Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Surrealing in the Years Good news! The weird online loudmouths are here to save Ireland

Thank you, Russell. Thank you, Tucker.

HAVE YOU EVER been stuck in a room where people are talking about you as if you weren’t even there?

One week on from the shocking riots that hit Dublin last week, that is the unpleasant position in which we, as citizens of Ireland, find ourselves. Last week’s riots did not escape the attention of international news organisations, nor did they evade the notice of the kind of rabble-rousers who make their bread filtering upheaval through the lens of their own specific agenda.

There is, unfortunately, really good money to be made in harvesting online outrage, and as the flames rose high over Dublin last Thursday night, Russell Brand was one of several such commentators who sensed an opportunity.

Exactly one week after the riot, Brand posted a 29-minute video to his 6.7 million followers, titled “IRELAND BURNS! The TRUTH About Dublin Riots & Conor McGregor.”

Capital letters! Sounds educational.

“What is the real reason for the riots?” muses Brand in the video. Apparently, it was a wholesale rejection of “globalism,” the poorly-defined bugbear that Brand returns to in most of his videos. It is strange that Brand would latch on to the people power of a few hundred people setting fires and trashing public transport considering that he did not make a video when thousands of people marched in solidarity with Palestine just weeks ago, or the even stronger numbers which marched under the banner of Ireland for All in February. The latter demonstration saw over 10,000 take to the streets to advocate for housing and healthcare for all those who live in Ireland.

One would be forgiven for thinking that Brand might be less interested in the fate of Ireland than he is in Russell Brand.

At one point, Brand does a weird impression of what he believes the Irish government is trying to do: “We all hate far-right racism, yeah, of course we do, that was the last century, Hitler, that was all bad, we remember that, that was terrible, terrible stuff. So to prevent that, we’re going to have to stop you and your spouse texting each other if we suspect there’s hateful content.” Coherent!

Brand speaks pretty much uninterrupted for the half hour, so while it’s not possible for him to be wrong about absolutely everything, there is virtually no suggestion that he has actually critically engaged with the kind of discussions taking place in Ireland in the aftermath of the riots. 

Russell Brand was not alone in making this ill-advised foray into the middle of Irish current affairs. Two other major players on the right-wing cultural landscape, Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson, have also graciously devoted much attention to our case.

Elon Musk, for his part, seems to be trying to interfere in Ireland’s proposed hate crime legislation. Already, in the aftermath of last week’s riots, X has stood in opposition to Ireland’s efforts to have misinformation removed. Speaking about her engagement with social media companies in the wake of the riot, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said Musk’s company “didn’t engage. They did not fulfil their own community standards.”

One Twitter account – frequently interacted with by Musk – named ‘Sir Doge of the Coin’ shared a clip of riot police kicking down a door alongside the caption ‘When you make a meme in Ireland’ – painting us as some kind of totalitarian state, where the greatest victims of the clampdown are those who make unfunny AI-generated images to post online.

Characters such as these were far less interested in the freedom of Irish artists back in April, when an Irish artist was actually being condemned by politicians and in the media for political activism.

Much more aggressively, Musk himself tweeted: “The Irish PM hates the Irish people.” As someone who has spent the last eight years professionally criticising the Irish government, I can tell when someone is criticising without having actually looked into why it’s so worth criticising. This week provided several such examples.

The enthusiastic interjection of these types probably shouldn’t surprise us. If you pay any attention to the language and methods used by various far-right provocateurs in Ireland, you’ll quickly be able to see that virtually everything about their presentation is stolen from the kind of streamer evangelists who are now so gleefully weighing in.

It was Carlson who came out with the most delusional explanation for the riots, so ludicrous as to almost be worth mockery. In conversation with MAGA ideologue Steve Bannon, he said that “the Irish Government is trying to replace the population of Ireland with people from the third world, obviously.”

During the same conversation, Bannon incorrectly supposed that Ireland has “no true opposition party.” Now that sounds like a man who’s been playing close attention to political trends in his ancestral home over the last five years. 

Last week’s riot has been warmly welcomed by these notorious online commentators as a blank slate onto which they can project whichever narrative best suits their own agenda.

Throughout their various tweets and video essays, neither Brand nor Musk nor Carlson offer even scant demonstration that they actually know anything about Ireland. Of the thousand problems facing Irish society at any given moment, one would wager that these three men would not be able to name a single one between them.