By endorsing Bernie, Joe Rogan could set his fans on a new path
Presenting the world through the lens of class not conspiracy, Sanders offers an alternative to the podcast’s usual fare
Bernie Sanders has been under fire since his endorsement by controversial comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan. Sanders’ detractors are blasting his comms team for highlighting Rogan’s support in a campaign video, citing a history of racist and transphobic statements as well as his platforming of far-right figures like Milo Yiannopoulos and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes. In defense of Sanders, others have argued that Rogan could help the Senator win over socially conservative young men who might find certain aspects of his message appealing.
I’m not about to defend Joe Rogan, who has done a lot more harm than good throughout his career, nor do I care to weigh in on whether Sanders erred in touting his support.
All of this has been covered ad nauseam. These issues don’t interest me that much, but as someone who writes about the far-right, I am interested in radicalization—how it occurs and how to stop it—and Rogan’s endorsement raises an interesting possibility.
I never really listened to his show aside from a few clips and I only recently—i.e. in the past few days—learned of Rogan’s more bigoted remarks, but I’ve always regarded him as a bad actor in the media because he functions as an entry point to far-right ideas. Rogan is on the very edge of a web of connections that Data & Society researcher Becca Lewis calls the Alternative Influence Network (AIN).
On the outer layer of the onion sits more palatable Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) figures like Rogan, Jordan Peterson and David Rubin, but they’re only a few clicks removed on Youtube from the stinking reactionary core.
Still, as useful as the AIN is for understanding pathways to radicalization, it would be a mistake to oversimplify Rogan’s role in the process. His show is more of a clearing house for all sorts of heterodox ideas rather than the fat end of a funnel that goes directly to the far-right.
While I think it’s fair to call Joe Rogan a gateway to the alt-right, his endorsement of Bernie creates an opportunity for his fans to take a different path.
Guests on the Joe Rogan Experience are eclectic. Within the span of a month he had on leftist professor Cornel West and conservative writer Andy Ngo. But the common denominator is that most of them are just outside of the mainstream. Skepticism of the establishment often leads Rogan and his fans into conspiracy territory. As someone with outsider credibility and a different way of looking at the world, Sanders is uniquely positioned to steer them back to earth.
The appeal of people like Alex Jones, a frequent Rogan guest, is their ability to create a compelling—albeit false—narrative to explain the world we live in: there’s a tiny cabal of sicko globalists and all we need to do expose them, then “1776 will commence again.”
Conspiracy theory simplifies the extremely complex operations of power, boiling it all down to the machinations of the Freemasons or the Bilderberg Group or the Council on Foreign Relations, etc.
The reality is a lot more complicated and mundane. Power is a phenomenon that can be observed and understood. The people who make the decisions that affect our lives aren’t the agents of shadowy puppet-masters with no aim other than world domination for its own sake. They have rational, self-interested motivations that are clearly identifiable.
When Sanders went on Rogan’s show, he gave the comedian the lowdown on a real-life “conspiracy.” In the plainest possible terms, Sanders laid bare the workings of the pharmaceutical industry, spelling out the reasons why drugs cost too damn much. Spoiler alert: It has nothing to do with Molech-worshipping pedophile cults.
Sanders pointed out that the pharma lobby spends roughly $4.5 billion to defeat ballot measures and candidates that threaten their $70 billion in profits. If there is a real conspiracy, it’s happening in the boardrooms and on Capitol Hill, not in the Bohemian Grove:
So you’ve got drug companies that are engaged in collusion and in price fixing who are incredibly greedy and the result is many elderly people, many working people, simply cannot afford the medicine they need. This is… It’s unbelievable. And the reason for all of that stuff is we are the only country in the world that does not negotiate with the drug companies. They can charge you any price they want, and that has to do with the fact that we don’t have a national healthcare program, Medicare is not negotiating
Not even Alex Jones can say for sure what the Illuminati hope to achieve by turning the frogs gay, but Sanders points out that the motivations of the ultra-wealthy are relatively straightforward:
[T]he drug companies and the insurance companies … use their power over politicians, they use their power over the media, they spend billions of dollars on advertising on media to make sure that they make as much as they can in profit. But it’s not any different with Wall Street, it’s not any different with the fossil fuel industry, or the prison industrial complex. These guys have wealth, they have power, and they could care less about the needs of working people in this country.
Conspiracy theorists have no plan of action beyond revealing “the truth,” which is why conspiracy theory is mostly an individualistic form of political activity—if you can even call it that. There’s no collective response to the “globalist takeover” aside from Facebook groups where people get together to point out triangles in brand logos. Sanders provides a chance to join with other people in a real-life political project.
He offers Rogan’s fans a view of power relations grounded in the real world that serves as an alternative to conspiracy theory, which can so easily metastasize into antisemitism, racism, anti-government terrorism and other kinds of extremism.
Rogan’s huge audience is primarily made up of impressionable young guys whose worldview is only just beginning to take shape. They look up to him, which is why it’s troubling to have him up there politely and credulously listening to some of the worst far-right cranks.
Regardless of whether Rogan’s endorsement is a“good look” for the Sanders campaign, it’s a net positive in terms of taking anti-establishment frustration that might otherwise go hard right and channeling it in a more productive direction.