We are told ‘They’ are out to get Russell Brand. But who are They?

Loyal legions of Rumblers and YouTubers prefer conspiracy to the truth. That is a problem—for all of us

September 22, 2023
Brand arriving to a comedy gig on Saturday. Image: Jeff Gilbert / Alamy
Brand arriving to a comedy gig on Saturday. Image: Jeff Gilbert / Alamy

They’re not buying it. The loyal legions of Russell Brand supporters can smell a conspiracy a mile off—and this one stinks to the highest heaven. Whether it is the work of lizard people or the World Economic Forum, the attack on Brand is what happens to anyone who exposes the system. 

You don’t believe me? Listen, I have trawled through hundreds of the 73,000-and-counting messages of support on Brand’s YouTube channel, with its 6.63m subscribers. I have waded through the adoring outpouring of solidarity on his parallel channel on Rumble, which claims to be like YouTube but without the censorship.

“Hey Russell, none of us are buying their lies and smears,” says one. “We all know perfectly well why they are coming after you. Stay strong and keep telling it like it is!”

“For quite some time I was worried that they would try to stop you,” says another. “The truth is dangerous to the one who tells it. My prayers are with you.”

“I only watch Russell for news these days. MSM [mainstream media] is made up of carefully constructed lies,” says yet another. “Thank God for social media and people like Russell.” 

The common thread is that “they” are out to get Brand. “They” is like the blank tile in a Scrabble set, which can fill in for anything you like.

“They” is, variously, the Deep State, the Establishment, George Soros, Bill Gates, anyone who’s ever spent time in Davos without skiing, Big Pharma, MSM (aka Lame Stream Media), Anthony Fauci, the Illuminati, Antifa, and possibly the lizard people. 

Brand might as well have winked in his pre-emptive I-deny-it-all video as he asked: “Is there another agenda at play?” 

Nigel Farage joined in on GB News. “There’s no evidence been produced,” he pronounced, adding “[Brand’s] upset some very powerful people. He’s upset big government. He’s upset Big Pharma. He’s upset Bill Gates and everybody.” 

“They” is a favourite word of Donald Trump’s: “they” want you to believe this, or “they” want to control you. And Brand and his followers have much in common with the former president and his own cult following, which appears impervious to facts, evidence, reasoning or truth.

The more stuff they fling at Trump, the more his own-tribe polling and donations thrive. And the same may prove to be the case with Brand (who, we should remind ourselves, has vigorously denied all allegations).

“There’s no evidence,” Nigel? Actually, a number of very good reporters (from C4 and the Sunday Times) spent a long and expensive period gathering and presenting a fair amount of evidence in a compelling way. Dismiss it if you like, but don’t pretend it’s not there.

But the 13m plus users across Brand’s associated accounts on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Rumble live in a parallel universe of conspiracy and misinformation which is laced with a degree of paranoia. There’s not much room for evidence.

Like Trump, Brand now faces two divergent futures. One will involve inescapable realities—the possibility of more women coming forward; one or more police investigations; advertisers, sponsors and platforms walking away, as so many already have. 

And then there is Planet Brand on which—so long as he remains a free man—our hero can continue to be in glorious communion with his followers. And, as we’re likely to see, it will take a lot to shake their faith. 

What do we do about this—quite sizeable—chunk of fellow citizens who appear to have ditched all trust in institutions, facts and reasoning?

One answer is to continue to assert the necessity of the craft of careful, responsible, accurate and truthful journalism. It has to be cherished and protected—and it has to be as universally available as possible. The BBC may have given Brand too much licence on its platforms a decade ago, but the BBC is also part of the answer.

The British press—so exemplary in investigating Brand—might also have a moment of self-reflection about the truly abysmal levels of trust in what the MSM serves up.

Numerous surveys have painted the same picture for years. They’ve typically been greeted with the sentiments of the Millwall anthem; “No one likes us, we don’t care.” Few other sectors would shrug so insouciantly. 

For a study in confusion, take the Murdoch organisation. Its reporters did sterling work to expose Brand. But, in another guise (the Sun), it frequently awarded Brand a “Shagger of the Year” award. In yet another guise (Fox News), it knowingly pumped out lies in advance of the 6th January insurrection, an aberration of conspiracy and misinformation that will cost Murdoch—or his heirs and successors—more than $1bn.

We would also do well to try and understand Brand’s extraordinary appeal. Laughable? But remember all the lectures mainstream media received for failing to spot Donald Trump’s attraction. We kept being told we were an out-of-touch elite. We just didn’t understand the reasons why the “left behind” flocked to him.

As Trump shapes up for another presidential bid, it’s possible we still don’t get it.

What is there to understand about Brand and his followers? I only met him once, when he was writing a popular football column for the Guardian, along with the occasional commentary piece. He was a mix of funny and irritating; clever and obtuse.

The journalist Sarah Manavis has written of this period when he was much in demand for his views: “His focus was on changing people’s minds about ideas and policies—from representative democracy to climate change mitigation and addiction treatments—rather than their views on parties or politicians. During this period, he became as much an icon as a punching bag, his name synonymous with an idealist style of left-wing thinking and a set of beliefs that have since only grown in popularity—all the while maintaining his global comedy fame.” 

His writing was—in tone and content—a mile away from the polished offerings of the PPE-certificated Guild of Broadsheet Columnists. And quite a lot of people at the time thought that wasn’t entirely a bad thing.

In recent years he veered into a different world, with a different audience and different politics. It became untethered from mundane reality, luridly conspiratorial—and hugely lucrative.

The police should thoroughly investigate the shocking claims made about Brand’s treatment of women. But mere condemnation of what he more broadly represents—along with the millions who follow him—won’t work, any more than Hillary Clinton branding Trump’s followers as “a basket of deplorables” worked. 

Two and a half million people viewed Murdoch’s sacked former Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson being interviewed by Brand on the latter’s YouTube channel a month ago. Brand began by announcing: “It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that you can report truthfully and honestly and in good faith putting forward anti-establishment narratives without being attacked.” 

It was a parable of dual martyrdom—and millions will buy it.

Houston, we have a problem.