As Trump supporters gathered Sunday outside the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando to greet the former president’s motorcade, a correspondent for a popular pro-Trump YouTube channel went into the crowd to interview them—risking the fate of his entire company in the process.
Interviewing random Trump supporters makes up much of the content on Right Side Broadcasting Network, a booming right-wing YouTube channel The Washington Post has called “the unofficial version of Trump TV.” But for a year, the Trump base has embraced conspiracy theories about election theft and COVID-19—exactly the kind of content, if livestreamed on RSBN, that could get the channel kicked off YouTube.
In Orlando, the MAGA welcome crew seemed as excited to see pseudonymous RSBN correspondent “Mike Nificent” as they did former President Donald Trump. A man with a speaker encouraged the crowd to watch RSBN, while a woman declared that RSBN was only the media outlet she trusts.
But then one of those RSBN fans claimed that Trump votes had somehow been altered from outer space.
“You know how they said they changed the votes using a satellite?” one woman told him, in a remark that instantly went out live to more than 100,000 RSBN viewers on YouTube.
Mike Nificent cut her off.
“We can’t go there, we’ll lose our entire platform,” he said, backing away from the woman as she grew increasingly irate. “We have to play by the rules.”
“I also covered this election, and it was stolen,” another woman said.
“Well, some would say that it hasn’t been stolen,” Mike Nificent said, carefully. “They would say that Biden’s won the presidency fair.”
“I’m sorry, is that getting you in trouble?” the woman said.
“Wink, wink, Biden won,” Mike Nificent said.
YouTube and other major social media platforms have ramped up their policing of conspiracy theories in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, putting pro-Trump outlets like RSBN in an awkward position. After helping to create Trump’s base and fueling baseless allegations that Trump won in 2020, RSBN is now stuck between YouTube enforcement and a hoax-addled conservative audience it relies on for donations.
The resulting attempts to keep RSBN free from pro-Trump conspiracy theories often result in comical ad hoc attempts at muting speakers or rapid changes in tone from RSBN talent. Faced with the prospect of losing its YouTube audience with a ban, RSBN has to constantly avoid crossing an invisible line—promoting election fraud promoters at one moment, then cutting their mics as soon as they say something that could get the channel banned.
RSBN and Google, which owns YouTube, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Still, despite having to navigate a field of verbal landmines in the crowd, RSBN had its own reasons to cheer Trump’s first public appearance since leaving office. Since Trump fan Joe Seales launched RSBN in 2015, the channel had amassed more than 1.5 million YouTube subscribers, based in large part on a willingness to livestream just about any pro-Trump event. The channel grew prominent enough on the right that it was the center of rumors claiming Trump, then still expected to lose his 2016 election bid, would team up with Seales to launch “Trump TV,” a MAGA-centric cable channel.
RSBN played a key role promoting election fraud conspiracy theories in the aftermath of Trump’s election defeat. The channel provided blanket coverage of the Women for America First bus tour, a series of speaking events across the country that led up to the Jan. 6 rally where Trump incited his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol. YouTube deleted three RSBN videos of the bus tour after the riot, saying they violated the site’s rules against “inciting violence” and “false election claims.”
Faced with the threat of deletion, RSBN is stuck cutting off right-wing personalities who would otherwise be heroes to its audiences. On Feb. 20, the channel streamed a rally in Ventura, California, promoting a recall against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. The rally was headlined by Dr. Judy Mikovits, the conspiracy theorist whose appearance in the coronavirus hoax video Plandemic went viral in the first months of the pandemic.
Almost as soon as Mikovits started talking, however, RSBN’s camera panned away from the stage to focus on RSBN personality Blake Marnell, who goes by the name “Brick Suit” because he often wears a brick-patterned suit meant to imitate Trump’s border wall.
Marnell, who appeared surprised to suddenly be on camera, began talking in an apparent attempt to help RSBN avoid covering Mikovits’ speech.
“QUIT TALKING!” wrote one YouTube commenter.
“RSBN is so RUDE and I’m done with them,” wrote another.
Suddenly, an unseen narrator who called themselves “Joe back here at the studio”—presumably RSBN founder Joe Seales—cut into the feed, saying RSBN couldn’t show Mikovits’ speech at risk of losing its channel.
“If we let this speaker talk right now, we will lose our YouTube channel, they will take this video down,” Joe said, claiming that RSBN already had one strike from YouTube after broadcasting something from Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
RSBN’s camera returned to the stage once Mikovits was done, but not for long. Soon another speaker was talking about how he didn’t just not enforce mask-wearing at his business, he banned anyone who did wear a mask.
“They represent the lockdown, they are the lockdown,” the speaker said, prompting RSBN’s camera to swiftly pull away from him.
“Joe from the studio” cut back in.
“Just to give you a full disclosure, that there are certain guidelines that we have on platforms that we cannot talk about certain subjects,” he said.
This isn’t RSBN’s first encounter with the challenges of running a budding news empire that caters to some of the most extreme elements of Trump’s base.
In June 2020, RSBN was covering Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when viewers began complaining that its reporters were wearing masks—an implicit admission that the pandemic was more serious than Trump and his supporters wanted to admit. Outraged RSBN audience members accused the reporters of being liberal “slaves,” prompting RSBN host Liz Willis to launch a lengthy, on-air apology in which she said she was wearing a mask because she lived with her elderly parents.
RSBN’s skittishness extends even to one of its biggest sponsors, MyPillow founder Mike Lindell. Lindell buys a huge amount of advertising on RSBN, with anchors cutting into broadcasts from CPAC to promote his pillows and sheets. At times, roughly a quarter of the screen during RSBN’s broadcast at CPAC was taken up by a still image of Lindell hugging one of his pillows.
Not even Lindell, however, can avoid RSBN’s mute button. On Sunday, Willis was interviewing Lindell when he began to complain about vaccine rules in Israel, alleging that the vaccine is the “mark of the beast” from the biblical Book of Revelation.
“This is our bodies, this is ‘mark of the beast’ stuff and I don’t care, I’ll just put it right out there, this is Revelation,” Lindell said. “I mean, if you’re going to make them do that over in Israel—and why do you think they went to Israel first? Whaaat? That’s kind of strange.”
RSBN cut Lindell’s mic, leaving him to rant in silence for 30 seconds next to the picture of him hugging his pillow. Eventually, Lindell’s mic was restored, with a warning not to talk about vaccines.
“Super careful, I hate to do it, you know I love you, but due to YouTube’s platforms, we will get our whole platform shut down,” Willis said.