the equivalent with the big shows on the left: The Daily, Pod Save America, Rachel Maddow.”

From The Reading List

The Bulwark: “I Spent Insurrection Week Listening to Steve Bannon” — “For three hours every day, the Republican coup plotters who inspired the domestic terror attack at the U.S. Capitol last year gather to discuss their next move.”

New York Times: “America’s Most Urgent Threat Now Comes From Within” — “For many Americans, the events of Jan. 6 brought the issue of domestic violent extremism to the fore.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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