One of the excuses most often heard from those commentators accused of not bothering to do basic research using reputable sources is that such work isn’t necessary as they are just ‘just asking questions’. We see this a lot with those promoting cheap miracle cures for the novel coronavirus despite widely available free vaccines in North America and Europe. Regardless, in an era of social media and streaming, dubious information of all kinds spreads more quickly than ever.
Although American voters probably haven’t seen the last of him, Donald Trump has pretty much disappeared from the mainstream public view, mostly holding court at his Mar a Lago resort and occasionally calling in to ramble on sympathetic outlets. Despite this, his influence and that of his ardent supporters is everywhere on the American and even Canadian right, pushing conservatives in ever more reactionary directions.
Ambitious politicians and pundits imitating the populist mode successfully deployed by the former U.S. president have appeared on the scene with increasing regularity and are fighting to change even the basic meaning of words. One current example of this are commentators now calling those arrested after the events on January 6th at the U.S. capitol ‘political prisoners’.
As Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism told Vice about the use of the term to describe those who fought police and vandalized congressional offices, “This rebranding effort blurs lines between the mainstream and extreme, and also legitimizes others who are sympathetic or considering acts of political violence,”
There isn’t much we can do about the many well funded voices on the right pushing a reactionary agenda besides petitioning companies like Youtube that profit from them to enforce their own terms of service, but what’s become disturbing over the last few years are voices claiming to be on the left who are saying similar things and creating a pipeline for their fans to extremism. Some of those doing this have impressionable audiences mainly composed of adolescents and young men, and say they have centrist or leftwing views while promoting ideas and speakers on the far right, including self described white nationalists.
Take Tim Pool, who, while claiming to be ‘center left’ spent the months leading up to the events of January 6th promoting conspiracies about the presidential election being stolen to millions of viewers (prior to the election he predicted the then president would win “49, 50” states). Pool routinely receives 100 million views on his streams, numbers that eclipse rightwing talkers like Ben Shapiro or Dave Rubin.
It helped Pool’s branding as someone on the left that he got his start live-streaming at Zuccotti Park during Occupy Wallstreet in the Fall of 2011 but, even during this time, he didn’t endear himself to other citizen journalists who were more inclined to follow the nuts and bolts of building the movement than he did and later, many of the activists and protesters who at first welcomed his coverage.
One argument that some who claim to have known him at this time have made is that Pool couldn’t or wouldn’t see different power dynamics at work in his streaming, treating direct actions by protesters and police violence as equivalent, sometimes creating legal problems for the former in the process.
It’s important to take the power and influence that someone like Pool has seriously, despite his deeply unserious nature, especially in more recent years as he has moved away from any kind of reporting to full time commentary mostly built around rightwing talking points.
In 2017, he took up a challenge from far right Infowars host Paul Joseph Watson to report on a suburb of Malmo in Sweden, ostensibly checking the veracity of stories promoted by some on the right including Donald Trump about a ‘no go zone’ for non-Muslims were verifiable. He decided to take the challenge and it became arguably the most important move of his career, fueling his rise as an independent political commentator after having failed at Vice News and Fusion.
In the process of making a documentary that has yet to see the light of day, Pool spoke to literal fascists like Chang Frick, a former local official in the country’s far right Sweden Democrat party without any pushback, which is often his style as an interviewer. Other interviews with less extremist voices that might have added nuance to the story were not made public until recently.
On the streets near Malmo, Pool breathlessly claimed that police told him a mob was forming and coming for him with rocks. A description of events that local police contested.
Pool’s reporting resulted in dozens of stories in rightwing media outlets like Breitbart, propagating the myth that Sweden is somehow under siege as a result of its progressive immigration policies. Such stories helped normalize bad policy ideas like Donald Trump’s Muslim ban even on the center right. It’s easy to dismiss Pool as a lightweight pseudo-intellectual but this doesn’t change the fact that he has influenced millions.
The former reporter continues to give far right figures access to his vast audience, interviewing Steve Bannon in his ‘compound’ just last week, a man who continues to promote reactionary populism in the United States and abroad, including as an advisor to one of Brazilian neo-fascist Jair Bolsoaro’s sons.
Two other voices with smaller platforms but more diversity in terms of the age of their audience blurring the lies between left and right ‘populisms’ at present are comedian Jimmy Dore and reporter Glenn Greenwald.
While I used to sometimes enjoy the former’s rage fueled rants when he was on TYT and a Trump presidency still seemed unlikely, what’s happened with Greenwald, who I’ve been reading since he was at Salon.com in the aughts, hurts a lot more and I’m not the only one to say so.
Recently, Chelsea Manning made her feelings known about someone who she used to see as a close friend publicly on Twitter, “Glenn Greenwald, I don’t have $10,000 right now but if I get it I want to send it back to you from a donation you once did. I can’t deal with this anymore. I’m terrified of you and everything you do. You’re greedy, unprincipled, and I’m embarrassed for ever considering you a friend.”
Since leaving the outlet he co-founded, The Intercept, seemingly because he doesn’t like being edited, and moving to Substack, Greenwald, who always had a libertarian streak, has made himself available to rightwing talkers, especially Tucker Carlson, obviously hoping to grow his subscriber base by being the kind of ‘leftist’ who joins with the right in saying progressives simply go too far, especially in terms of so-called ‘woke’ politics.
In a widely covered video interview for the Daily Caller during the spring, Greenwald took this argument to a strange conclusion, saying, “I would describe a lot of people on the right as being socialist. I would consider Steve Bannon as socialist. I would consider the 2016 iteration of Donald Trump the candidate as socialist based on what he was saying. I would consider Tucker Carlson to be a socialist.”
Jimmy Dore has been even more explicit in publicly calling for the alliance between the left and populist right that Greenwald hints at. Another frequent Tucker Carlson guest, he has recently said this explicitly on his stream but it shouldn’t surprise us considering that he platformed the Boogaloo Bois without looking into the group’s clearly racist origins or accelerationist calls for a new civil war.
Most of those who consider themselves on the progressive left instinctively understand that they are in an ideological battle with two powerful forces. The first is the donor driven politics of the center right that has ruled our lives for most of the last five decades enriching war mongering defense contractors, predatory financial interests and extractive industries that end and destroy lives. For real change to occur, most of us would prefer to fight these neoliberal forces but are confronted with an even bigger threat from reactionary nationalists in alliance with religious fundamentalists who want to turn back the clock to some glorious era that never existed except as a nightmare for women and those deemed not sufficiently ‘white’.
Dore, Greenwald and Pool only want to fight the first group (and all too often delight in taking shots at the most exciting voices on the progressive left) and ignore or even play footsie with a reactionary fascist adjacent right. They prefer navel gazing to talking about policy issues that matter to working Americans like the end of the eviction moratorium and unemployment benefits of more than 7 million of the country’s citizens. They claim to be anti-imperialists but ignored the escalation of the drone war under Trump and the savagery inflicted on Yemen with his administration’s full support.
To understand why we need only follow the money.