With mainstream news media being as corporatized and prejudiced as ever, it is easy to be drawn into the world of YouTube political commentators. Some internet pundits, like Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks and Alex Jones of Info Wars, become so famous that they blur the line between indie news media and the mainstream. However, most full-time YouTube culture critics never get their interview on CNN, and never see their name appear on a Fox News chyron. Still, these YouTube analysts have hundreds of thousands of fans, and their effect on political dialogue can and should be examined. Carl Benjamin, better known as Sargon of Akkad, is one of the most popular political commentators on YouTube, but a closer inspection of the tracks he leaves reveals his channel to be as disreputable as the mainstream outlets he condemns.
Benjamin’s appeal is hardly inexplicable. His videos are long, regularly released, and well-produced. He voices the concerns of those on the right and the left who object to prominent elements of modern social justice activism. He has made and continues to make cogent arguments that lampoon mainstream news outlets like CNN and The Guardian, and has long-running feuds with left-wing writers and critics like Laurie Penny, Anita Sarkeesian, and Jessica Valenti. In the introductory video for his primary channel, Benjamin declares that he “would like to think (he is) following in the footsteps of the best classical orators.” He says that he tries to “create rock-solid arguments backed up by reason, evidence, and logic.” He is “tired of partisan politics” and “not in favor of ideologies” which “make peoples’ thought processes rigid and inflexible.”
To state it plainly, Benjamin is unable to live up to the standards he sets for himself. Before Twitter deleted his account, Benjamin used it to embroil himself in arguments that shed much-needed light on his tactics and motives. Once, another YouTube content creator by the name of Tyler Preston asked on Twitter, “Why are popular YouTubers legitimizing white nationalist talking points?” Though he was not mentioned in the original post, Benjamin replied to it. Strangely, he chose not to deny that YouTubers were legitimizing white nationalism, and instead answered Preston by saying “(YouTubers legitimize white nationalist talking points) because there are SJWs busy making those points, and unfortunately one must choose a side”. This comment of Benjamin’s is a sloppy false dilemma: it is possible to be on neither side when it comes to white supremacists and, as Carl calls them, “SJWs.”
Sargon of Akkad supported Donald Trump during the 2016 election season. To pile ignominy on top of ignominy, Sargon becomes enraged when he is questioned about the videos he made condemning Hillary Clinton. These videos have titles like “Hillary Must Lose,” “Hillary Wants War,” and “Anyone But Hillary.” Despite having stated things like “Trump is less harmful (than Hillary)” and “Seriously, vote Trump,” Sargon continues to deny that he “supported” Donald Trump as a candidate.
In one particular tweet, Benjamin demonstrated just how out-of-touch he was with the state of American politics by suggesting that by voting for Donald Trump, the United States would “keep welfare, help the poor, and increase taxes on big business”. Benjamin sided with Trump based on a faulty understanding of what the man would accomplish as president, actively encouraged his audience to vote for Trump, and nonetheless struggles to say that he “supported” Trump. Benjamin is incapable of standing by the views he expresses.
This fundamental lack of courage in his own convictions is recurrent in Sargon of Akkad’s content. Once, when arguing with a Twitter user who criticized Pres. Trump for “filling his cabinet with Goldman Sachs bankers,” Benjamin defended the President by saying “Who do you think would have been in Hillary’s cabinet? Who were you expecting? And, I mean, were you expecting Trump to fill (his cabinet) with builders and plumbers, just out of interest”. When confronted with his chosen candidate’s affinity for Goldman Sachs executives like Gary Cohn and Steve Bannon, Sargon of Akkad says Clinton would have appointed Wall Street brokers to her cabinet as well, suggesting that she and Pres. Trump are equally worthy of condemnation. Then, however, Benjamin contradicts himself by demanding to know who Trump should have chosen to be in his cabinet, suggesting that appointing banking magnates to cabinet positions is not wrong at all. Sargon viciously and cogently criticized Hillary Clinton for taking millions of dollars from Goldman Sachs through speaking fees and campaign donations, but he cannot bring himself to hold Pres. Trump to the same standard. For Sargon, the narrative comes first, and the facts second. What else should one expect from the sort of political commentator who is dogmatic or uneducated enough to declare “Joseph McCarthy did nothing wrong”?
Even though he says that he is a “lefty,” Carl Benjamin consistently defends right-wing pundits, politicians, and movements. He supported Brexit, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders. He hates Hillary Clinton, Justin Trudeau, John Oliver, and The Young Turks. Sargon of Akkad may not be staunchly right wing in his personal life, but he panders to those with the view that the problems with the right-wing are picayune in comparison to those with the left-wing. As he said in his video “Why Don’t I Criticize the Right,” “the right is not good to poor people, but I don’t think they’re actively trying to undermine Western civilization”. The accusation that left-wingers have eschewed the Western tradition while right-wingers have upheld it is an extraordinary claim which warrants intense skepticism and investigation, but Sargon of Akkad’s only evidence is his assertion that SJWs are “Marxist” and “collectivist.” Perhaps he is correct in this assertion. However, even if Lena Dunham’s and Emma Watson’s politics are collectivist, it is ridiculous to believe that they pose a threat to American freedom while Pres. Trump, his administration, the Republicans in Congress, the right-wing news machine, and the white nationalists organizing rallies around the country pose none. To Sargon, an actress from the Harry Potter movies is far more dangerous than the “leader of the free world.”
In “Why Don’t I Criticize the Right,” Sargon also said that he would choose to fight for the preservation of free speech over the preservation of abortion rights. Once again, Sargon presents his fans with a false dilemma. It is possible to advocate for abortion and free speech. It is possible to resent certain types of liberal activism without giving up the ability to criticize right-wingers. Benjamin thinks that campus liberals are so evil that they dwarf whatever threat is posed by American conservatives. Considering the damage that the Trump administration and the Republican-dominated Congress have inflicted and plan to inflict on American institutions like healthcare, environmental protection, and education, Benjamin’s position that the right wing is not dangerous is untenable.
There is a reason why supposed moderates and liberals like Sargon, Jordan Peterson, and Dave Rubin have their content featured alongside videos by far-right icons like Ann Coulter, Alex Jones, and Mike Cernovich on sites such as TheNewRight.com. It is difficult to understand why Benjamin believes that his videos contain a nuanced understanding of politics when he has admitted that he purposefully refrains from criticizing right-wingers.
As if Sargon’s claim that he “creates rock-solid arguments backed up by reason, evidence, and logic” could be made more risible, he is also a 9/11 “truther.” Benjamin once wrote that “terrorists did not bring down three buildings with two planes man. I don’t know who did, but it wasn’t some Arabs with boxcutters man”. He also described the women who accused Harvey Weinstein of harassment and assault as “gold-digging whores who … didn’t (accept Weinstein’s advances) or did and regretted it”. He added that he had no doubt Weinstein “did things that would comprise assault” but added that “(actresses) shouldn’t go along with it just for a paycheck!” The point of this article is not that Sargon has never made coherent videos or that he should be banned from YouTube. The point is that Sargon of Akkad is a tribalist who has such an aversion to policy discussion that he dismisses all evidence that indicates that the far right can be as noxious as the far left. He is not a “skeptic,” a “lefty,” a “classical orator,” or a better alternative to the chicanery of mainstream news outlets. He is a McCarthyite with a pet issue that he will spin into endless, repetitive, biased content for his selectively-outraged fan base.
Alex Klein is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.