The making of a right-wing martyr: Conservatives treat Derek Chauvin’s conviction as an act of war


Throwing Derek Chauvin under the bus should have been a no-brainer for the “I’m not a racist” crowd. The pretense behind “blue lives matter” has been that it’s not that conservatives are racist but that Black Lives Matter goes “too far.” They argue that most police killings are unfortunate accidents to be tolerated in the name of greater social safety and that the “few bad apples” who do it on purpose can be held to account without widespread reform.

It was always nonsense, of course. But Chauvin’s conviction on three counts for murdering George Floyd provided conservatives a golden “hey, at least we’re not that guy” opportunity. The evidence against Chauvin was overwhelming. The video of the murder showed the world the nonchalant determination on Chauvin’s face as he snuffed out Floyd’s life. Police officials testified against Floyd. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher gave conservatives an out by saying, “This wasn’t policing, this was murder.” Conservatives could have easily clung to Chauvin’s conviction as an “exception that proves the rule” situation, insisting that because they condemn him, no one should call them racist. It would have been a lie, but occasionally cutting loose the worst members of their tribe has long been a winning strategy for the right.

But nah, instead they’re turning a dead-eyed murderer like Chauvin into a martyr. And in doing so, they’re removing the last shred of plausible deniability that “blue lives matter” and the criticisms of Black Lives Matter was ever about anything but stone-cold white supremacy.

Insisting that Chauvin was the hill to die on made the leap from the unapologetically rancid fringes to the Fox News talking heads in a record amount of time. Shortly after the verdict was announced on Tuesday, far-right Twitter cranks like Paul Joseph Watson and Matt Walsh were insisting Chauvin was the real victim here and that the jury was “intimidated” by the “mob.” Minutes later, that line was already being broadcast on Fox News, as Greg Gutfeld, with his usual unfunny “humor,” was pretending to be “glad” Chauvin “was found guilty on all charges, even if he might not be guilty of all charges,” because “I want a verdict that keeps this country from going up in flames.”

Obviously, Gutfeld’s not glad at all, so much as making the same bizarre argument as the Twitter fringes were: That the verdict is unjust, Chauvin is a martyr, and that the “woke mob” is to blame for this conviction. You know, instead of Chauvin’s own choice to murder a man in broad daylight in front of a dozen witnesses and a cellphone camera.

The “Chauvin is a martyr” narrative was enshrined into the right-wing common wisdom later that night on — where else? — Tucker Carlson’s infamous but popular prime-time Fox News show. Carlson, whose own white nationalist leanings have gradually become less cloaked in euphemism in recent months, had a complete meltdown over Chauvin’s conviction Tuesday night.

“The jury in the Derek Chauvin trial came to a unanimous and unequivocal verdict this afternoon: ‘Please don’t hurt us,'” Carlson raved on his show, which is usually at the top of the ranks of cable news shows, with 3 million viewers. He painted the verdict as “an attack on civilization” — as if there was anything “civilized” about Chauvin’s behavior — and threatened that “decent, productive people will leave” the country rather than tolerate the current situation.

While pretending “I’m probably not that qualified to weigh in on” the verdict, Carlson — who previously compared Chauvin’s having to endure due process to “lynching” — made his feelings about the verdict quite clear, shutting down a guest when he realized that guest was about to say that Chauvin’s behavior was wrong.