After FBI agents executed a search warrant at the Florida estate of former President Donald Trump, conservative outlets and media personalities immediately swung to defend him — and to sharply attack the Biden administration.

From Fox News, to Newsmax, to PJ Media, to the Blaze, to the wilds of right-wing talk radio, YouTube, blogs and social media, the line was consistent. The rhetoric was clear, it was dark, and even, at times, apocalyptic.

"It almost feels like a pre-emptive coup," conservative talk show host Buck Sexton told Fox News' Jesse Watters last night.

"This is so wrong, so tyrannical," said right-wing YouTube and Blaze commentator Steven Crowder on a video call for "war" that had more than 600,000 views in eight hours. "There needs to be a hill you're willing to die on. This is it." (Crowder added he was not calling for actual violence, then called for his viewers to fight fire with fire.)

"What the Biden administration did today was a shot between the eyes of this Republic," Fox News host Mark Levin told listeners of his Westwood One radio program. Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union and CPAC, wrote for Fox that the incident showed the U.S. had become a "Third World country."

Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik told Newsmax he believed Democrats would try to assassinate the former president.

Except for those few pockets of conservative media that are wary or even hostile toward Trump, the coverage blotted out almost all question of what was being investigated in favor of outrage over the investigation itself. As one caption on Fox News memorably put it: "BIDEN'S FBI RANSACKS HOME OF POTENTIAL 2024 OPPONENT."

The way the FBI search was depicted on these outlets played directly into Trump's rhetoric against the so-called "Deep State" stretching back to his earliest campaign days in 2015 — his attacks on government officials and professionals as ideologues entrenched in the federal bureaucracy.

For the record, the White House has said President Biden learned of the search from media reports and, as of late Tuesday afternoon, had not been briefed on the investigation by the Justice Department. No credible reporting has surfaced to contradict those claims.

Biden and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland have, in repeated separate interviews, said that the Justice Department operates independently on such matters. Indeed, some on the left repeatedly have accused Garland of failing to act with sufficient muscle to prosecute Trump.

Right-wing defenses ignored the ironies that abounded

It is an unprecedented step to send FBI agents to search a former president's property without prior notice. Even those legal commentators critical of Trump have said federal prosecutors will have to explain and justify their actions.

Yet these are unprecedented times. Trump is in serious legal and political jeopardy as a result of investigations occurring in New York, Fulton County, Ga., the halls of Congress and the Justice Department. And he has repeatedly been found to fall short of complying with required disclosures to courts and Congressional oversight.

The conservative defenses largely ignored the ironies that abounded. Trump rose to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination amid chants of "Lock Her Up!" — the encapsulation of Trump's stated desire that his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, be jailed. Many of Trump's most adamant defenders in the past 24 hours — on TV and on the 2022 campaign trail — have wrapped themselves in the mantle of law and order.

No matter.

The pro-Trump line was not guaranteed to play out this way. In recent weeks, under its controlling owners, Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, Fox News had gently inched away from Trump. It gave his speeches far less air time. It devoted fawning and extensive coverage to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely rival for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2024.

Why? The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has cast a particularly severe light on Trump's actions and inaction. Two multi-billion lawsuits are forcing the network to reckon with the lies about a stole election being peddled on its airwaves. (Fox has offered a full-throated defense invoking the First Amendment.) And Rupert Murdoch had never held Trump in high regard. It was always an alliance of convenience.

Yet that alliance re-emerged with a vengeance last night. For the five hours after news of the search emerged, a roster of conservative Fox hosts led a march of outrage, often with guests even more outspoken that their hosts.

Fox's Sean Hannity, one of Trump's closest advisers, said President Biden was wielding the Justice Department against his most formidable election foe.

No distinction between Trump campaign and Fox stars

"When we get power back, it's time to hold everyone accountable — the military leadership, the civilian leadership, the civil service, those in Congress who have abused their power — all of them have to be held accountable," said Fox's Laura Ingraham. "All of them."

No distinction there either between the "we" of the Trump campaign and Fox's biggest stars. Guests included Stephen Miller, Trump's former chief domestic policy adviser.

Just past midnight this morning, on the first news program handling the story, anchor Shannon Bream broke down the story with three legal analysts. One, University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo, was considered a firebrand conservative as a senior Justice Department official under then President George W. Bush. Another, Mike Davis, served Bush in the Justice Department and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. The third, John Iannarelli, is a former senior FBI agent who has spoken at conservative gatherings.

Fox's Baier calls the search "a political bombshell"

That said, Bream herself noted, "This doesn't just happen overnight. Any DOJ or FBI, any administration is going to want to be exceptionally careful. This FBI has clearly made, and this attorney general has made, the calculation that they think they have enough [evidence] to move forward and risk the political optics of this."

And chief political anchor Bret Baier on Tuesday called the search a "political bombshell."

Even so, the network's media commentator, Joe Concha, told Fox & Friends viewers that the Justice Department should charge Trump with a crime now. "Otherwise, raids like this smell like... partisan BS," Concha said.

It fell to Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy, a Trump favorite, to point out that FBI Director Christopher Wray — who oversaw those agents — had been nominated by Trump in 2017.

The way Fox News frames such matters has deep implications for Republican party politics, the various strands of the fractured conservative political movement, and Trump's own camp. It also serves up potential talking points for millions of Trump supporters who are adrift, angry, and anticipating his return to power.

Loyalty to Trump - at least for now - has once more emerged as the paramount concern in right-wing media.

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The FBI search of former President Trump's estate in Florida has been met with a barrage of attacks in conservative media. On his Westwood One radio show, Fox News host Mark Levin said this.


MARK LEVIN: What the Biden administration did today was a shot between the eyes of this Republican.

CHANG: On Fox News, captions declared, quote, "Biden's FBI ransacks home of potential 2024 opponent," of course referring to Donald Trump. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been monitoring all of this and joins us now. Hi, David.


CHANG: Hey. OK. So just listening to those couple examples right there, it sounds as if conservative media is portraying the FBI search as just, like - I don't know - dirty politics from the Biden administration. Are you seeing that pretty widely from conservative outlets right now?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. I'd say aside from a small handful of outfits and figures that have written off former President Trump and who have been written off by former President Trump, it's been pretty lockstep. It's been consistent. It's been dire. It's been intense at times, even a little apocalyptic, even suggestive of violence. You had Buck Sexton, a popular conservative talk show host, go on Fox yesterday evening and describe it as a kind of preemptive coup. Steven Crowder, who's got millions of followers on YouTube for his conservative right-wing commentaries, saying, this is war.

And all this stuff plays into the claims of the deep state - the idea that federal officials and the bureaucracy and even federal professionals who are, in their own minds, trying to make nonpartisan decisions and policies in place are acting against the interests of you, the right-thinking Americans of Donald Trump. And let's be clear. President Biden has said and the White House has said he learned about all this from press reports, that he was not involved in justice department actions. The attorney general has repeatedly said Merrick Garland is holding Biden and the White House at great arm's length...

CHANG: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: ...On all of these investigations, and no reporting has proven otherwise.

CHANG: OK. Well, in the middle of all this, let's talk about the most important player still in right-wing media. That's Fox News. What else are you seeing on Fox at the moment?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, this came out early yesterday evening. And what you saw were - the next five hours were their most popular primetime hosts, all of them opinionators and each one after the other, going after the Biden administration and coming to the defense of Donald Trump as a victim in your place, protecting you. And let's hear what, for example, Laura Ingraham had to say late last night.


LAURA INGRAHAM: When we get power back, it's time to hold everyone accountable. The military leadership, the civilian leadership, the civil service, those in Congress who've abused their power - all of them have to be held accountable, all of them.

FOLKENFLIK: And let's remember that phrase - when we get power back. There's no differentiation in her mind between the Trump campaign potentially for 2024 and folks at Fox News and the viewers.

CHANG: And would you say that this is all kind of expected reaction from Fox?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I got to say, you know, the Murdochs in recent days have guided Fox News to a less of a intense embrace of Trump in recent weeks. The House Select Committee on 1/6 has been so damning in what it found on Trump's actions and inaction around that day and about his lies about election fraud that you saw some distance being established and some embrace instead of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential competitor for Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024. Instead, what you saw over the last 24 hours was a snap back into a full Trump defense, even as some of their journalists did point out that, you know, this is something that would be undertaken by the Justice Department only with careful review ahead of time. And that, of course, Justice Department has to lay out what its justification was for this.

CHANG: Right. And so, David, as we're learning more about what this search was about, I'm curious. What will you be looking for?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's the question, of course, of whether future disclosures change anything in the rhetoric we see. But in reality, it's - you watch this in some ways for the talking points, for the professionals in politics, for those who want to support Trump or want to be...

CHANG: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: ...Supported by him. And also, the talking points, you know, you're seeing in real time being delivered for the president - former president's rank-and-file supporters as they look for reasons to hold on to him ahead of the potential next White House run.

CHANG: That is NPR's David Folkenflik. Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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