Fiserv Forum draws criticism for hosting Tucker Carlson and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in Milwaukee

Fiserv Forum is facing criticism after announcing it will host former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson on a national tour this September, featuring conspiracy theorist Alex Jones as a special guest.

The arena's social media accounts originally said both Carlson and Infowars founder Jones are coming to Fiserv Forum on Sept. 16. However, by late afternoon Tuesday, the caption on its Instagram post had been edited to remove mention of Jones, and its post on the social platform X had been deleted.

Carlson's website still says Jones will join him as his special guest when he visits Milwaukee.

The announcement was met with backlash on social media, with many particularly disappointed the venue would host Jones, who was ordered by a jury to pay $1.5 billion to Sandy Hook victims' families after he promoted conspiracy theories that the elementary school shooting was a hoax.

Extremism experts warned of the dangers of amplifying the voices of conspiracy theorists like Jones, who used his Infowars show to promote theories like "Pizzagate," which falsely accused Hillary Clinton of being involved in a child sex trafficking ring in the basement of a pizzeria, or claims that yogurt company Chobani was "importing migrant rapists," which he later retracted to resolve a defamation lawsuit.

Equipment and materials are brought in to build the stage for the 2024 Republican National Convention on Tuesday June 5, 2024 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis.
Equipment and materials are brought in to build the stage for the 2024 Republican National Convention on Tuesday June 5, 2024 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis.

"It really is setting off that deep — primal, almost — fear in this population of largely white, Christian Americans who have bought into this idea that they are being replaced," said Jon Lewis, research fellow for George Washington University's Program on Extremism.

Fiserv Forum officials declined requests for an interview and directed questions to a staffer for Carlson, who could not be immediately reached for comment.

Carlson will be making more than a dozen stops on his tour, with different guests in each city, including Marjorie Taylor Green, Donald Trump Jr., and Megyn Kelly. His stop in Milwaukee will fall in between the 2024 Republican National Convention in July and the presidential election in November.

The tour's website said the event is "presented by Sambrosa.com and brought to you by Swan Bitcoin." Officials with those companies could not be reached immediately for comment.

More: Debunked QAnon conspiracy theories are seeping into mainstream social media. Don't be fooled.

How Jones maintains a fanbase with divisive conspiracy theories

Kurt Braddock, an assistant professor at American University who studies the strategies used by extremist groups to radicalize audiences, pointed out that the tour announcement comes just days after Jones agreed to liquidate his assets to pay his debt to Sandy Hook families after they successfully sued him for defamation.

The timing is "very good for someone who's going through a serious financial problem," Braddock said.

After losing his media company, Infowars, Jones needs to find a new platform, Braddock said. It doesn't surprise him that Jones is partnering with Carlson, who was fired from hosting his conservative opinion show on Fox last year, he said.

“Alex Jones coming to Milwaukee after the RNC, I think, is an attempt to put himself back in the conversation around these players in the field,” Braddock said.

Alex Jones is called up to testify at the Travis County Courthouse Tuesday Aug. 2, 2022, in Austin. Jones has been found to have defamed the parents of a Sandy Hook student for calling the attack a hoax.
Alex Jones is called up to testify at the Travis County Courthouse Tuesday Aug. 2, 2022, in Austin. Jones has been found to have defamed the parents of a Sandy Hook student for calling the attack a hoax.

Lewis pointed out that Carlson recently spoke highly of Jones on the "The Joe Rogan Experience" podcast in April, crediting him for predicting 9/11.

"They're no strangers to embracing shared conspiracies," Lewis said.

Braddock said Jones and other far-right influencers draw in fans by taking the stance of the "noble truth-teller" who is risking their safety to tell you what others don't want you to know.

"People like feeling as though they have knowledge other people don't have," Braddock said.

Then, those individuals come together online, he said, where they can reinforce each other's ideas without opposition.

And people tend to latch on to theories that demonize one group as the "other," he said.

For example, Braddock said Carlson's anti-immigration commentary invoked unfounded fear that white Americans are being "replaced." Demographers have widely debunked the conspiracy theory.

"This (theory) was spoken about dozens of times after Carlson's show," Braddock said.

Researchers warn of the danger that comes with normalizing extremists

Theories that villainize certain groups don't just stay in online forums. Experts said rhetoric from influential conspiracy theorists like Jones can escalate into violence.

"When somebody has a platform, and they have a large following of people who admire them politically, they have the power to move those people one way or the other," he said. "And sometimes these conspiracies can move people towards violence, unfortunately."

Lewis said when theorists like Jones are platformed at popular venues like the Fiserv Forum, their views become increasingly normalized.

"All it does is create the conditions for violence," Lewis said.

Research by the National Institute of Justice found that the number of far-right attacks continues to outnumber all other types of terrorism and domestic violent extremism.

According to a report from the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, all extremism-related murders in 2023 were committed by people with far right-wing connections, with 15 of the 17 incidents involving people with white supremacist beliefs.

Stephen C. Rea, senior researcher for the Critical Internet Studies Institute, said, at the moment, Carlson and Jones are not as popular or influential with the most violent of far-right extremist groups.

But there are still many unknowns between now and September, Rea said, like former president Donald Trump's sentencing and the RNC next month. The far right-wing media "ecosystem" is especially fluid these days, he added, so their fanbase is subject to change.

RNC could shape Tucker Carlson's talking points, number of attendees

While Jones lost some of his fanbase after the Sandy Hook lawsuits, Braddock said there are still many people who find comfort in the conspiracy theories he spreads.

"(Conspiracy theories) allow people to identify who the bad people are," Braddock said. "So, as long as Alex Jones goes on saying who the bad people are — and Tucker Carlson, for that matter — I think there are people who will be willing to listen to him."

Because Jones can't fall back on Sandy Hook conspiracies anymore, Braddock said he and Carlson will likely pick up on other themes that are likely to come up at the RNC next month, such as immigration and LGBTQ+ issues.

“We heard about that on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox quite a bit, and I’m sure Alex Jones would have no problem jumping in that conversation,” Braddock said.

Given the limited fanbases of Carlson and Jones, Rea said he wonders who, exactly, the show is for.

"Realistically, I think it will attract a fair number of attendees, but certainly nothing huge," Rea said. "A lot depends on how the summer goes and whether or not Tucker tries to tie this event directly to Trump's re-election."

Quinn Clark is a Public Investigator reporter. She can be emailed at QClark@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Quinn_A_Clark.Mary Spicuzza is a politics and investigative reporter. She can be emailed at MSpicuzza@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Fiserv Forum criticized for hosting Tucker Carlson tour with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones

Advertisement