Russell Brand: From Mark Fisher to anti-vax grifter

How did Russell Brand go from anti-capitalist spokesman to conspiracy grifter, and what now for the women who've come forward?

Russell Brand: From Mark Fisher to anti-vax grifter
Photo Credit: Jessie Essex

by Sam Lawton-Westerland

Content warning: this article discusses sexual harrassment, sexual assault and rape.

The fact that Russell Brand made the official audiobook recording of Capitalist Realism, once praised by Mark Fisher himself, now seems almost unthinkable.

At the time, Fisher praised Brand as one of the few working class TV comedians; he commended his aplomb at taking on Paxman, and defended his attitudes towards women as someone who was capable of reflection and reform. It reminds me of Contrapoints’ video essay on cancelling about how people are quick to jump to labelling someone who has done sexist things as an ingrained misogynist. Mark Fisher was obviously working with limited information when he made his assessment of Brand, and Russell Brand is far from the same person he was in 2013. I concur with the blogger xenogothic – Mark Fisher is not Russell Brand.

How did he go from espousing class consciousness to conspiracy grifter? It’s important, I think, to understand the wellness to conspiracy theory pipeline. This is something that Brand capitalised on. As a former addict turned wellness advocate, his channel pushes various wellness products, from yoga to psychedelics. As is typical with such wellness influencers, Brand also advocates alternative medicine, along with anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. This shift occurred about five years ago as his series The Trews transitioned into his current podcast series Under the Skin. In fairly short order, Brand went from discussing the ills of capitalism, warning against the rise of the far right in Europe, and having radical guests like Kehinde Andrews on his podcast, to hosting an extended interview with Jordan Peterson, and launching a pivot to spirituality, yoga and conspiracy content. Surely the only explanation for this can be money, with Brand reaping the rewards of content consumption. It is no accident that his audience ballooned to one million subscribers in 2020 after his pivot to wellness and conspiracy topics.

The revelations of the accusations against Russell Brand also raise questions of justice. What kind of justice would we like to see for victims of sexual assault? The UK sustains a broken system for victims of sexual assault. Despite a record number of sexual assaults being recorded, conviction rates remain pitifully low. Over 183,000 people reported sexual assaults to police in 2021, but only around 2100 of cases were convicted the year before. Those who worry that rapists would roam free in a world with prison abolition are already living in this reality. Calls for the BBC to launch an inquiry in to the accusations against Brand echo the increasing pressure on alternative institutions to deal with sexual assault, such as Universities.

The current system disempowers victims and fails to reform perpetrators. There is no chance for justice, let alone restorative justice. Victims are dissatisfied at the current system which is adversarial, and offender-oriented. Community-based practices, such as offender-victim and family conferencing, group therapy, and community reparations offer victims far more in the way of justice, and lead to improved psychological outcomes for those with PTSD. Instead of marginalising victims, these methods actively contribute to ensuring just outcomes for survivors. This is the complete opposite of handing that process off to an adversarial justice system which is punitive rather than healing for both victim and perpetrator.

The alleged victims of Russell Brand deserve real justice that allows them to heal, actively involves them in the process, doesn’t re-traumatise them, and actually works. Currently our justice system in the UK is hardly fit for purpose and relies on inept institutions to rectify issues that effect our communities. Until the justice system in the UK is reformed, the more victims are underserved and the more perpetrators are let off the hook.

Further reading:

What about the rapists? by Interrupting Criminalization

Fuck abuse, kill power: Addressing the root causes of sexual harrassmement and assault by CrimethInc.

Every rapist is a cop without a badge: Sex, violence, and desire part II by narcissus

Addressing violence against women: Alternatives to state-based law and
by Emily Gaarder

Anarchism and feminism by Ruth Kinna

Sam Lawton-Westerland is a researcher, writer and activist working at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow. Sam teaches sociology and researches gender and sexuality with an interest in political sociology and anarchism.