At first glance, Maine resident Tom Kawcyznski seems like just another person talking about the coronavirus pandemic. His daily “Coronavirus Central” podcast has consistently been in the top 20 podcasts on the Apple charts for “Health & Fitness,” and at one point earlier this month it hit the fifth spot in the category.
But anxious listeners flocking to Kawcyznski’s podcast for more information about the disease’s spread may not be aware of his background. Before he rebranded himself as a coronavirus expert, Kawcyznski was a notorious white nationalist advocating for a nearly all-white monarchy in New England—with himself as its king.
Kawcyznski’s surprising reinvention and his success on podcast apps demonstrate the degrees to which concerned Americans are turning to anyone on the internet for coronavirus information, without much consideration of the source. As rumors about coronavirus and the government’s response circulate via text message and hoax cures proliferate online, extremist figures like Kawcyznski have seen an opening of their own.
“I think the coronavirus is creating a brand new world,” Kawcyznski told The Daily Beast, when asked about his new role as a would-be coronavirus expert.
Kawcyznski advocates for the creation of the “Arboreal Kingdom of New Albion,” a currently fictional, 95-percent white monarchy he imagines cobbling out of parts of Canada and New England after social collapse. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists his New Albion group as a white nationalist hate group.
In 2018, Kawcyznski was fired from his job as the town manager of Jackman, Maine, after the discovery of his posts on fringe social network Gab. In the posts on his now-private account, Kawcyznski wrote that “the average black in America has less intellectual aptitude” and advised white supremacists on how to recast their message in more appealing terms.
“I’m putting a happy face on #AltRight thinking that brings normies in,” Kawcyznski wrote in 2017.
Now Kawcyznski has brought the same apocalyptic thinking that turned him into a figure on the racist right to worried coronavirus podcast listeners. He’s built an entire coronavirus media empire in the space of two months, including a coronavirus prep book he’s selling on Amazon that promises to help people prepare for the disease “on any budget.”
By publishing a hastily written book on Amazon about the coronavirus, Kawcyznski joined a flood of dubious experts self-publishing coronavirus books on the internet retail giant. In Kawcyznski’s book, which he initially published under a pseudonym, he doesn’t discuss his background in the white nationalist movement. He also promotes conspiracy theorists like frequent InfoWars guest Mike Adams as reliable sources of information on the disease and envisions a world of societal collapse brought on by the coronavirus, writing that “toilet paper will be more valuable than dollars.”
Kawcyznski’s podcast has drawn more people to him since he started it in February, as cases started to appear in the United States. A Vulture review of coronavirus-related podcasts called the show a “spitting image of caricatures about crackpots and charlatans who vie for attention during crises.” But it also noted that his podcast ranks highly in searches on podcast apps for “coronavirus.”
Kawcyznski claims his daily podcasts, which range from between an hour to two-and-a-half hours, each receive roughly 20,000 listens. It’s impossible to independently verify podcast listenership. In his episodes, Kawcyznski positions himself as a sort of guru of the coronavirus era, urging in a Tuesday episode to “refocus your life around the virus.”
“Stop worrying about what comes after the virus so much, and worry about how you’re going to survive it,” Kawcyznski said in one.
Kawcyznski has also used the coronavirus to gather a community of adherents around himself online. In a chat group on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app popular with extremist right-wing personalities, Coronavirus Central has amassed more than 1,400 members.
Kawcyznski claims it’s not fair to describe him as a white nationalist, even as he advocates for the creation of a majority-white splinter nation. But as recently as January, Kawcyznski went on a podcast hosted by Chris Cantwell, the neo-Nazi who became infamous in the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally as the “crying Nazi.” Kawcyznski presented Cantwell with a fictional flag for New Albion, describing it as a “blood flag”—a reference to a swastika flag used by Adolf Hitler.
“It’s a sign of my respect to you,” Kawcyznski said, as he handed Cantwell the flag.
Later that month, Cantwell was arrested on federal interstate threat charges.
Kawcyznski, who says he maxed out his credit cards in an attempt to prepare for the coronavirus, has positioned himself for a rebranding in the coronavirus era. In an apparent attempt to distance himself from his white nationalist comments, Kawcyznski said he doesn’t “really get into politics” when discussing the coronavirus.
“I hope people take their opportunities to approach this world with open minds and open hearts,” he said.