The Daily Beast is facing intense backlash over an op-ed that claims members from the “dirtbag left”—a collection of leftist podcasters and Twitter personalities—are cozying up with right-wing extremists.
The roughly 4,500-word article posits that leftist media personalities are legitimizing and even adopting far-right views. The piece’s author, Alexander Reid Ross, bases his conclusion on his subjects’ tweets, podcast appearances, comedic bits, and the like.
The story has been met with a thorough online thrashing of Ross and the Daily Beast. While a few have praised it, more, including many of the story’s subjects and their associates, have mocked it as ill-informed, inaccurate, and unsupported by the evidence. They claim Ross has taken things out of context in an effort to malign them with what Max Blumenthal, a subject of Ross’ earlier (and retracted) reporting called “McCarthyite smears.” Several have claimed Ross has a history of shoddy, biased reporting. Ross and the Daily Beast have stood by the story.
Ross believes the attacks on him, which he says range from “off-base to hateful” and have also been directed at his friends, are indicative that he’s onto something. He described the saga as “terrifying” to both himself and his family, partly based on lies, and said that one of the smears had made its way onto a site frequented by people “of fringe political beliefs united in their commitment to cyber-stalking (and linked to suicides).”
“In short, making it seem like I’m in some conspiracy to smear people on the left is, in fact, an unfounded conspiracy theory meant to discredit me and smear the groups I work with,” he told the Daily Dot via email, noting that he was speaking in his personal capacity.
“It’s irresponsible and baseless,” he added. “But at least it goes further to demonstrate the paranoid style of those who have a lot of difficulty coping with honest journalism.”
Naturally, Ross’ subjects are among those most strenuously pushing back against his conclusions.
Reporter Alex Rubinstein called it “actual fake news.” In the Daily Beast piece, Ross suggests that Rubinstein is among the leftists parroting far-right opinions based on some of his tweets analyzing overlaps between right-wing and leftist views, as well as his previous work for Russia-backed RT America.
The Daily Beast’s email seeking comment from comedian Jimmy Dore led to Rubenstein to call the then-unpublished story as a “smear piece.” Ross makes much of Dore, whose photo is featured in the story, interviewing a member of a far-right group on his show.
As evidence of the comedian’s supposed extremist inclinations, he also notes Dore’s remarks about lockdowns, claiming he’s “gotten populist mileage himself out of anti-lockdown sentiment” because he questioned shuttering small businesses while Amazon remained open, and said that the World Health Organization had cautioned against lockdowns.
Dore told the Daily Beast that he supports lockdowns as “one tool” to fight COVID-19, and his statements were based on the WHO saying it doesn’t “advocate lockdowns as a primary means” of controlling the virus.
Others have heaped insults on what they describe as the story’s convoluted logic and guilt-by-podcast-appearance.
Ross told the Daily Dot that the “article is based on facts and statements that people made, not simply their relationships as one would expect with ‘guilt by association.'”
“Lot of words to say ‘Dore had a Boogaloo guy on once,’” commented one of his critics.
“Dumbest article I’ve ever read,” tweeted Kyle Kulinski. “Guilt by association 12 degrees removed + fake moral panic.”
The piece has reignited criticisms of Ross’ previous work. “Isn’t his whole thing ‘anyone less than fully woke is a Literal Nazi?'” commented @thejohnhugar. Ross, a doctoral fellow at the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right and an adjunct professor at Portland State University, points out that he’s repeatedly quoted as an expert on the far-right by esteemed publications and outlets, such as the BBC and Columbia Journalism Review.
The attacks on Ross include accusations by several, including Blumenthal, that he’s worked with right-wing factions, and has even been paid by them. Ross strenuously denies being paid by the right. “[N]o I don’t receive income, nor do I have contracts with any right-wing groups or individuals, full stop,” he said.
He acknowledged recently learning that the nonpartisan Network Contagion Research Institute, where he has a fellowship, received a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, but said it doesn’t fund his work. The grant is part of a $2 million package aimed at preventing political violence and promoting “social healing.” NCRI’s portion is for developing a user interface for a data storage and analytics platform used by social media researchers.
Others pushing back against his article brought up the Southern Poverty Law Center deleting three of Ross’ contributions, as well as retracting and apologizing for one of his stories for its Hatewatch blog in 2018.
The Daily Beast did not respond to an inquiry about Ross’ previously retracted work.
“In addition, we extend a sincere apology to those who believe they have been falsely described in it, including Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton, Tim Pool, Rania Khalek, and Brian Becker, and disclaim, as clearly as we can, any intention to suggest that any of them are white supremacists, fascists, and/or anti-Semites, that they hold such views, or that they are engaged in a conspiracy with the Russian government to promote such views or otherwise,” SPLC wrote at the time.
Ross characterized using this to blast him as taking “a single, unfair incident that happened several years ago … to drag my name through the mud.” He also said that the head of Hatewatch at the time has since publicly commended his work.
The piece the SPLC apologized for was arguably similar to the Daily Beast article. The former story was called “The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment.” The latter, “These ‘dirtbag left’ stars are flirting with the far right: Their podcasts and shows are full of Boogaloos, deep-state conspiracies, and even ‘great replacement’ talking points. Which side is this, again?”
His critics made much of Ross’ claim that podcaster Nick Mullen dropped “the n-word multiple times on Bill Maher.”
Mullen has never been on Real Time with Bill Maher. After Maher used the slur on his show, Mullen mockingly called Maher “the n****r guy” (an apparent nod to a 2007 episode of South Park) on his own show, Cum Town.
The Daily Beast later quietly updated the story to clarify that Mullen was talking about Maher and wasn’t on his show. Ross says the article was “well edited and fact checked thoroughly.”
“These ‘dirtbag left’ stars are flirting with the far right” was always guaranteed to cause a stir. Some of its arguments—such as that liberals may “pay tribute” to some conservative conspiracy theories in the hopes of convincing people on the right to change their views, or attempt to transcend political allegiances to create a populist movement—aren’t particularly controversial.
It’s when Ross argues that these leftists aren’t merely building bridges, they’re crossing them and making it more likely others will do so too, that he loses much of audience, though admittedly, many of the loudest complaints were sounded by his targets and those sympathetic to them.
“Playing footsie with the right is not a common thing on the neo-socialist left, but there’s a subset of this latter group, a small but influential band, who can veer into legitimizing the talking points of the extremist right,” he writes.
He pillories Dore for having a leader of the Boogaloo Boys on his show. Many on the left criticized Dore for giving a platform to an extremist group that’s frequently seen alongside the Proud Boys. Ross takes it a step further, however, asserting that Dore’s interview of a Boogaloo Boy is emblematic of a larger issue wherein high-profile leftists are essentially sanctioning far-right views by giving them oxygen.
Ross claims that Rubinstein is also part of the leftist-turned-extremist-right-platformer cohort based on a few tweets, including about the Boogaloos. In January, Rubinstein tweeted that it may be “time to rethink the left-right paradigm” after a Boogaloo Boy praised Black Lives Matter, antifa, and right-wing militias.
“I do not condone the Boogaloos out-right, but there is a huge amount of video evidence taken by independent reporters that demonstrates some of them hold anti-racist and anti-authoritarian views…” Rubinstein reportedly told the Daily Beast via email, “as for fascists in their ranks, I completely disavow.”
To his detractors, the rest of Ross’ arguments are even further afield.
He spends a paragraph drawing a line from Dore to far-right troll Jack Posobiec (who he notes once called Dore “a Jack Posobiec Democrat”) and then to the Movement for a People’s Party, where Dore is on the advisory council. The People’s Party advocates starting a progressive, populist political party. As evidence of the flirtation between “leftist dirtbag[s]” and the far-right, Ross notes that Posobiec once interviewed party advocate Niko House on One America News Network and that House was featured in Posobiec’s documentary.
He takes the leftist Red Scare podcast to task in a similar fashion for inviting conservatives such as Steve Bannon on the show, and for a co-host going on a conservative podcast. “All of the good fiction writing now is self-published essentially and coming from the so-called ‘alt-right,’ and my haters can quote me on that,” he says Red Scare co-host Dasha Nekrasova said on Perfume Nationalist. It’s not clear how praising works of fiction equates tacit support for alt-right views.
To support his thesis, he also points how people on the far-right characterize Red Scare’s content. He writes that Jack Mason of Perfume Nationalist said that Red Scare hosts “have always flirted with the alt-right,” and have an “erotic fixation on right-wing figures,” such as Bannon, Roger Stone, Donald Trump, and Kellyanne Conway.
Ross also spends some time drawing parallels between his subjects and conspiracy-minded conservatives over their discussing views held by many on both sides of the aisle. Views such as Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself or that elites comprise many amoral perverts, shades of which appear in the QAnon conspiracy theory. He similarly lumps them in with people who hold or tacitly endorse anti-Semitic views because they’ve spoken of or associated with them in the past.
Political scientist Norman Finkelstein, Ross writes, “caused controversy last year for calling Holocaust denier David Irving a ‘very good historian,’ adding, ‘I don’t know what a Holocaust denier even is.’” Finkelstein is Jewish; his parents survived Nazi concentration camps.
Finkelstein, he notes, was a recent guest on the TrueAnon podcast. He acknowledges that the left-wing TrueAnon mixes “humor and seriousness,” yet seems to take issue with it referencing right-wing conspiracies at all. He writes disapprovingly of a host saying, “I literally think that rich people are vampires in every sense of the word—psychic vampires, money vampires, sex vampires, blood vampires. They have a totally different, absolutely warped sense of morality and society.”
Much of the article boils down to these types of arguments about leftists going on far-right podcasts; having non-liberals, including some who express extremist views, on their own shows; occasionally saying things that don’t toe the liberal line; and foraying into conservativism themselves or praising those with conservative views. This is his evidence that some “dirtbag leftist” stars are “flirting with” far-right extremism.
One could argue that Ross believes right-wing extremists are unmentionable, even in the context of jokes, and speaking of or to them, except in condemnation, provides them with a platform and the appearance of legitimacy.
While the piece, Ross, and the Daily Beast have been heavily mocked since it published Monday morning, some defended it.
“Great article and all the replies just straight up confirm what’s being said in the article by being hysterical or otherwise deluded in their dogpiling,” said @Retselacam.
Far more people thought it was garbage, however.
“I’m flabbergasted that this ‘story’ even made it to print,” tweeted journalist Walker Bragman.
Even some who aren’t fans of Ross’ targets thought he went too far.
“I like you and your work, and I despise many of the people you mention,” said one. “But for others I think you are too quick to stop your search for context once you have found your incriminating quote.
“And you didn’t mention that these people aren’t a unified group, many despise each other.”
Ross remains undeterred by such criticisms. He sees his work as “honest journalism” illuminating important developments and facets of disinformation, extremism and conspiracy theories to which he has dedicated much of his career.
“Unfortunately, I’m afraid that many of my antagonists would rather band together with conspiracy theorists to undermine a democratic political consensus and further polarize society than to work through society’s increasing divisions and negotiate common ground for a more decent, peaceful, and just world for future generations,” he told the Daily Dot.
“Doubly unfortunately, I am concerned, based on your questions, that your article will perpetuate the intense and damaging campaign against me, becoming fodder for people who have very little commitment to either truth or dignity.”