There was a brief, strange moment in 2015 when Russell Brand mattered in mainstream British politics. With an election looming, the opposition Labor party was trailing in the polls to a coalition government that was the very definition of the establishment – led by an Eton- and Oxford-educated Prime Minister in the form of David Cameron and his Westminster- and Cambridge-educated deputy , Nick Clegg, now president of global affairs at Meta. So then-Labor leader Ed Miliband sought the support of Brand, the actor, comedian and emerging online provocateur, whose anti-corporatist statements to his 9.5 million Twitter followers and 100,000 YouTube subscribers gave him the impression a power player. Miliband received Brand’s support, but lost the election.
Since then, Brand’s reach has exploded. His YouTube channel now has 6.6 million subscribers, his X account more than 11 million followers. But its anti-establishment message has changed: from a broader, almost coherent response to the politics of austerity that shaped Britain after the 2008 financial crisis, to a series of cult-like, conspiracy-driven narratives promoting Covid denialism and Russian disinformation stir up. and the far-right-inspired “Great Reset” theory, united by the meta-conspiracy that the mainstream – the “elites” – have darker agendas based on control.
On Saturday, Britain’s Channel Four aired an hour-long documentary in which several women accused Brand of rape and sexual assault. Before the broadcast, the comedian came out swinging. In a video on his YouTube channel, titled “So, This Is Happening,” Brand not only denied the allegations, but also brought up some of his own: “[It] makes me wonder: is there another agenda at play?” he said.
One of Brand’s alleged victims called his statement ‘insulting’ and ‘laughable’ in a speech to the BBC. But within the alt-media, there was a show of support from figures like Andrew Tate, the misogynist influencer awaiting trial in Romania for rape and human trafficking, and Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host who now runs a conspiracy-focused organization leads. show on X, and Alex Jones, was fined $1.5 billion for lying about the victims of a school shooting. X owner Elon Musk posted under Brand’s video: “Of course. They don’t like competition” – apparently referring to those same dark forces the comedian is referring to. The camaraderie between conspiracy theorists, the alt-right and the “manosphere” is grimly predictable. Their shared story is one of alienation from the mainstream, outsiderdom and dark forces uniting to thwart them. “The opposite, but with real consequences for people,” as Marc Owen Jones, an expert on disinformation and social media at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar, puts it.
It is also their target group strategy and the basis of their business model. Conspiracy influencers are content producers. Moments that stir intense emotions – even when the content producer is themselves at the center of the scandal – are great for engagement and fuel the grim economics of the conspiracy world.
Brand’s YouTube channel is a compendium of contemporary nonsense. Covid lockdowns were exercises in social control. The US has ‘biolabs’ in Ukraine; The West’s support for Ukraine is capitalist imperialism. Central bank digital currencies are government attempts to control your money. Evolving gender norms are causing a ‘crisis in masculinity’ and a decline in fertility. There are routine crossovers between Brand’s content and the broader cinematic conspiracy universe, with clips on his channels of conspiracy theorist Robert Kennedy Junior, far-right Hungarian President Viktor Orban, and Carlson, who recorded an interview with Brand in August.