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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Jason Wilson

Revealed: Republican debate broadcast partner fueled by misogyny and extremism

The second Republican presidential primary debate was held at the Ronald Reagan library in California, on 27 September 2023.
The second Republican presidential primary debate was held at the Ronald Reagan library in California, on 27 September 2023. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

A key broadcasting partner for the next Republican presidential debate permits and even promotes political extremism, false conspiracy theories and misogyny on its site, according to observers of media and extremism and a Guardian review of content on the online video platform Rumble.

The Guardian’s survey of Rumble revealed dozens of accounts posting content including Holocaust denial, pro-Nazi and pro-Hitler advocacy, white nationalism, and content from banned creators such as the white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

The RNC announced last week that Rumble will be the exclusive livestreamer for the Miami event, which will be attended by the Republican presidential candidates apart from Donald Trump. The Republican Jewish Coalition is co-sponsoring the debate, while NBC will be televising it.

Whereas YouTube has acted – albeit inconsistently – to ban creators involved in extremism, hate speech or violence away from their YouTube channels, Rumble has rarely done so, despite terms of service that ostensibly ban “any message which is abusive, inciting violence, harassing, harmful, hateful, antisemitic, racist or threatening”.

“If you’re coming to Rumble, you’re coming there for stuff that has been banned from other platforms,” said Megan Squire, the deputy director for data analytics and open-source intelligence (Osint) at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Squire added: “Rumble offers a refuge to extremists banned elsewhere.” Squire said it was evident not only in the uploaded content it tolerates, but in “the difference in how Rumble handles behavior off the platform”.

This is visible in the company’s treatment of some of the platform’s biggest stars when they are accused of crimes.

The comedian Russell Brand left YouTube in 2022 after the platform removed and demonetized videos promoting Covid conspiracy theories.

That September, Rumble announced the platform and Brand had inked an exclusive deal to stream Brand’s daily show on Rumble. Last month, Brand was accused by multiple women of offenses including rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Brand denies the allegations.

When a UK parliamentary committee subsequently contacted Rumble to raise concerns about Brand profiting from his content on Rumble, the company posted a response on X, formerly Twitter, in which it said that Rumble would not “join a cancel-culture mob”.

Meanwhile, Rumble have continued their daily promotion of the star’s streams on their curated “editor picks” sections, helping make Brand’s channel the eighth most popular on the platform, according to analytics site RumbleStats.

The misogynistic “alpha male” influencer Andrew Tate has also signed his own exclusive deals with Rumble and Gettr, another “alt-tech” site popular with the right. After they snagged Tate – who came to prominence on TikTok – Rumble’s app briefly became the most popular download on both Apple and Google’s stores.

Tate was arrested by Romanian authorities last December; in June he was charged with rape and human trafficking and placed under house arrest until August. He is still awaiting trial. He denies wrongdoing.

In January, in response to CNN questions on Tate, Rumble condemned human trafficking and abuse but also said that they would “not pre-judge” the investigation.

The company has continued to feature Tate in its curated feeds, and, according to RumbleStats, his TateSpeech channel is the fourth most followed and third most viewed on the platform.

Far-right figures are also frequently featured in the editors’ picks section.

In recent days, the curated feed has promoted Laura Loomer, a widely de-platformed Trump acolyte, who the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has called an “anti-Muslim bigot”; and Pete Santilli, a conspiracy theory broadcaster. Speaking on a recent show about conservative broadcaster and fellow Rumble star Ben Shapiro, Santilli threatened to “punch him in the yarmulke” and described him as a “Satanic Jew”.

The top channels on Rumble are dominated by the leading lights of the Magaverse: according to RumbleStats, Turning Point USA president Charlie Kirk is No 9 with 1.29 million followers; Donald Trump Jr, at No 8 with 1.26 million, is once again overshadowed by his father, whose channel is at No 2 with 2.06 million followers.

At the top of the tree is the conservative broadcaster and Rumble investor Dan Bongino, with 2.79 million followers. Bongino is also a significant investor in Rumble, along with fellow conservative broadcaster Dave Rubin, and Narya Capital, whose partners include the rightwing billionaire Peter Thiel and the Ohio senator JD Vance.

Peter Thiel is also the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir.
Peter Thiel is also the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Rumble users do not need to go too far beyond the marquee signings and conservative media stalwarts, however, to encounter more extreme material, like the output of the Stew Peters network, currently the 21st most-followed account on Rumble according to RumbleStats, with 546,000 subscribers.

During the Covid pandemic, Peters gained prominence in far-right circles by promoting conspiracy theories about to the pandemic’s origins, public health measures and vaccines.

As well as promoting these conspiracy theories on his podcast, in 2022 Peters produced a documentary, Died Suddenly, that falsely claimed mRNA vaccines were causing healthy individuals to develop blood clots and die; a sequel released this year falsely claimed vaccines were “bioweapons” incorporating RNA-modifying “transhumanist” nanotechnology developed by “global elites” to permanently modify human beings.

Both documentaries presented the pandemic, vaccines and the public health response as a plot hatched by a shadowy elite that included billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who is often the target of covertly or explicitly antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Both premiered on Rumble, where Died Suddenly alone has so far been viewed 19m times, according to the platform’s own view count.

In his other output, Peters has aligned himself with various other far-right causes, frequently espousing vehemently anti-LGBTQ+ views.

Peters has shown an increasing proclivity for antisemitic rhetoric, and has hosted prominent antisemites such as the traditionalist Catholic writer and podcaster E Michael Jones.

Ben Shapiro at Politicon at Pasadena convention center on 30 July 2017 in California.
Ben Shapiro at Politicon at Pasadena convention center on 30 July 2017 in California. Photograph: John Sciulli/Getty Images

In a September episode of the Stew Peters Show, available on Rumble, Jones told Peters that the events of the Holocaust had created “Jewish privilege” that made civil rights groups such as the the ADL protected from criticism. Last week, in a discussion of Israel’s bombing of Gaza, also available on Rumble, Jones claimed Benjamin Netanyahu and media figures such as Ben Shapiro “played the Holocaust card” in discussing Hamas’s attack, because “the Holocaust is a license to break the law. The Holocaust means that Jews are above the law.”

Last Thursday, on the Alex Jones Show – another program widely banned on mainstream platforms but available on Rumble – Peters himself appeared to echo antisemitic conspiracy theories. In a conversation with Jones about the events unfolding in Gaza, Peters said in criticism of Israel: “This Zionism stuff: Khazaria is not Israel … This secular nation-state created by eastern European Bolsheviks who are not Judeans … is not the Israel of the Bible.”

This appears to be an antisemitic recitation of the Khazar hypothesis. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) explains on its website that “antisemites push the conspiracy that Ashkenazi Jews – Jews descending from eastern Europe – are not ‘real Jews’ and are working to infiltrate other nations on their quest for world domination”.

The AJC adds: “The Khazar trope is also used to undermine the Jewish connection to Israel, and therefore Israel’s right to exist.”

The Guardian sent a detailed request for comment to Rumble, inviting comment on all aspects of this reporting. Rumble Press’s initial response focused on the Stew Peters channel. Rumble Press pointed to its terms of service, but added: “Rumble creators interview guests with a wide variety of opinions, just like news organizations (ABC interviewed Bin Laden in 1998) please note that he has an account on X/Twitter and his content is also available on YouTube with similar topics.”

However, Jones appears to have his own “official” channel on the site. Many of his recent videos promote his book The Holocaust Narrative, a book the ADL says shows Jones’s evolution “from his long-held position that the Holocaust was a justified response to Jewish behavior to outright Holocaust denial”.

The Guardian gave Rumble several examples of Jones’s videos on its platform that appeared to engage in Holocaust denial and asked if these violated the terms.

Rumble Press replied: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. That content has now been removed.”

When asked if the channel had been removed, or whether the Peters videos featuring Jones would be, Rumble requested that the Guardian identify any other “specific content that you think violates our policies, please provide the URLs and time stamps”.

The Guardian contacted debate co-sponsors the Republican Jewish Coalition for comment on antisemitic material on Rumble but received no response. An NBC spokesperson declined to comment.

Further afield, Rumble hosts even more extreme material. Last month, Media Matters for America (MMFA) listed a range of creators with a history of antisemitism whose content they said Rumble had run ads against. In an August article, MMFA highlighted pro-Hitler content that had also had ads run on it.

One account with 26,000 followers was posting material sourced from other places, which together combined all of these themes.

The platform and its ownership did not always have this rightward tilt: for the first half-decade of its existence it had no specific political identity at all.

Rumble was founded in Canada in 2013 by Chris Pavlovski, who still serves as the company’s chief executive, and is still its largest single shareholder. Reportedly, Pavlovski founded Rumble – his second attempt at founding a video platform – to help the smaller creators he believed YouTube was neglecting monetize their viral videos.

For several years, the platform was simply one tiny player in an online video space dominated then, as now, by YouTube.

That started changing in 2020. By then, YouTube and other platforms had tightened their moderation policies to crack down on conspiracy theories that had led to violence, including QAnon and Pizzagate.

Devin Nunes – then a pro-Trump congressman, now the chief executive of Trump Media and Technology Group, which runs the Truth Social platform – established a Rumble account that year, reportedly in the belief that he was being hidden in YouTube search results.

Figures such as Bongino, the conservative broadcaster, and Nunes began advocating Rumble as an alternative to “big tech” platforms in early 2021. That May a Peter Thiel-led funding round raised an amount that was never publicized.

In 2022, the company opened a US headquarters alongside its original Toronto digs; raised $100m in an IPO; and continued recruiting headline influencers. These were mostly on the political right, though politically ambiguous figures such as Glenn Greenwald also snagged exclusive deals.

Although Rumble is one of the more successful examples of “alt-tech” platforms, in terms of traffic, active users, and creators, it is miniscule beside its main competitor, YouTube.

Nandini Jammi, the co-founder of the Check My Ads Institute, which campaigns against disinformation by highlighting the online advertising firms that sustain platforms such as Rumble, said Rumble “does not have mass appeal” and appeals to a “small demographic that is relatively undesirable to advertisers”.

Squire, the SPLC researcher, says Rumble may be hoping the exclusive arrangement with the RNC will reverse this.

Pointing to Pew Center research indicating that only 20% of Americans had heard of the site, Squire said Rumble will be hoping that “this drives traffic to their site and familiarizes an audience with their service, their brand”, adding: “That seems like a win for them as long as their tech can stand up to the traffic.”

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