This post contains examples of rampant anti-Semitic hate speech, Nazism, white supremacy, some of the worst and weirdest anti-science/anti-vax stuff I’ve seen anywhere on the Internet, anti-trans hate speech, and Glinner. Read at your own risk. Have a shower ready.
It started with a story recommended by Substack itself. Through a bit of judicious user tracking and algorithmic filtering, Substack have divined that I’m interested in “Climate & Environment.” They’re right. In their app and web interface, Substack recommend the top five newsletters in this category. One day a few weeks ago, the number two slot caught my eye. It was plugging a “Dr. Simon,” and I found it interesting because the headline seemed to suggest that the Doctor wasn’t writing conventional climate news. In fact, it seemed to be at right-angles to observable reality.
The headline was “Are We Losing the War for Freedom to the Great Reset?”
The “Great Reset” is a conspiracy theory which can trace roots, as so many conspiracy theories can, to the antisemitic “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” hoax. It is a relation of the Great Replacement conspiracy that has inspired many acts of terrorism, including the Christchurch mosque massacre. The BBC puts it bluntly:
A vague set of proposals from an influential organisation has been transformed by online conspiracy theorists into a powerful viral rallying cry. What is the truth behind the "Great Reset"?
Believers spin dark tales about an authoritarian socialist world government run by powerful capitalists and politicians - a secret cabal that is broadcasting its plan around the world.
I was surprised to see Great Reset content recommended in the “Climate and Environment” category, so I clicked through.
It was worse than I’d expected.
From that screed, and the rest of his content, it’s very easy to see that Dr. Simon is a disinformation newsletter. That paragraph is a grab-bag of conspiracy theories, disinformation, and hate speech. Let’s count them: we have (1) climate change denial, (2) anti-trans hate (3) “digital currency” spooking (4) “15 minute neighbourhoods,” a perfect example of an entirely benign urban planning concept transformed into conspiracy, (5) off-kilter diet claptrap — a lot of conspiracists are obsessed with diet and nutritional purity (6) more climate change denial; CO2 is only good for plant growth up unto a certain point and increased heat and weather variability is *not* good for many plants, including crop species, and its increase in recent times is a result of human activity (7) “digital ID” scaremongering and (8) Klaus Schwab and Bill Gates.
Nearly all of Dr. Simon’s content is like this. All nonsense — and some of it dangerous to the point of being life-threatening, if readers were to take his disinformation about Covid and vaccines seriously.
All of it is enabled and monetized by Substack.
From his About page, I can see Dr. Simon has “11K+ subscribers.”
I can also see the newsletters he recommends, which gave me an idea. What if I spent an hour going down a recommendations rabbit hole, seeing just how much of this stuff was on Substack?
So that’s what I did. I set a timer for sixty minutes, and got to work.
The first of these is unremarkable. You’re The Voice, a Substack newsletter that also utilises Substack’s podcast and video platform, is only interesting in how it manages to make conspiracies utterly boring. Its wooden prose and unremarkable headlines mask the usual conspiracism about “globalists” and “global agendas.”
We’ll discuss global agendas; Covid/climate/15-min cities/money/agenda 2030 & touch on the war in Israel…
Sounds riveting! It has “3K+ subscribers.”
Dr. Simon also recommends Outspoken by Naomi Wolf. Wolf’s journey from respected author to a conspiracy and disinformation queen — banned by Twitter in 2021, newly beloved by the likes of Steve Bannon — is well known, thanks largely to the work of real journalist Naomi Klein in her 2023 book Doppelganger. Wolf doesn’t seem to be taking it well. This is her pinned post:
The rest of Wolf’s Substack is the usual wild disinformation kaleidoscope of Covid conspiracies, anti-vax untruth — in her posts, Wolf often lies about vaccines, with special attention paid to the mRNA-based Covid vaccines — and howling about “globalist oligarchs.”
Wolf has 81K+ subscribers on Substack.
Let’s move on to another doctor: Dr Sam Bailey! This Substacker bills herself as “the medical establishment’s worst nightmare.” Given her content, it might be true. Bailey, who is a former GP from Christchurch, is best known for appearing before New Zealand’s Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal for producing Covid-19 disinformation on YouTube. She’s since stopped doing so, and she explains why, in a pinned video.
“After some reflection, I decided to take all of my videos about Covid-19 off YouTube, and I won't be posting Covid-19 content on here any longer,” Bailey says. Her reason? YouTube was removing her videos due to their high disinformation payload.
Luckily for Dr. Bailey — and unluckily, for the “medical establishment,” whose worst nightmare she apparently is — she swiftly found a new, monetized home for her Covid-19 content on Substack.
Here’s a sample of what she’s selling:
Many of the older guard anti-vaxxers used historical data to conclusively demonstrate that vaccines cannot possibly be the cause of the vast decrease in sickness and death from many diseases. Now there is a new wave of anti-vaxxers in the tradition of Dr Stefan Lanka who continue to refute not only virus existence but also the wider concept of pathogens. This “upstream” line of reasoning brings down the entire notion of vaccination permanently.
Vaccines are being exposed on multiple fronts as more people wake up to one of the biggest swindles in history. Is it now time to embrace the “anti-vax” label?
Bailey doesn’t just lie about the Covid vaccine; she lies about all vaccines. And she doesn’t merely deny the effectiveness of vaccines; she denies that viruses exist.
Dr. Sam Bailey is a virus denier.
Dr. Sam Bailey has 16K+ subscribers on Substack.
Let’s check out Dr Simon’s next recommendation: Vigilant News, by The Vigilant Fox.
It’s… a lot.
Substack has introduced a tool for writers that lets writers recommend publications, or lets different newsletters “blurb” each other. Let’s see what user “The Farm” of The Farm newsletter has to say of The Vigilant Fox.
“The Vigilant Fox is one of the single best citizen journalists we have standing up for freedom from the tyrannical sociopaths that are trying to destroy our way of existence.”
- The Farm, The Farm
Okay then! What’s The Farm all about?
“The Rape of the Mind,” followed by screeds about Ivermectin? That’s enough. Let’s return to The Vigilant Fox. At the end of his pinned article, a long ramble of virulent disinformation about Covid vaccines entitled “The Unvaccinated Will Be Vindicated,” he has this to say:
I am proud to announce that I have left my day job to become an independent reporter! If you want to help keep this operation afloat, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The Vigilant Fox has 49K+ subscribers on Substack.
My timer is getting close to 30 minutes and I’ve barely scratched the surface of one Substacker’s recommendations. Let’s have a look at Kanekoa News.
Let’s stop looking at Kanekoa News. It’s just more of the same disinformation.
Kanekoa News has 64K+ subscribers on Substack.
At this point I’m growing tired of looking at Dr. Simon’s recommendations. The several Substacks he recommends all have their own recommendations, which have their own, and so on, seemingly forever. Almost all of them appear to be some kind of anti-vax disinformation, or science denial, and many have subscribers in the thousands or tens of thousands. All the ones I look at appear to be monetized. Many sing the praises of Substack for giving them a home after being hounded from other platforms.
So I turn to Bing to see if I can plumb the depths of Substack’s Nazi problem, as written about by journalist Jonathan Katz. (I’d use Google, but the giant search engine seems to have decided that helping its billions of users easily access overtly Nazi content is bad for society.)
I search for the most obvious, basic stuff. “Nazi Substack.” “National Socialist Substack.” “White power Substack.”
I find it, easily.
Let me introduce you to Karl Haemers, author of the newsletter Taboo Truth. Haemers describes himself as a “Researcher, author, secular End Times alarmist, race realist, revisionist, human.” What’s he got to say?
This article is a vile diatribe against Jews and how best to propagandise against them. It contains the following quote:
I refer back to Goebbels’ diary quote, which rather says that Whites’ intelligence has been used against them, and our instincts have been subverted by our very intelligence twisted by the Jews.
So yeah, Karl Haemers is a Nazi.
He’s got over 700 subscribers, and — at the time of writing, post Substack’s decision to purge a mere five Nazi newsletters — he’s still monetized.
A little snippet of Substack code under Haemer’s profile says “Timothy Kelly and 100+ others subscribe.”
Who’s Timothy Kelly?
He has a paywall on, but the article snippets in his archives are… enlightening.
So yeah, he’s a Nazi.
None of Timothy’s articles appear to be free, so we can reasonably assume that of his subscribers, the majority are paid, or they’re unable to read anything he writes. His Substack-enabled subscription plans start at $8 NZD per month. I counted his subscribers, and he has 258. That means that this Nazi is earning in the ballpark of $2000 NZD per month — more, if any of them are “founding members,” the price per which starts at $385 per year.
Next, I find The Imperium Press, which is one of those infuriating white supremacist newsletters that — to paraphrase Ken White — is not even occasionally terse. It goes on, and on, and on, in a maddening pseudo-intellectual vein. But eventually we come to the rub:
These are only a few of the shapes that this default state can take, what Houston Stewart Chamberlain has called the Aryan Worldview. To call it merely “right-wing” is to trivialise it. We call it folkishness.
I call it Nazi.
The Imperium Press has 3k+ subscribers on Substack, and — of course — they’re monetized.
Similarly, the Fascio Newsletter, another Substack I found effortlessly via Bing, is about what they call “Third position politics,” and which is more accurately called neo-fascism. Their entire Substack can be filed as a classic of the “no we’re not fascists, we’re just really really really interested in fascism, and also we agree with a lot of fascism” genre. Their swathe of authors make it difficult to tell exactly how many subscribers they have, but a Substack popup prompting me to subscribe says they have “Over 1,000 subscribers.” They are (of course!) monetized. (The individual writers who comprise Fascio have “2K+ subscribers” each — whether this is individual or as a collective is unclear.)
Jonathan Katz’s Atlantic article also mentions White-Papers. What’s their deal?
At White-Papers, our core premise is that White people, the European race, deserves its own voice, its own political institutions and a future free from interference or predation by outside groups. Whites are a global minority and are now becoming minorities in their own homelands. The inevitable and necessary result of this is a growing political movement of explicitly pro-White news outlets, publishers, and political pressure groups.
So yeah, they’re white supremacists. The little Substack popup that urges me to subscribe says they have “Over 1,000 subscribers.”
By the end of my hour, it’s clear that there are many, many, many more of these Substacks. Too many, in fact, to list, varying in position from “just really enthused about fascism” to quite overt Nazis. Many — seemingly most — are monetized. Some appear to have paid subscribers in the hundreds; a feat many Substack newsletters (including The Bad Newsletter!) never achieve, and which can produce either a tidy living or very useful source of funds for your movement.
In short, there are lots.
I’d like to stop there, but the worst is yet to come. And this one I didn’t find myself. It found me.
When I posted my version of the open letter Substackers Against Nazis, a commenter showed up with a lengthy screed that used the anti-Semitic slur “kikes.” The author seemed to be searching for Substacks that had posted the open letter and was railing against them. Curious, I clicked on the commenter’s name and found the most overtly Nazi newsletter yet. This one wasn’t hiding behind faux-intellectual essays on Third Positionism, or even trumped-up concern for the “White Race.”
It was this.
This Substack, Nordic Pagan Soldier, is raw, unadulterated Nazism. Much of its content is elaborations on the literal Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. One post is written in Hindi; translated, it is vile slurs about Jews and Muslims from beginning to end.
The author’s recommendations for other newsletters run the gamut from Putinist propaganda to an anti-Semitic Qanon podcast (hosted via Substack’s convenient video and podcasting tools). His “Reads” list is extensive — a huge list of conspiracist authors of various stripes. Oh look, Edward Snowden is there too!
When you subscribe to this Substack, you’re sent a montage of explicitly anti-Semitic text and propaganda posters — put into jpeg form, it seems, as not to trigger spam filters. Don’t worry, the Substack mail always gets through.
Nordic Pagan Soldier has 500 subscribers.
The author hasn’t turned on paid subscriptions. “I DO NOT NEED THE MONEY AND I NEVER ASK FOR IT,” he says, verbatim.
But Substack, not to be deterred from a revenue opportunity, offers users the chance to “Pledge their support,” just in case this Nazi ever decides to monetize.
“Join the crew,” Nordic Pagan Soldier urges readers. “Be part of a community of people who share your interests… To find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit Substack.com”
This content, and the other things I’ve covered — found either via minimal-effort searches or Substack’s network of recommendations, or (in one instance) a Nazi commenter just kind of announcing themselves on my newsletter — is the tip of the tip of the iceberg. In fact, “iceberg” is being a bit too nice. This is a garbageberg; a disgusting collection of the worst disinformation and filth. It’s like if 4chan and 8chan and Kiwi Farms offered a cutely-monetized email subscription option. It gets worse: I haven’t even mentioned the larger disinformation spreaders, as covered by the Washington Post.
This type of content is “so bad no one else will host it,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit that focuses on combating misinformation and has researched Substack. By splitting subscription profits with creators, the group estimates, Substack generates at least $2.5 million a year in revenue from just five anti-vaccine leaders who have amassed tens of thousands of subscribers, each paying $50 a year.
The publications I’ve listed above — which seemingly represent a very small slice of Substack’s disinformation ecosystem and which I was able to discover in just one hour of work — boast 231,485 subscribers between them, by my count. Almost a quarter of a million people. If we assume a fairly standard proportion of these subscribers are paid (let’s say 10 percent) and assume they charge $8 NZD per month each, that’s $185,189 NZD a month — more than $2 million a year in revenue to the disinformers, and a non-insignificant $222,226 annually to Substack, via their 10 percent cut. Add that to the millions Substack makes from the biggest liars (as per the Washington Post) and it’s clear that disinformation of all kinds is a huge market for Substack.
In fact, it makes me think Substack might be primarily a disinformation ecosystem — with a bunch of credible writers bolted on, to be the acceptable public face of a company that exists mainly to monetize the internet’s limitless supply of garbage.
I did the research and early drafting for this article several weeks ago. I sat on it, hoping that Substack would ban — at least! — the overt white supremacist and Nazi publications. I hoped that the disinformation newsletters might get demonetized.
At the time of writing, all the publications I found in my hour of research were still active. They seem keenly aware of the controversy around their content, and they’re cheering on Substack, who they clearly see as an ally. Don’t take my word for it: here’s Nazi newsletter Taboo Truth:
Like too many other users of Substack’s Twitter clone, Notes, Taboo Truth’s favourite thing after fascism seems to be posting graphs of his subscriber numbers.
I’d like to find out more, but this is all I can manage for now. I do all this in my spare time, and yet it’s clear more research is needed. I hope someone who has more than a few hours to hand can do it. If I had time to accurately quantify my opinion that Substack is a significant player in the world’s disinformation ecosystem, I’d start by getting a list of all the websites that live on the .substack.com subdomain, identifying which had more than 100 subscribers, and running a mechanical turk-powered content analysis to see which are disinformation, TERFs, Nazis, or similar. It’d be a big job. Sadly, it seems that unless Substack opts to proactively inform the public about the role it plays in spreading disinformation, that’ll be the only way we’ll find out.
I want to close with an apology. I really liked Substack. It gave me the chance to write what I like and have my work seen: something every writer wants. I was enamoured to the point of inviting several friends to the platform — some of whom became quite big publishers. But in doing so I ignored the voices of critics, including trans people, who pointed out how Substack had purposely recruited prominent TERFs to the platform, to spread their particularly cruel form of contagious disinformation against some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.
People like Glinner.
Of course, he’s still on Substack.
Here’s Glinner on his “About” page — probably one of the first things he wrote on joining Substack — indulging in the usual transphobia, denigrating those who’ve chosen surgery to help with gender dysphoria, and falsely insinuating that trans activists are coming to mutilate children.
It was only children who needed to place themselves on those hospital trolleys. As Alex Drummond famously said ”The thought of surgery terrifies me”, and as Magdalen Berns famously replied, “Of course it terrifies you, Alex. They chop your cock off.”
This sort of thing is horrible. But it’s been part and parcel of Substack since the beginning.
Until now, we just chose not to notice.
One thing I regret not mentioning in the original article is that there is a common theme in Substack's taxonomy of garbage content: transphobia. The Q conspiracists are transphobic, the Covid cranks are transphobic, the Islamophobes and the anti-Semites and the white supremacists and the overt Nazis are transphobic. (Perhaps needless to say, Glinner and his fellow TERFs are transphobic.) Transphobia is, almost invariably, the one thing that binds them all. I find that very telling, and deeply worrying.
What's more, the sheer depth and breadth of Substack's disinformation ecosystem is becoming more and more apparent. An author whose work I enjoy, Melanie Newfield, pointed out that Substack has thoughtfully provided a really easy way to find medical disinformation: the "health politics" filter in its prominent "Explore" tab. How bad is it? Really bad:
These disinformation newsletters include some of the biggest Substacks of all. In February 2023, the Press Gazette reported that many of the highest-earning Substack newsletters were health disinformation:
The analysis affirms previous reporting suggesting Substack has become a lucrative revenue stream for writers with fringe views. For example, Covid-19 vaccine sceptics Robert Malone, Steve Kirsch, Alex Berenson and Joseph Mercola all appear among the most lucrative Substacks.
Each of these newsletters, the Press Gazette estimated, could have earnings anywhere between $500,000 and a colossal $4,999,950, every single year. And this was before Substack launched many of its network growth features, so those figures could be even greater by now. By any count, the named writers are getting rich from spreading disinformation, and so is Substack, via its tidy 10 percent cut of all author earnings.
It seems clear that this is why Substack doesn't want to "censor" transphobia, conspiracies, health disinformation, and even Nazis (despite being perfectly happy to ban porn: you can't do sex work on Substack). It's not about free speech: it's because they're making far too much money from all of it. It really looks like spreading disinformation is the cornerstone of their business, and that's not something I'm prepared to support.