VIDEO: Russell Brand and the Conspiracy Grift

Over the past decade, Russell Brand has gone from left-wing comedian to right-wing darling — a shift that highlights the powerful economic incentives for conspiracy theorists online.

When The Guardian named Brand one of the “Heroes of 2014,” the article described him as “the best thing that has happened to the left in years.” Now, Brand hosts a show called Stay Free, where he uncritically platforms right-wing figures and baseless conspiracy theories. This “grift drift” toward right-wing content reflects how conspiratorial thinking is often financially rewarded online.

In 2022, after having a video removed from YouTube for spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine, he announced his move to Rumble, an extreme video-sharing platform overrun with dangerous conspiracy theories, antisemitic and Islamophobic content, and explicit calls for violence.

Total views on individual videos posted each month from June 21, 2012, to September 15, 2023, on Russell Brand’s YouTube and Rumble accounts. (Brand’s Rumble account was created September 14, 2021.)

The chart above shows Brand’s YouTube channel exploding in popularity around the end of 2020, when he began posting conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and vaccines. Brand responded to the success of these videos by posting more and more reactionary content, often promoting the “Great Reset” conspiracy theory.

This increased attention also brought Brand new economic opportunities. Along with promotion for subscriptions to his Locals community, Brand’s viewers are bombarded with advertisements for everything from stickers to greens powders to precious metals.

After airing segments fearmongering about an impending World War III or the global elite’s plans to control viewers' lives, Brand sells them products that sometimes seem meant to assuage the anxieties he’s just stoked. In one advertisement, Brand says, “Is it me or does the future feel more unsecure and uncertain,” citing “wars, pandemics, lies,” before proceeding to sell his audience gold as a key “to secure your hard-earned nest egg.”

Brand’s evolution highlights how right-wing and conspiratorial content is often made profitable for online creators, thanks in large part to platforms like Rumble that help serve that content to millions of impressionable and lucrative customers.