Inside Russell Brand’s conspiracy-fuelled fan army – and why it will never let him be cancelled

The allegations span a period of seven years, during the height of Brand's fame
The allegations span a period of seven years, during the height of Brand's fame - Suzanne Plunkett

As is the custom among his generation of celebrities, a few years ago, when Russell Brand was bored and financially peckish, he decided to write a children’s book. His is a fertile imagination, as anybody who has seen his stand-up (or political theories) knows, but were that to fail, the entire canon of literature was available for him to plunder – dinosaurs, pirates, wizards, animals. As it was, Brand elected to directly retell a very old tale: The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

“I think the Pied Piper is such an interesting figure,” Brand said at the time. “When you think about [it] it’s weird what he did, taking them children away, and it makes you ask questions. Why did he do it? Is that OK? Why did it happen?” The Piper who leads the young from Hamelin in revenge for being unappreciated by the masses is, Brand thought, “a trickster [...] there to bring about change.”

The eventual booky wook, Russell Brand’s Trickster Tales: The Pied Piper of Hamelin, published in 2014, carried illustrations by the then-children’s laureate Chris Riddell. On the cover, the titular figure is depicted as a tall, slender man with a nest of long, knotted dark hair. He wears ill-advisedly tight clothing, winklepickers and black nail polish. It does not take a close reading to work out who he may be based on. “More than anything else,” Brand said, “I’m the trickster.”

Since the publication and broadcast this weekend of an investigation by The Times, The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches, which accused Brand of a rape, sexual assaults and emotional abuse in a period spanning seven years and during the height of his fame, a lot of old interviews suddenly read differently. All of his work does, recast as it is in a new light.

A still from Brand’s most recent YouTube video
A still from Brand’s most recent YouTube video - PA

But one look at the comments underneath Brand’s most recent deposit to his YouTube channel, “So, This Is Happening” – a two-minute pre-denial posted on the eve of the investigation being made public, in which he ‘absolutely refutes’ the allegations insisting his sexual encounters were always consensual – show the Pied Piper comparison scarcely goes far enough. He doesn’t have mere followers, nor old-fashioned fans; he has an army.

“We’re with you, Russell,” writes one, yielding 4,000 ‘likes’. “I’ve been wondering how long it would be until they tried to pull this card,” another reads, beside a crying emoji. “I’m with you all the way Russell. They did it to Assange. They tried it with Bernie Sanders. They did it to Corbyn. They’ll try it with anyone they find a threat,” laments a third.

All over social media you’ll find similar sentiments: that since Brand repositioned himself as a YouTuber and podcast host, gaining a vast international following for his daily Stay Free broadcasts – in which he speaks to “awakened beings” and “say[s] the unsayable” about everything from Covid vaccines to the Ukraine war – “they” have had his card marked.

Public backing

As well as his millions of fans across YouTube, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok, Brand has received immediate support from various other “free” thinkers who command legions in the murkier suburbs of the internet. Those posting supportive messages about the 48-year-old, who has been accused of rape and grooming a 16-year-old schoolgirl, include Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan, Elon Musk, Tommy Robinson, Tucker Carlson, Laurence Fox, and Michael Barrymore.

It’s quite a fantasy dinner party, and also at the table is Alex Jones, the American far-right radio host and conspiracy theorist who was last year ordered to pay nearly $1.5bn in damages to the families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, after long promoting the lie that the shooting was a government-staged hoax.

Andrew Tate, currently facing a lawsuit of his own, publicly backed Brand
Andrew Tate, currently facing allegations of his own, has publicly backed Brand - Alexandru Dobre

“The matrix is coming after Russell Brand, anybody that challenges the globalists, anybody that challenges Big Pharma, anybody that’s popular, that comes out against the establishment… is going to be accused of assaulting women,” Jones said, in a new TikTok video seemingly filmed at an airport departure gate.

In a gift to anybody playing conspiracy theory bingo from home, he goes on to mention Jeffrey Epstein and the assassination of John F Kennedy within the same sentence, before revealing he knows Brand personally, and admires him.

“I’ve never seen women throw themselves at anybody like him [...] Nobody ever accused him of assault. Now, because he comes out against the New World Order, suddenly the allegations are happening to him.” Then, for clarity: “I stand with Russell Brand, he’s completely innocent.”

Suspicious manner

Brand’s support is by no means exclusively online. A rousing ovation at his Wembley Park Theatre show in London on Saturday night, not quite the O2 Arena he used to sell out in 2010, attests to that. Yet in an era when conspiracy theories drifted into the mainstream as traditional and social media melded, his always suspicious, always questioning manner found a natural audience on the internet.

A former publicist for Brand’s memoir, Henry Jeffreys, once told the Telegraph that he recalled Brand being obsessed with things “going on beneath the surface [that] you don’t really understand, you know – ‘Wake up, people!’” even in the late noughties.

A few years later, after Brand had written for the Guardian and New Statesman, battled Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, interviewed Ed Miliband and published Revolution, a book advocating a non-violent social revolution, his radical politics were clear, making him a hero to certain sections of the British left.

His YouTube show The Trews (a portmanteau of True News, and this was before Donald Trump’s “Fake News” became a common phrase), gave him a new, mainly online audience at a time when the likes of Joe Rogan were still building their brands.

This, of course, was a time when Donald Trump built a political career from a calculated lie about Barack Obama’s birthplace. Under the pretence of simply asking questions nobody dares ask, YouTubers and podcast hosts, as well as some politicians, were quickly able to draw huge (mostly young male) followings. Seeded by harmless “open-minded discussion”, conspiracy theories bloomed in that environment: if they’re lying to you about one thing, why not everything?

Brand has compared himself to several revolutionary figures in the past
Brand has compared himself to several revolutionary figures in the past - CAPITAL PICTURES

Since the Covid pandemic and Ukraine war, Brand’s fanbase of credulous keyboard warriors has only swollen. The titles of his videos are always immaculately clickable, luring viewers in with a suggestion that, yet again, “they” have been distracting and manipulating you, and Brand is the valiant one with the truth. The Pied Piper, speaking to camera in a deep-cut t-shirt and beaded necklace, his hair Messianic and his backdrop a converted pub garage near his £4 million riverside home in Henley-on-Thames, toots his flute and along they come.

“So, Trump Just Said THIS About Vaccines And It Changes EVERYTHING”, is one recent video. “The FBI Have Been Harvesting Your DNA?!” exclaimed another. Earlier in the year, he asked “What REALLY Started The Hawaii Fires?” He often likes to attack Volodymyr Zelensky, seems extremely preoccupied with Hunter Biden, and briefly quit YouTube last year after having a post “censored” for allegedly “spreading Covid misinformation”.

He could never stay away for long, though. His follower count consists of four million on Instagram, 2.2 million on TikTok and 6.59 million on YouTube. It is a vast reach, and for all his anti-capitalist bellowing, online popularity pays.

Familiar tactics

In the past, Brand has compared himself to Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, Che Guevara, and even Jesus Christ. He sees himself as a revolutionary, but while the revolution has yet to come, judging by the support he’s been shown since Saturday, he could at least claim to lead a very successful cult.

“Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance,” he’s fond of saying. It’s true, and to watch his YouTube channel for 20 minutes is to see a tyrannical ego at work. And by positioning himself as the scourge of the mainstream media and frightened establishment, he has insulated himself against full cancellation.

It is a familiar tactic: bang the drum of being “silenced” enough, and they won’t be able to listen to anything other than you. The more “they” attack Brand, the more he can claim he’s being hushed, and the more powerful his “truth” becomes. It is a  carousel of protection. Besides, it’s not easy to cancel anybody who broadcasts alone from a pub garage.

And so his army stands firm, for once incredulous, forever loyal. “We are all behind you Russell,” one message left on YouTube assured Brand this morning. Those children’s books, Russell Brand’s Trickster Tales, were supposed to be a series. In the end, he never got beyond the first. The Pied Piper was enough. Now, the trickster will keep playing the same tune until they’re bored of it. No sign so far. They’re all behind him, all right.