ST. PETERSBURG ― Fox News rolled out the red, white and blue carpet in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night.
The hosts of “Fox & Friends,” conservative commentator Tomi Lahren and “Duck Dynasty’s” Si Robertson, who strode by in a sparkly dinner jacket and snakeskin boots, were among those who paraded along the tri-colored carpet en route to the inaugural Fox Nation Patriot Awards at the Mahaffey Theater.
The awards ceremony, streamed live for Fox Nation subscribers, was created by the Fox News spinoff to honor “everyday American heroes” in categories like the “Patriot Award for Service to Veterans,” “Most Patriotic Sportsman” and the “Ultimate Patriot Award.” It will air on Fox News later this month as a primetime special.
Among those honored was Rob Jones, a Marine who lost both legs in Afghanistan. He later ran marathons to raise money for wounded warriors, earning him the MVP, or “Most Valuable Patriot” award. Tampa police Lt. Travis Maus, who was recently promoted by the department while deployed in Iraq as an Army helicopter pilot, received the “Patriot Award for First Responders.” His wife and three daughters accepted on his behalf, as 50 of his Tampa Police Department colleagues watched from the audience.
Also receiving awards was Mission BBQ a military-themed restaurant chain which plays the National Anthem each day at noon and has a veteran hiring program, Connecticut minor league hockey coach John Krupinsky, who went viral for a pregame speech telling players they could “get the f--k out” if they kneeled during the American or Canadian national anthems, and Virginia teenager Charlie Hecht, who encouraged every home in his neighborhood to fly the American flag.
"We’re here to honor our patriots. It’s not like Hollywood, where they’re making millions of dollars and they’re all recognizing each other,” said “Fox & Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt, referring to award shows like the Golden Globes. “This is a chance for us to recognize people who do a lot for our country and do a lot for other people and don’t normally have the opportunity to be recognized.”
But if this was the Oscars of patriotism, the scene in the lobby felt more like Comic Con for those who geek out on conservative media.
“If you’re a Fox News fan, tonight is gonna be like Disneyland for you,” said Patriot Awards emcee Pete Hegseth, a Fox News contributor and Army veteran, to the audience.
“There they are! There’s Diamond and Silk!," shouted Janet Martin, 64, of Thonotosassa, when she spotted Fox Nation hosts Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson aka Diamond and Silk, making their way past hundreds of fans outside.
“I bought this from them,” Martin added, pointing to a pin on her jacket featuring sparkly bricks and cursive script reading “build the wall." It’s available on the Diamond and Silk web store.
Some fans came dressed in suits and gowns. Others wore blinking, red, white, and blue lights around their necks and T-shirts emblazoned with giant eagles across the torso.
The fan base lined up in the lobby for their chance to get a photo on the “curvy couch” from the “Fox & Friends” set alongside Fox Nation hosts David Webb and Tammy Bruce. Grammy-winning country singer John Rich of the duo Big & Rich autographed bottles of Redneck Riviera Whiskey while women clad in cowboy boots and jean shorts gave out samples.
One fan carried a basketball he’d painted with a portrait of Lahren that he planned to give her. Another man carried a bronze bust of Brian Kilmeade that he’d sculpted as a gift for the “Fox & Friends” host. One of the longest lines was to have former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino sign copies of his book “Exonerated: The Failed Takedown of President Donald Trump by the Swamp.”
“I’m amazed that we got this here,” said Madeira Beach resident Bill Biloski, 68, an “everyday viewer” of Fox News who came dressed in a red “Make America Great Again” hat and paid an extra $70 for a VIP ticket to mingle with the “Fox & Friends” hosts. “To have this quality of news people here in St. Petersburg, it’s just really nice.”
While Fox has a reputation as a haven for conservative commentary, the Patriot Awards were promoted as an apolitical event.
“No one’s going to be talking about who they’re voting for,” Kilmeade said. “They’re gonna be talking about what do people do for their country, how they feel about this nation, and maybe reclaiming why we’re here and how lucky we are to be here. I think it’s going to be great to put politics on the side.”
Duane Chapman Sr. of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” fame was scheduled to appear as a presenter, but canceled due to a health issue, said a Fox News spokeswoman.
A “Fox & Friends” set was assembled at the Mahaffey Theater, where the top-rated morning cable news show will broadcasting live Thursday from 6 to 9 a.m. Some of the Patriot Awards winners are set to appear as guests.