PRINCIPLES OR PROFITS?
Stars of ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ Scramble to Save Their Cash Cows
Conservative internet figures Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars over a Patreon controversy
Members of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web are taking a financial beating and scrambling for funds because their followers are reluctant to continue pledging money on Patreon after the crowdfunding platform jettisoned another right-wing provocateur over hate speech.
Fans of the internet’s contrarian wing don’t want Patreon taking a cut of the money they send to their heroes for premium content and have stopped making pledges.
The boycott may be hurting Patreon’s bottom line, but it’s also hurting personalities like right-wing author Jordan Peterson, comedian Dave Rubin, and other big names—who have resorted to begging their acolytes to keep the cash coming or are looking for another way to raise money.
Peterson, for his part, in a video posted online Sunday, begged his fans to be “reasonably patient” and keep up the monthly payments they send him through the crowdfunding site.
“It’s not so good for me on the financial front,” said Peterson, who lost nearly 10 percent of his Patreon supporters over the past week.
“My business side is going: that’s not great,” Rubin added in the same video.
Peterson, Rubin, and other pillars of the Intellectual Dark Web, an amorphous group of conservative internet political personalities defined by their willingness to buck political correctness and tweak liberals, have seen their Patreon payments battered this month by a controversy starring one of their movement’s own members.
Now Intellectual Dark Webbers like Rubin and Peterson are faced with a tough choice.
They can follow their fans and leave Patreon, abandoning the platforms that earns them each hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in exchange for another crowdfunding platform that could be shut down at any moment. Or they can stay, and risk being branded as sellouts to their free speech-obsessed fanbases.
The Intellectual Dark Web’s Patreon gravy train is under threat over Patreon’s treatment of Carl Benjamin, a pugnacious right-wing personality who poses as ancient Mesopotamian ruler “Sargon of Akkad” online. On Dec. 7, Patreon banned Benjamin, who was making more than $12,000 a month on the platform.
Patreon kicked Benjamin off for “racist and homophobic slurs,” an apparent reference to a February rant in which Benjamin called his foes on the extreme right “niggers” and “faggots.”
Peterson, Benjamin, and Rubin, as well as Patreon’s press office, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Benjamin’s supporters on the right have mostly ignored his hate speech, framing him instead as just the latest right-wing figure to be kicked off a tech platform over his politics.
Despite his use of racial and homophobic slurs, Benjamin’s friends in the Intellectual Dark Web have cast him as a martyr to free speech. Peterson, who has been lauded in mainstream outlets like the New York Times, called Benjamin “a brave guy” and said he was “extremely upset” by the ban.
On Sunday night, “new atheist” author and Intellectual Dark Web figure Sam Harris, who had one of Patreon’s highest-earning accounts until Monday, said that he was quitting the fundraising platform over recent Patreon bans.
"These recent expulsions seem more readily explained by political bias,” Harris said in a statement.
Benjamin’s ouster left fans of the Intellectual Dark Web urging other personalities like Rubin and Peterson to quit Patreon, too. But their options are limited.
SubscribeStar, an upstart Russian crowdfunding site, initially offered to take in right-wing figures who were kicked off Patreon. But payments giant PayPal closed SuscribeStar’s account over the weekend, making it nearly impossible for the site to process credit card transactions.
That puts SubscribeStar in the same spot as other crowdfunding sites that have courted the extreme right, only to be banned from the major financial tech platforms. Over the weekend, SubscribeStar stopped accepting new members.
Other personalities are attempting to raise money through membership programs of their own. Some have urged their fans to just send them money directly through PayPal, while Harris has directed his thousands of Patreon subscribers to sign up to pay for his content through his own website.
Peterson, an idiosyncratic Canadian professor and bestselling author who subsists on an all-beef diet, isn’t about to go broke if he loses the Patreon money. Neither is Rubin, who has other income streams, including YouTube ads for his online talk show.
Still, Peterson and Rubin have a plan to save their fan payments: launching a Patreon-style website of their own. On Sunday, Peterson and Rubin urged their Patreon backers to hang tight as they work on the new site.
“We have not been sleeping on this front, man,” Peterson said in a video. “People are trying to figure out what to do so this stops happening.”
But Rubin and Peterson don’t have a launch date for their Patreon clone, and it’s not clear how many of their fans would follow them to a new, untested website. And they’ll have to contend with the biggest issue of all: keeping publicity-conscious payment processors like PayPal happy, while not alienating their hard-right fans.