IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Conspiracy theories about Russell Brand sexual assault allegations go viral with help from Musk

Brand quickly found support by harnessing a deep skepticism of the media.
Get more newsLiveon

When comedian-turned-conservative-influencer Russell Brand preemptively denied sexual assault allegations on Friday, he flicked at a conspiracy theory that quickly found traction among his supporters and other far-right voices: That the media had ulterior motives for publishing the stories about him.

“Is there another agenda at play?” he asked in his pre-emptive video response to the investigation published Saturday by The Times and Channel 4, which documented four sexual assault allegations brought against him.

Deep skepticism of the media has become foundational for many conservatives over the last decade and Brand’s invocation of that skepticism quickly found support from members of his online conservative cohort, most notably Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson.

The Times published its investigative report Saturday, done in conjunction with The Sunday Times and Channel 4, in which the women accused him of sexual assaults that purportedly took place between 2006 and 2013. Brand’s management agency, Tavistock Wood Management, severed ties with him soon after the report came to light, writing that it had been “horribly misled by him.” 

Brand posted his response video to YouTube, X  and the conservative video site Rumble, hinting at the report to come and warning his followers about its veracity. Brand denied the allegations, maintaining that all his sexual relations in the past had been consensual.

YouTube said on Tuesday that it had blocked Brand from making money off its platform following the sexual assault allegations. The online platform said in a statement that it had “suspended monetization” on Brand‘s channel for violating its “creator responsibility policy.”

“If a creator’s off-platform behavior harms our users, employees or ecosystem, we take action to protect the community,” YouTube said.

The decision will likely come as a blow to Brand, who has 6.6 million subscribers on YouTube, where he has peddled conspiracy theories about issues like Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine. He has 11.2 million followers on X, formerly Twitter and 1.4 million on Rumble, where his is among the most-followed accounts.

Conservative internet figures have followed Brand’s lead, however, using conspiracy theories to attack the allegations, and have found a largely friendly audience on platforms that have backed away from content moderation.

X owner, Elon Musk, and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson quickly defended to Brand, implying that the allegations were made because of Brand’s critiques of the media.

“Of course. They don’t like competition,” Musk replied to Brand’s video.

Carlson more directly tied the allegations against Brand to his politics.

“Criticize the drug companies, question the war in Ukraine, and you can be pretty sure this is going to happen,” Carlson wrote. 

Neither Carlson nor Musk discussed the allegations in detail. The Times reported that the four women who made sexual assault allegations against Brand in their investigative report did not know each other previously. The reporters spent multiple years interviewing hundreds of people, the report also said.

Some other conservative influencers, including Ian Miles Cheong, added to the pushback, with Cheong equating the accusations against Brand to those made against other high-profile men.

In a statement provided to NBC News after this article was published, Cheong said, "The media has been quick to judge Russell Brand for allegations made against him without due process." 

Brand, once a popular mainstream comedian who had starring roles in movies including “Get Him to the Greek” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” has emerged in recent years as a popular figure in conservative circles for his straight-to-camera videos in which he takes aim at many targets of the far right.

Brand has made criticism of the media a core part of his messaging, noting in his response video that he sets out to “critique, attack, and undermine the news.”

Those critiques have resonated on X, particularly among Musk and his allies, who have also been ardent critics of the media. Musk tweeted at least three times in support of Brand since Friday, posting on Sunday night: “I support Russell Brand. That man is not evil.”

Andrew Tate, a men’s rights influencer who awaits trial in Romania after being indicted on suspicion of human trafficking and rape, posted “Welcome to the club” on X and on Saturday tagged Brand’s account above an image that references “crazy b---- allegations.”

Jake Shields, a former UFC fighter who has pivoted to embrace conservative views online and has close to 400,000 followers on X, posted repeatedly about the allegations over the weekend, including one post that insinuated the Times article contained “false rape allegations” and saying, “It would be nice to see some of these girls face long prison sentences.”

X’s view count metrics, which have been the subject of some skepticism, showed that many of the efforts to cast doubt on the allegations have gained significant traction. The Times’ own thread on X about the investigation received 15.5 million views, according to the platform — a fourth of the views that Brand’s pre-emptive video accrued. 

A search for “Russell Brand” — still a trending topic Monday — surfaced posts that cast doubt on the allegations. None of the first 20 posts in the search results included links to any reporting about the new allegations. 

Instead, the top search results for “Russell Brand” on X suggested Brand is “‘being attacked’” for his views about Covid-19 and Ukraine. Many of the posts also criticize the mainstream and legacy media at large, claiming that the media has referred to Brand as “guilty” and provided no evidence for the allegations against him.