The Hand That Feeds

Substack needs to finally do something about its Nazi problem

The Hand That Feeds
Photo by Marek Szturc / Unsplash

A short lunchtime post today. Let’s begin with a (gift) link to an Atlantic story revealing Substack’s Nazi problem. How bad is is it here? This bad:

At least 16 of the newsletters that I reviewed have overt Nazi symbols, including the swastika and the sonnenrad, in their logos or in prominent graphics. Andkon’s Reich Press, for example, calls itself “a National Socialist newsletter”; its logo shows Nazi banners on Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, and one recent post features a racist caricature of a Chinese person. A Substack called White-Papers, bearing the tagline “Your pro-White policy destination,” is one of several that openly promote the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that inspired deadly mass shootings at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue; two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques; an El Paso, Texas, Walmart; and a Buffalo, New York, supermarket. Other newsletters make prominent references to the “Jewish Question.” Several are run by nationally prominent white nationalists; at least four are run by organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—including the rally’s most notorious organizer, Richard Spencer.

The rest of the article is just as damning. I am only annoyed that I didn’t write about it myself; Nazi content on this website isn’t hard to find, and I could have reported on it much earlier. That said, I am glad that a mainstream publication is addressing the issue.

It’s been known about for a long time, and Substack, to its enormous discredit, has done nothing about it. Instead, they’ve worked to explicitly elevate “alt-right” types like Richard Hanania, with this simpering puff piece and accompanying podcast by Substack cofounder Hamish McKenzie. When Huffington Post writer Christopher Mathias revealed Haniana’s past as an overt white supremacist writing under the pseudonym “Richard Hoste,” Substack’s silence was deafening. They did not retract or otherwise repudiate their article, or even really address the controversy. As the Atlantic article makes clear, Substack already has terms of use that ban “hate,” but they’re not enforcing them. Instead they’re striving to be edgy, sucking up to weirdo Silicon Valley accelerationists, and making cringeworthy ads:

Please note this isn’t about encouraging “free speech,” a position I have a lot of sympathy for, because Substack aren’t genuine free speech maximalists. If they were, they’d allow all non-criminal speech, including explicitly protected and legal forms of free speech like pornography and other kinds of sex work. They don’t, and this makes them free speech hypocrites.

The "are we the baddies?" meme bit from Mitchell and Webb

With Substack’s Nazi problem now very much out in the open, the platform now has a choice: enforce their terms of use and evict the vile people who make a living (and make money for Substack) by peddling overt hate to huge audiences, or maintain their current course and become a Nazi bar. I suspect they’ll pick option B, which sucks. I have good friends who make their entire living from writing on Substack and the platform’s hypocritical, ideologically inconsistent free-speech-for-Nazis-but-not-for-boobies policy is putting writers in a terrible position. If they stay, it looks like they’re okay with being on a platform that doesn’t just permit but promotes hate. If they leave, they risk losing their livelihood.

Clearly, organised opposition is what’s needed. If this site’s writers banded together and threatened to leave Substack en masse, the resulting revenue hit might make continued Nazi-coddling untenable. Writers are already organising:

In my opinion, the choice is stark: if you’re a non-Nazi writer who objects to Substack making money from white supremacists (not to mention this site’s vast swathe of TERF writers and culture-war contrarians) you should make this extremely clear to the site founders, ideally in an organised, public way that doesn’t allow for individualised, targeted pushback. You could look to leave altogether, taking your subscribers and their revenue elsewhere: there are other subscription email providers that either have ideologically consistent free speech policies — allowing all legal speech, not carving out convenient exceptions for Nazis — or that don’t go out of their way to promote Nazis at all. Revolutionary stuff! Here are some alternatives:


Buttondown is not “free” in the way Substack is (Substack takes a big cut of your subscriptions) but they’re an inexpensive option for independent publishers. Also they seem like good sorts on social, without any pretence of “creating a new economic engine for culture.”1

Here’s Buttondown’s Substack migration guide, including moving your paid subs.


Ghost Pro is a very Substack-like experience for your newsletter and subscribers, with the option to self-host if you’re a tinkerer.

Here’s Ghost’s Substack migration guide, including moving your paid subs.

Wordpress’s Newsletter product now offers a paid email subscription option, including the ability to connect your existing Stripe account for paid subs.

There are other options out there too. For my part — as all my posts here and at The Cynic’s Guide To Self Improvement are free anyway — I will definitely be moving my newsletters to another platform if Substack doesn’t come up with a satisfactory response to their Nazi problem. It’s long overdue.

  1. Also, nerd alert, it *lets you write in Markdown.* God I love Markdown. Every internet writing system should let users use Markdown.