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Saturday, July 22, 2023

Substack - just as sleazy, racist and right-leaning as I suspected

 I suspected Substack was rotten, over a year ago:

The fact that Lulu Cheng Meservey, the vice president of communications for Substack is a member of Razib Khan's clubhouse as well as a member of the clubhouse of the anti-CRT grifting, IDW-riddled, far-right leaning FAIR, does not help dissuade me from the suspicion that Substack is simply a high-tech Donor's Trust.

Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie has a Thiel connection. Thiel was an investor in PandoDaily, which McKenzie worked for.

Another Substack co-founder, Chris Best, appeared on a podcast for the race pseudoscience promoting, Thiel-funded Quillette. According to a description of the interview on Padverb, "Tech entrepreneur Chris Best talks about Substack, his self-publishing platform that is attracting journalists like Andrew Sullivan, Jesse Singal and Jen Gerson." 

Andrew Sullivan is famous for his promotion of the race pseudoscience of racist Charles Murray.

Jesse Singal is best known for his antagonism against trans people. He's a defender of the race pseudoscience-friendly Steven Pinker. He also has a Quillette connection and a Koch connection.

Jen Gerson has written for Quillette.

The Substack gang apparently has no problem with promoters of race pseudoscience, at the very least.

So I was absolutely not surprised to learn that Substack is promoting racist ghoul Richard Hanania. This is from Jonathan M. Katz's Substack called The Racket:

As Racket readers know, a few weeks ago Substack featured on their flagship podcast, The Active Voice, an openly racist, self-described troll named Richard Hanania. Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie gave Hanania wide latitude to launder his “anti-woke” views — which include urging the repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (a position McKenzie called “gutsy”) and overt calls for “more policing, incarceration, and surveillance of black people.” McKenzie then sat back as Hanania recommended to Substack listeners at least two white nationalists: VDARE blogger and racist kingpin Steve Sailer (whose recent columns include “Blacks vs. Hispanics, Part 298” and “The Asian Invasion Of California Public Schools”) and the self-described Danish-German ethno-nationalist (and child rape proponent) Emil Kirkegaard. McKenzie uncritically quoted Hanania’s description of Sailer as “intellectually honest.”

In the days that followed, I did some digging into Hanania’s support network, revealing that he is handsomely funded by shadowy donors through a grifty, self-dealing “non-profit” likely based out of his Los Angeles-area home. (Previously unreported tidbit: another beneficiary of Hanania’s nonprofit is a former campus leader of the white nationalist group “Youth for Western Civilization.”) It also turned out that Hanania’s funding was drying up — right as McKenzie & Co. decided to promote his work on their podcast. McKenzie has aggressively avoided making any kind of comment on this episode, in both senses of the word.

Then last night, another episode of The Active Voice dropped. This one featured someone from a very different corner of the discourse: Washington Post internet culture reporter Taylor Lorenz. As I noted a year ago, Lorenz is a lightning rod for the extremely online right. Her investigations of far-right posters, in particular the anti-LGBT blogger Chaya Raichik, better known as the poster behind @LibsOfTikTok, have made her a constant target of right-wing and misogynistic attacks.

My immediate reaction was — 1) good for Taylor and 2) this must be some kind of balancing move in the minds of Substack corporate, one predicated on the assumption that a culture writer at a major newspaper and an openly racist troll who is bankrolled by semi-anonymous internet moguls represent the “two sides” of the culture wars.

Confirming my suspicions was a note pinned at the top of the episode’s comments section from McKenzie. It said:

I know that many people have strong feelings about anything to do with Taylor Lorenz, which is in part the unfortunate result of culture war behavior common on Twitter. We do not intend to moderate this comments section, even though we expect it to be… lively. Say what you will, but know that invective, ad hominen, and personal attacks are unlikely to achieve your ends. At best, this space supports thoughtful critique and respectful argument—so, can we aim for that? By shouting, you might achieve temporary personal release, but you are unlikely to convince anyone that you are the more reasonable one in the room or that your ideas are the better ones. Those behaviors might win on other platforms. They will not win here.

This is the Substack corporate pose: being above internet politics (“culture war behavior common on Twitter”) while gleefully reaping the clicks and attention by jumping into it head first. And indeed, the comment section under McKenzie’s post was exactly what you’d expect from a typical anti-Lorenz Two Minutes Hate. (See also: the supposedly anti-Twitter McKenzie begging Elon Musk to “start thinking of Substack as a friend” last week.)

I was going to let all of this go (I swear), until I logged onto Substack Notes and saw this:


For the blissfully uninitiated, here’s what’s going on there: The original poster — an “investigative reporter” whose recent scoops include the incredible find that “there was no pandemic1 (great news, everyone!) — is complaining that Substack must be irredeemably biased against him because it featured an interview with the reactionary trolls’ bête noire. Then McKenzie — who can’t be bothered to respond to a single question about the Hanania interview from anyone, mind you — jumps in to say: Don’t delete your account! Don’t take your newsletter elsewhere! We’re having on Alex Berenson — the anti-vax, reefer-madness-stoking COVID truther memorably dubbed “the pandemic’s wrongest man.”


The most likely reason for McKenzie's actions is that McKenzie is a stooge of the right-wing racists who fund Substack. And they are likely the same people who fund Hanania, which is why Hanania is getting this special promotional treatment in spite of being a racist piece of filth.

OK, so Hanania is a right-wing grifter who tweets racist stuff for fun and profit, and also runs an extremely lucrative “non-profit,” probably out of his house, which launders anonymous donor money in an explicit effort to reverse the most landmark piece of civil rights legislation in American history. So what, who cares if he went on a podcast with the co-founder of Substack?

Well I do, as someone who for better or for worse is associated with this platform — and someone who McKenzie personally invited to start a blog on here over four years ago.

But it’s a bit more than that. McKenzie didn’t just have a reactionary grifter on his show — a reactionary grifter who advertised the interview on his Twitter by saying the accompanying illustration made him look like a “trans joker.”4 He had him on and identified him as a centrist — and an enlightened one at that. This is the ultimate, and perhaps most dangerous, part of the grift: recycling old right-wing viewpoints as “a fascinating new voice in politics media,” and claiming it is the height of a rationalist tradition rooted in rejecting, as McKenzie put it, the “orthodoxies” of the “tribes” of the far right and left.

This is belied in two seconds if you just scan the list of writers that Hanania himself counts as “enlightened centrists,” in the blog post that inspired the interview. You can see him shifting the Overton Window in real time: on the “left” he includes centrists like Jonathan Chait and Matt Yglesias. In the “apolitical” (his term) center he includes people better described as conservatives, like Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Haidt. And on the right, he includes neo-eugenicist Razib Khan and Steve Sailer. Sailer, widely regarded as a kingpin of the racist commentariat, is an open antisemite and columnist for the white supremacist blog VDARE. Among other things, he wrote in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that “the plain fact is that [Black Americans] tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups” and thus “need stricter moral guidance from society.”

And it isn’t like McKenzie didn’t know Sailer’s name was on Hanania’s recommended reading list. He independently brought him up as an example of someone Hanania considers “intellectually honest people!” (At the end of the interview, Hanania recommended a few other Substackers, one of whom positively cited The Bell Curve, and another who wrote a recent post titled “Homosexuality is a Mental Illness.”)

It appears that McKenzie is trying the old phony bipartisanship that Koch loves so well

But never count Peter Thiel out when it comes to racism and sleaze. We've seen the Thiel-funded Quillette mentioned in connection with the Overton Window.

With all the racists it is platforming (Hanania, Kirkegaard, Bo Winegard, Razib Khan, Indian Bronson - undoubtedly many more, those are just off the top of my head) and now promoting, it sure looks like Substack is going the way of Twitter - and if it's less obvious than with Twitter, that's probably because Peter Thiel is stealthier than Elon Musk.

And in fact, in another post about Hanania, Katz speculated on a connection between Hanania-funding and Peter Thiel:

Who are the donors hiding behind this? Some readers have suggested Ron Unz or Peter Thiel, both of whom I think might be good candidates. But without more insight, it’s impossible to say.

One thing that really interested me was Hanania's connection to Eric Kaufmann

On the podcast, McKenzie introduced Hanania as a “cultural critic.” (I’ve asked McKenzie for comment on the site’s new social platform. Will update if he responds.) Hanania is also a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as a lecturer at Bari Weiss’s separate, as-yet-unaccredited, University of Austin. But in the brief course of reporting my Friday post, I realized that Hanania claims a different job as his go-to title: as president of a little-known think tank that calls itself the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.

It didn’t take more than a peek behind the innocuous name to see that something a little shady appears to be going on. According to publicly available IRS documents, the so-called “center” seemed to consist entirely of Hanania and two fellow reactionary academic friends, George Hawley of the University of Alabama and Eric Kaufman of the University of London and Hudson Institute. In 2020, the “center’s” mailing address was a 1,000-square-foot (though million-dollar) two-bedroom house in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley. (Hanania, who studied at UCLA, acknowledged living in that area on his Substack last year.)

Although I was expecting to be appalled by Peter Thiel's CPAC for racists, I was gob-smacked by Eric Kaufman's bluntly stated wish to turn back the clock on the Civil Rights movement:

During the questions portion of the panel, another speaker at the conference, Eric Kaufman, asked a question.


So, yeah, just over in the Hoover Institution, Shelby Steele, who wrote a book called White Guilt, which is interesting because it's about the emergence of the racism taboo in the mid 1960s in the US and he argued that essentially moral authorities shifted from, you know, people of color having to defer to white people to then white people and American institutions have having to defer to people of color because they've lost their moral authority. So I'm just wondering to what extent you think those events in the mid 60s which led to the emergence of this anti racism taboo, from which subsequent taboos around sexuality and gender derived in a way, how important do you think that has been and do we need to revisit that taboo that emerged even though we may support, to some degree, what the spirit of of that taboo, I mean is there not an overreach that's resulted from that taboo. Do we need to question these taboos that emerged in the mid 60s in the US.

So the racist Right really does want to turn back the clock and end "the racism taboo (that emerged) in the mid 1960s." The mid-1960s was voting rights for Black people. 

Kaufman is a Koch man, at the Manhattan Institute. Of course.

I have no doubt that in addition to "long-termism," which Katz talks about in one of his pieces on the glorification of racist Richard Hanania by Substack, another goal of the far-right is turning back the clock on Civil Rights. And the far-right is slowly but surely merging with the Republican Party.

I found it interesting that Katz was invited to join Substack by McKenzie himself:

OK, so Hanania is a right-wing grifter who tweets racist stuff for fun and profit, and also runs an extremely lucrative “non-profit,” probably out of his house, which launders anonymous donor money in an explicit effort to reverse the most landmark piece of civil rights legislation in American history. So what, who cares if he went on a podcast with the co-founder of Substack?

Well I do, as someone who for better or for worse is associated with this platform — and someone who McKenzie personally invited to start a blog on here over four years ago.

My guess is that Katz was invited to join Substack because he had embarrassed the United Nations.

But Katz is too good an investigator to remain in the dark for long about the ultimate funder(s) of Substack. So either Substack is going to find an excuse to get rid of Katz (and you can be sure they won't admit it's because he's embarrassing them) or Katz will quit in disgust. 

So although I signed up to Katz's Substack so I could read all his Hanania content, I doubt I'll stay a subscriber. And it's bad enough I'm helping legitimize that racist garbage heap called Substack.

Crooked Timber has an interesting response, The Correct Way to Argue with Richard Hanania, but I think author Henry Farrell is at least as gullible as he implies that Katz is:

And some of the facts are really not like the others. It might seem weird – if you aren’t read into debates among particular kinds of libertarians – to see that stuff about IQ and heritability in there. What work exactly is this rather jarring set of claims doing for the concept of Enlightened Centrism,? Do identified left-leaning Enlightened Centrists like Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias “rely on” these facts, as Hanania seems to suggest they do?
Readers – they do not. Hanania seemingly wants to reconstruct policy and intellectual debate around a center in which questions of race and IQ are once more legitimate topics of inquiry and discussion. Back in the 1990s (a time that Hanania is nostalgic for), soi-disant centrists such as Andrew Sullivan could devote entire special issues of the New Republic to the urgent debate over whether black people were, in fact, stupider than white people. Big Scientific Facts Said That It Was So! Now, that brand of intellectual inquiry has fallen into disrepute. Hanania, apparently yearns for it to come back. That, presumably, is why those claims about heritability and IQ are in there, and why Steve Sailer makes the cut. 
As it happens, Matt was one of the “CT mates” cited in the 2004 dsquared post that was excerpted right at the beginning of this post. I’ve had disagreements with Matt since, on other stuff, but I am quite sure that both he and Ezra are bitterly opposed to the whole race and IQ project that Hanania wants to relegitimize. I can’t imagine that they welcome being placed on a spectrum of reasonable thought that lumps them together with racist creeps like Steven Sailer. But I can imagine why Hanania wants so to lump them – it provides a patina of legitimacy for opinions that have rightly been delegitimated, but that Hanania wants to bring back into debate.
So to see what Hanania is up to, it’s more useful not to be distracted by the provocative and outrageous. Instead, you want to look very closely at what seems superficially reasonable, seems to be the starting point for debate and ask: is there something wrong with these premises? In this case, the answer, quite emphatically, is yes.
Still, you (for values of ‘you’ that really mean ‘I’) don’t want to get dragged in further unless you absolutely have to. As Noah Smith, another of Hanania’s involuntary inductees into the Enlightened Centrist Hall of Fame said, “”Race and IQ” racism is a DDOS attack” on the time and attention of anti-racists. This naturally provoked Hanania to pop up in replies with a sarcastic rejoinder. When I wrote that Vox article I had to spend weeks dealing with Jordan Peterson acolytes popping up to inform me of the Established Scientific Facts about race and IQ. I really don’t want to be back there again. So take this post as an attack on premises, and a statement of principles, rather than the slightest hint at a desire to get stuck back into discussion on race-IQ and similar. Very possibly (he says after 3,000+ words) the best way of arguing with Richard Hanania is simply not to argue at all.

I think that Farrell should trust Richard Hanania to know better than almost anybody else about who is really on Team Race Pseudoscience. Both Yglesias and Noah Smith have teamed up with Razib Khan - who is described in one of Katz's Hanania pieces (see above) as neo-eugenicist Razib Kahn  (and Katz groups Khan, accurately, with Steve Sailer.) And Smith even had a friendly call-out for Hanania, "a scholar."

Over at his Substack, Razib Khan interviews Richard Hanania, a scholar who studies partisanship and ideology. Hanania still thinks civil war is unlikely in the U.S., echoing the verdict of Paul Staniland, whom I interviewed before the coup went down.

When I tweeted at Noah Smith to ask him about his promotion of Khan and Hanania, he immediately blocked me. Original on Smith's Substack here.

Hanania also seems to have an insider's knowledge of the right-wing sentiments behind Substack, noted by The Racket:

(Hanania has said that “Substack itself was created to explicitly push back against leftist suppression of speech” — another comment I’d like McKenzie to weigh in on.)

At this point it doesn't look like McKenzie is ever going to explain why a far-right racist freak was promoted by Substack - because he doesn't have to, and no other mainstream-cred writers as far as I can see, except Katz, are even asking about it.

Razib Khan was recently seen promoting extreme racist and VDARE and White Supremacist Castle owner Peter Brimelow as an "immigration skeptic."

 UPDATE - Razib Khan asked ChatGPT to write a "Razib Khan style essay" and the results demonstrate that ChatGPT is a much better writer than Razib Khan

It's very interesting that Razib Khan thinks he knows what qualifies as good writing. Even his fellow racists think he's a terrible writer.

UPDATE: Hanania interviewing Amy Wax - Wax is so repellent she makes Hanania look reasonable by comparison. And that says a lot because Hanania's "Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology" is an absolute shit-show of race pseudoscience supporters, right-wingers and reactionaries, so of course Steven Pinker is right there.

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