Update (6/24/21): Following the publication of this article, YouTube removed 18 channels featuring Owen Benjamin or his content in the videos for violating its community guidelines.
In 2019, disgraced comic and actor Owen Benjamin Smith -- professionally known as Owen Benjamin -- was banned from using most major social media platforms after posting racist, antisemitic, and other bizarre and abusive content. A Media Matters review has found that Benjamin is openly evading a ban on Instagram and his content is spreading widely on YouTube, Twitter, and other sites via associated and fan accounts and hashtags. And it’s not the first time he’s succeeded in duping the platforms, either.
In the last few years, Benjamin, who once appeared in raunchy Hollywood movies, has focused less on comedy and more on becoming the cult-like leader of the “Unbearables,” a militia-friendly boys' club (sound familiar?) composed of fans of Benjamin’s racist piano ballads, flat earth conspiracy theories, and homesteading memes. Since he was banned from most major platforms, Benjamin has mostly built his dedicated following on alternative social media sites like Gab and video streaming services BitChute and Odysee, where he boasts thousands of followers. However, he and his followers appear to be taking advantage of platforms' lax enforcement against his content to grow his following and target others on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.
Benjamin continues to flagrantly abuse his access to these platforms, recently starting a harassment campaign against a disabled journalist who is now being targeted by his followers; routinely posting anti-LGBTQ, racist, and antisemitic content; and peddling dangerous anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.
Benjamin’s extreme rhetoric and loyal following make him a uniquely dangerous presence online. So far, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube appear to have done next to nothing to stop his ban evasion. Twitter has twice suspended Benjamin from its service, yet an account claiming to represent him is still active, and his content is shared widely on the platform. And though he doesn’t have a TikTok account, snippets of his livestream videos have drawn millions of views.
Instagram and Facebook
In December 2019, Facebook and Instagram suspended Benjamin after Right Wing Watch identified more than 170 racist and antisemitic posts on his accounts (and that’s to say nothing of his track record of anti-LGBTQ bigotry and flirting with white nationalism).
Benjamin now appears to be circumventing his Instagram suspension by using a suite of alternative accounts. Media Matters identified at least 16 accounts dedicated to reposting Benjamin and other “Unbearables”-related content, including several that appear to be run by Benjamin himself. Those accounts feature more than 50,000 followers in total, including Benjamin’s personal account that boasts nearly 8,000 followers.
- In late May, Benjamin lashed out after journalist Mike Weland of the Kootenai Valley Times reported that Benjamin’s plan to build a “new Ruby-Ridge-style compound” in rural Idaho was roiling locals. In a series of posts, Benjamin unleashed a campaign of targeted harassment aimed at Weland, who is disabled, calling him an “alleged pedophile” who uses his disability to “gain sympathy to be trusted around children.” Soon after Weland’s article was published, Benjamin sent a film crew to his house to harass him. A few days later, Benjamin used Instagram to double down on his mocking of disabled people.
- Benjamin also uses his Instagram accounts to promote livestreams hosted on other platforms such as Rumble, where he uses more explicitly racist and conspiratorial language. In one recent livestream promoted via Instagram, Benjamin used the N-word and also caricatured and used derogatory language about other ethnic groups, calling Koreans “way too crazy” and “ruthless” people who “hold grudges for five generations over, like, rice.” Later in the stream, Benjamin described canceling his Netflix subscription because the service hosted Cuties, a French film that stoked outrage in right-wing circles for supposedly celebrating the sexuality of young girls -- when, in reality, the intent was to dramatize the hazards of growing up in “a sexualized and commercialized media culture.” Benjamin called the film “child porn” and said that its creators “should be executed.”
- Benjamin has used Instagram to spread racist content referencing a racist tune he sang at a show in 2018 that included an anti-Black slur in its title and turned on the idea that when a bicycle goes missing, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume a Black person stole it.
- In addition to bullying and overt racism, Benjamin also regularly posts anti-mask and anti-vaccine content. On June 13, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a possible rare side effect associated with mRNA vaccines, Benjamin posted that mass vaccination against COVID-19 would lead to a wave of heart failures and predicted that “work camps will be the source of the ‘heart donors.’” On May 23, he posted a video supposedly showing a magnet adhering to a woman’s arm after she received a COVID-19 vaccine, spreading yet another baseless conspiracy theory.
- Benjamin also makes frequent use of hashtags -- many of which are also associated with his alternative video streaming platform Unauthorized.TV -- which feature horribly antisemitic memes and a variety of self-promotional material.
Benjamin’s content is also still found on Facebook, despite his ban. His website The Beartaria Times has its own page with nearly 1,400 followers, and there are also a number of public and private groups dedicated to spreading his bigoted content.
In late 2019, Benjamin was booted from YouTube for “working to circumvent YouTube’s Terms of Service” by livestreaming videos on alternative channels. (Benjamin had previously been banned from livestreaming for violating YouTube’s terms of service.) Before his channel was deleted, he used his platform to deny the Holocaust and spread anti-LGTBQ conspiracy theories.
Media Matters identified at least 17 “mirror” accounts that post clips from Benjamin’s livestreams and archival content. In some cases, videos directly from his Instagram page appear on these shadow YouTube accounts with a disclaimer that the videos are “mirrored with permission by Owen Benjamin,” enabling his content to spread on the platform despite his ban.
In 2018, Benjamin was banned from Twitter after posting a bizarre rant about Parkland school shooting survivor and gun safety activist David Hogg’s genitals. Benjamin returned to Twitter using alternate accounts in early 2020, but he was suspended again shortly after.
Owen Benjamin's Twitter ban comes after he went on a bizarre rant about David Hogg's genitals...see for yourself https://t.co/hiztmQE3IZ
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) April 5, 2018
Benjamin doesn’t appear to have a TikTok account, but reposts and shares of his videos have racked up millions of views. The “OwenBenjamin” hashtag has approximately 6.6 million views and contains videos and audio segments from his livestreams and shows, which are shared under other hashtags on the platform as well.
The phenomenon of far-right media figures without TikTok accounts going viral on the platform isn’t new. Fans of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones frequently repost his segments despite a supposed ban on content from his Infowars outlet, highlighting the struggle many social media platforms have with enforcing their content policies on far-right influencers.