By Nanette Holt
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.—Since his separation from Fox News, political commentator Tucker Carlson hasn’t spoken much publicly—until this weekend.
In a rare spurt of appearances, he enjoyed the adulation of thousands of enthusiastic conservatives at political gatherings in two states.
On July 14, he publicly grilled most of the top-tier Republican presidential candidates—with the exception of former President Donald Trump—at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa. As the nation’s first state to caucus, it’s been the midwestern mecca of political activity in recent weeks.
Then, Mr. Carlson caught a flight to Florida, where he lives in cooler times of the year, to speak the next day at the Turning Point Action Conference in West Palm Beach.
Speaker line-ups at Turning Point events often read like a who’s who of conservative politics, sometimes even drawing leading figures from other countries.
This time, the two-day conference attracted about 6,000 people—mostly college-age conservatives—from around the country to hear from GOP firebrands. Attendees also mingled, attended Republican strategy workshops on winning elections, and shopped for patriotic merchandise and Trump gear.
Mr. Carlson was one of the crowd favorites.
Tight Security for Trump Speech
On Day 1, conference-goers crammed into the Palm Beach Convention Center’s main hall after spending hours in line. They inched forward in the blazing sun, waiting to be inspected in screenings overseen by the U.S. Secret Service.
Once inside, attendees heard from a string of outspoken supporters of Mr. Trump, the reason for the tight security. His champions included congressmen Byron Donalds and Matt Gaetz, both Republicans representing Florida.
“We ride or die with Donald John Trump,” Mr. Gaetz said, above the roaring crowd, when it was his turn to speak. He also proclaimed he’d be introducing “in the coming days a national prayer-in-school law,” an announcement that brought more raucous cheers.
Also riling up the crowd was Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who spoke in the standing-room-only space. He said he’s been criticized for not attacking his chief opponent, apparently alluding to Mr. Trump.
“I’m not running against anyone in this race,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. “I’m running for our country.”
The 37-year-old political newcomer received an enthusiastic standing ovation as he left the stage.
‘All the Cool People are Here’
As Mr. Carlson stepped out to plumes of yellow pyrotechnics shooting up from the front of the stage, attendees were on their feet again, cheering and holding up phones to capture video of the moment.
“Thank you,” he repeated over and over, shaking his head and chuckling. “I don’t think most unemployed people get a reception like that.”
As the cheering and clapping continued, he scanned the audience, clearly recognizing some, and exclaiming, “Roger Stone! All the cool people are here. It’s, like, unbelievable.”
As if surprised by the unrelenting chorus of whooping, he said with incredulity, “Wow. I haven’t been around a ton of people in a while. But I never miss this event. Ever. And I meet the nicest people, really, that I ever meet at these.”
In contrast, Mr. Carlson expressed disdain for the work he’d done the day before discussing presidential candidates’ campaign platforms.
He usually despises politicians, Mr. Carlson said, because “they tend to be soulless,” with sad personal lives, seeking to “win affirmation” from strangers, which he finds “pathetic.”
In person, though, they’re “charming,” he said. “I like almost all of them when I meet them.”
He didn’t want “to attack anyone on personal grounds” but “it’s tempting,” he laughed, as the crowd chanted, “Do it! Do it!”
Instead, he said, as if he couldn’t resist, he wanted to offer “general observations, which I think are more edifying than just, like, savaging Mike Pence.”
The crowd cheered more, egging him on. But Mr. Carlson insisted it “would be wrong because it’s too easy.”
Mr. Pence, the former vice president under Mr. Trump, stunned many conservatives when he argued in his Iowa forum appearance the day before that the United States has been too slow to provide tanks and pilot training to Ukraine.
Looking incredulous, Mr. Carlson stopped him and began describing the faltering economy of the United States and the country’s escalating crime, public filth, and suicide rates.
“Where’s the concern for the United States in that?” Mr. Carlson demanded during the interview.
“That’s not my concern,” Mr. Pence replied. “Tucker, I’ve heard that routine from you before but that’s not my concern.”
“I’m running for President in the United States because I think this country is in a lot of trouble. I think Joe Biden has weakened America at home and abroad. And as President of the United States, we’re going to restore law and order in our cities. We’re going to secure our border. We’re going to get this economy moving again. And we’re going to make sure that we have men and women on our courts at every level that will stand for the right to life and defend all the God given liberties enshrined in our Constitution,” he said.
“Anybody that says we can’t be the leader of the free world and solve our problems at home has a pretty small view of the greatest Nation on Earth. We can do both.”
He learned much from his day of interviews in Iowa, Mr. Carlson told the Turning Point crowd.
One was that what Republicans in Washington “actually care about” are “very different from the things that matter to the people who vote for them.”
He had believed that would change back in 2016, when the politicians saw that “Republicans elected a guy basically on the promise to blow up the Republican Party,” he said.
But even the election of Mr. Trump hasn’t turned many elected politicians to align with the people they represent, he has since observed.
He also realized that “almost everybody in elected office in the Republican Party has internalized the other side’s rules for debate.”
There’s “no more self-defeating way to go into politics or life than to accept the terms that your enemies offer before the conversation’s even begun,” Mr. Carlson said. “Because there’s really no way of winning.”
He used the example of the government’s responses to COVID-19, such as mandating masking, lockdowns, and vaccines. Most people went along with leaders’ demands, he said.
Those who resisted or questioned the policies were deemed “moral criminals—they’re outlaws,” he said.
So they were censored, silenced.
The War in Ukraine
The same is happening when anyone questions the war in Ukraine, Mr. Carlson said.
It’s assumed all will see “one side is bad and one side is virtuous,” he said. And it’s “completely fair” to see Russia as bad and Ukraine as good, he admitted.
But that’s not the point, he argued.
The point is that Americans have a “fundamental right to choose who they hate. No one is allowed to force you to be mad at somebody else.”
Yet, despite the fact that Russia hasn’t killed any Americans in the war, he said, many conservatives are desperate to send more expensive weapons, as well as deadly “cluster bombs,” to Ukraine.
It’s all to preserve democracy there, proponents of that view say.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he’ll have to suspend elections because of the war.
And “there are clergy in Ukraine who are being thrown in prison, convents raided, nuns kicked out, priests handcuffed, thrown in jail!” Mr. Carlson said.
He said he asked a “self-appointed Christian leader,” who has spent his life fighting for religious freedom, about that.
“And he said with a straight face, ‘Well they had the wrong views.’”
“Is that freedom?” Mr. Carlson challenged. “No, that’s insane!”
The same Christian leader argued that Ukraine needs weapons donated by the United States and that we “need to do this because that’s what leadership looks like,” Mr. Carlson recalled.
That’s a “disgusting” view, Mr. Carlson said, contrasting it to a father’s leadership in breaking up fights between siblings.
“If you’re the leader, the last thing you do is sow more chaos,” he said. “You stop the chaos. Leadership is bringing order and regularity and predictability to a chaotic scene.”
And yet, in providing unending support to Ukraine, that’s what, “in the name of American leadership, this administration of President Joe Biden, with the full participation of the Republican Party, is foisting on the world.”
Mr. Trump, on the other hand, “is clear on this,” that he wants to stop the war, he added. “And they hate him for it.”
Washington elites want to keep others from participating in foreign-policy decisions, he said.
But citizens should have a right to question war, saying, “You’re doing this in my name, with my money, and potentially my children.”
It’s reasonable to want to help Ukraine, he said. But the problem is that people in this country are shut down when they disagree.
Russia has been painted as the enemy and Americans are “not allowed” to think otherwise, he said.
And “once you are prevented from thinking something, you are completely controlled by the person who’s convinced you of that.”
Problems at Home
More maddening is that politicians seem to ignore real problems here at home, according to Mr. Carlson.
They don’t seem to notice the 100,000 Americans who die each year after being poisoned by fentanyl made in Mexico. It floods into this country with illegal immigrants who stream across the unsecured southern border, he said.
They don’t seem to see that the quality of life in America is getting worse, he added. There’s more homelessness, filth, and graffiti, suggesting “we’ve given up, we don’t care.”
“We’re allowing people who create nothing to destroy what we’ve built and we’re not fighting back,” he railed. “Grafitti is one step from total society collapse. Period.”
Allowing graffiti, Mr. Carlson said, means “we have no self-respect, at all. We don’t care enough about our civilization to keep it clean, to keep it pretty.”
Still, many will argue graffiti is art, he said, and “you’re not allowed to think” otherwise.
So “staying unaffected by the propaganda—that’s like the main goal of my life,” he said. “You can’t allow the propagandists to set the terms.”
“Consider the things you’re not allowed to say” now in this country, he said, pointing to the controversy over the Jan. 6 unrest at the U.S. Capitol.
People participating felt the 2020 election had been stolen “and they were really mad,” he said.
But it quickly was deemed a “racist insurrection,” and people became furious if others didn’t agree. That was troubling to Mr. Carlson.
Anyone who tried to talk about their concerns was “de-platformed, de-banked, basically hounded out of public life in America, bankrupted, in a lot of cases put in jail,” he said.
“Fired!” someone in the crowd shouted.
“Yea, or fired,” Mr. Carlson said, laughing along with the crowd.
“Sorry,” he said, putting his hands to his temples and grinning. “I was so into it that I lost all self-awareness for a minute.”
On a June 7 podcast with English comedian Russell Brand, Mr. Carlson said he doesn’t know why he was fired suddenly by Fox News.
But his questioning of whether the federal government has been honest about Jan. 6 widely is one of the speculated likely cause for his termination.
For anyone wanting to explore alternative views on Jan. 6, “that conversation was literally banned,” he said at the Turning Point event. “It’s the guidelines of most social media companies that you can’t have that conversation.”
But a country that doesn’t allow discussions about “the process of electing its leaders is not a democracy, by definition,” he said. “You can’t have a democracy without free speech. Period.”
Meanwhile, serious crimes go unpunished, he said, such as defrauding investors of billions of dollars, or “burning down buildings, impoverishing people, starting totally counterproductive wars we can’t win that kill a lot of our citizens, leaving the border open so seven million people can walk across—those are not small things.”
And “what are the crimes that are punished?” he asked. “Thought crimes. Thinking the wrong things. Having the wrong beliefs. Saying unapproved words.”
And when words are deemed “wrong,” he’s realized, “those words are always true.”
He warned against “the people who censor your words and thoughts.”
He also warned against getting overwhelmed by reports that seem to be “the Mt. Everest of lunacy,” such as that men can give birth or breastfeed infants.
Where is Tucker Now?
Since being fired by Fox, Mr. Carlson has released nine episodes of what’s known as Tucker on Twitter. Most have been between five to 18 minutes long.
The latest, released on July 11, is a two-and-a-half-hour interview with the controversial social media mega-influencer Andrew Tate.
Mr. Tate is on house arrest at his estate in Romania after spending 92 days in what he describes as a cockroach-infested jail. He and his brother were arrested in December for what he says are fake human trafficking and rape charges.
The Tate brothers now are suing their accusers, asking a Palm Beach County judge for $5 million in damages.
In the interview, Mr. Tate suggests that his arrest was an attempt to silence him because of his message to followers, urging men to be physically strong and independent minded.
It’s a theme Mr. Carlson repeated to young conservatives in his 45-minute address at the Turning Point event.
Diversions, he warned, are concocted by those in power “so we don’t notice they’re looting the country.”
Seeking to cover up their actions, they defend absurd positions with ferocity, he said. That’s so those with objections won’t push back on topics, such as the war in Ukraine, COVID-19 policies, and the Jan. 6 unrest.
“It’s not by accident,” he said, as he yielded the stage to Mr. Trump. “Trust me.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.