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Russell Brand

How Russell Brand cultivated the perfect audience to rally around his denials

For the last three years, Brand has built a fanbase of conspiracy theorists.

“IT’S BEEN CLEAR to me, or at least it feels to me, like there’s a serious and concerted agenda to control these kind of spaces and these kind of voices, and I mean my voice along with your voice.”

Russell Brand’s two-minute and forty-five second YouTube video, responding to allegations of sexual misconduct by four women, relies on the same conspiracy theory language that his subscribers will be all-too-familiar with.

In the short video, Brand is quick to draw a comparison between his situation and that of fellow podcaster and content-maker Joe Rogan, whom Brand says was vilified for his decision to promote ivermectin as a drug to combat Covid-19 while eschewing vaccinations. 

Ultimately, Brand dismissed the allegations without yet offering evidence to refute them, saying: “During that time of promiscuity, the relationships I had were absolutely always consensual.”

The accusations are detailed in an investigative report conducted by The Sunday Times, The Times and Channel 4 Dispatches. It involved years of work during which reporters interviewed hundreds of sources who knew or worked with Brand. 

Brand’s agency, Tavistock Wood, announced that it has cut ties with Brand, YouTube has demonetised his channel, and both BBC and Channel 4 have removed some content featuring Brand from their streaming services as they undertake their respective investigations into the accusations.

There is, however, a strong groundswell of support for Russell Brand. This support is coming from Brand’s own legion of fans, bolstered by other high-profile voices such as Elon Musk, Andrew Tate and Tucker Carlson – other popular figures who also believe themselves to be targets of the “mainstream media”.

It all amounts to a present day persona which is unrecognisable from the man who endorsed Labour leader Ed Miliband back in 2015, who starred in Hollywood movies with Jonah Hill, who was married to popstar Katy Perry, performed for the Queen, and used to feature on Big Fat Quiz of the Year alongside comedy establishment favourites such as Jimmy Carr, Jonathan Ross and Noel Fielding.  

Who is Russell Brand’s audience?

Since launching the ‘Stay Free’ series on his YouTube channel in 2020, Brand’s modus operandi has been – in his own words – to “critique, attack and undermine the news in all its corruption.” 

One month ago, Brand was joined for an interview by right-wing media provocateur Tucker Carlson. Other video titles in the last year include: “Why the Deep State is UNSTOPPABLE,” “Why Wall Street Will Own Your House in Five Years,” and “OH SH*T, 15 Minute Smart Cities Are Coming.” 

A cynic might suspect that Brand has cultivated this particular audience astutely. By leaning in to the uptick in conspiratorial thinking in the wake of Covid-19 misinformation, Brand has found a following that ignores investigative journalism in favour of receiving information, including news and opinion, from online personalities.

The top comment beneath Brand’s video has no fewer than 21,000 Likes, and reads: “Honestly, dude, it’s surprising it has taken them this long to try and shut you down. For me, and many people who follow your content, it is just a sign that you are on the right track Stay strong, brother.”

Another reads: “I’m with you Russell. Not just you, everyone who has been openly attacked by lies and deceit. We need to stand strong and hold our heads high.”

That sentiment is widely reflected across the other 67,433 comments the video has amassed since it was posted to Brand’s 6.63 million subscribers four days ago.

Through this community, Brand has found an ally in Andrew Tate, who held what he called “an emergency meeting” – a live-video session with 40,000 of his followers to discuss “what is happening to Russell Brand.” Tate, of course, faces charges of forming an organised criminal group in 2021 and engaging in human trafficking across Romania, Britain and the United States.

Tate’s own videos are infamous for their open encouragement of violence against women. In one he says he would respond to an accusation of cheating with: “Bang out the machete, boom in her face and grip her by the neck. Shut up, bitch.” Tate refers to himself as a “misogynist” and “sexist”.

While he and Brand have no official working relationship, Tate has led the charge in defending Brand against the allegations levelled at him. Brand is not being defended on the basis of evidence to the contrary, however, but on the assumption that he is being targeted for, as Brand puts it in his video, “getting too close to the truth.”

In the absence of a trusted news infrastructure, who do people trust? Many, including Brand’s devotees, have turned to self-styled gurus, free to promote whatever agenda they see fit, often couched in fear-inducing, self-serving terms that enable them to monetise their message, and cushion them against the effects of accusations like those Brand now faces.