Jan 30 • 24M

Podcast: The Holler Talks TikTok Censorship On Sirius XM Progress With John Fugelsang

Second media appearance on the topic. Third coming next week.

John Russell
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Politics for rednecks and hippies. Based in the Upper Ohio Valley. By @heyjohnrussell
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Full Podcast Transcript

T-M-E, you're listening to Tell Me Everything on Siri us XM, progress 127.

John Fugelsang

And welcome back. Sirius XM. I'm John Fugelsang saying happy 25th of January. It was on this date 61 years ago, 1961 that Bob Dylan hunted down his hero, Woody Guthrie, at Howard Beach, New York. And he taught Woody's son Arlo, a few chords on the guitar. That happened on this date in 1961. 

I'm John Fugelsang. I am so pleased to welcome our next guest. He is just so brilliant every now and then as a comedian or as a political guy who hollers a lot yet, you come across someone who raises your game and you say, goddamn, I wish I'd written that.

Well, John Russell was born and raised in Wellsville, Ohio. And between then and now he picked up an agricultural science degree. He farmed produce for seven seasons ran a side business grinding tree stumps in central Ohio. He's run for State Representative and Congress. He's worked for a major presidential campaign.

And he's the force behind a terrific, terrific site, The Holler, which is Appalachian based, it's independent. And it, well as he puts it, gets people ready for big political ideas with short, funny, plain-spoken videos. This is a substack. And it really, really serves politics up to voters in the upper Ohio Valley and the rest of the country. His videos are dynamite and gaining increasing attention. And he's really got a great way of doing something high energy and conversational and bringing to the hard-working people of America, how badly they're being fucked by the politicians and media that keep suckering them. What a pleasure to welcome John Russell to Sirius XM.

JR 

Thank you so much for having me, John. Excited to be here.

John Fugelsang

Thank you so much. Let me ask the obvious. First off, how did The Holler come to be?

JR 

Yeah, well, you know, I grew up in a really interesting part of the country, the Ohio Valley is kind of close to West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, all in the same place. But the story is really interesting with our Congressional District. I know we've got some well-informed listeners here.

So this is the Ohio 6th Congressional district that tracks the river. It's right next to West Virginia. The interesting thing about it - 15 years ago, it was as blue as it is red today.

And those were all working-class union voters. Through, you know, what's been happening with media, and consolidation, and especially big tech, social media platforms, it's undergone this massive evolution in opinion to where the 6th congressional district where I grew up, where Wellsville is, is now one of the reddest congressional districts in the country and has had the biggest shift to conservative voting of any district in the country. So I wanted to start a newspaper that was kind of a political home for working-class issues and advocate for working-class voters, no matter what their politics are. And we kind of explore that weekly.

John Fugelsang

Everyone's baffled at what's happened in the last 50 years how traditional Democratic congressional districts have gone red. And really, it began huge scale under Reagan, and the very people who are hurt by his efforts to de-unionize were going forward more and more. Now, there are a lot of different culprits, people point to the Fairness Doctrine. People point to Roe v. Wade, people point to, you know, liberal causes that really fought for the marginalized, like LGBT people. I know there's no one real answer, but what to what do you attribute the folks that the voting against our own interest belt becoming so much more powerful in our lifetimes?

JR 

Yeah, it's hard to pin down but you know, I think it's a combination of things over 50 years like you said. You could walk out of high school and into a factory and have a decent middle-class life here. And no matter what your race, sexuality, or anything else was, that was true for a long time. And then we had policies like NAFTA, we had that was, you know, ushered in by both parties.

We had just that the death of that possibility happen. And whenever a trauma like that happens to a community, people are vulnerable, they're hurt, they're looking for somebody to blame, and over 50 years, I think, you know, very cynically, but very smartly, to use words that maybe the former president would use,

the conservative apparatus plowed billions of dollars into media networks that go so much further beyond Fox. It's 24/7 and on every device, you know, as the steel mills closed, the local papers closed up, they were all replaced by, you know, Facebook groups of 5000 people in towns that nobody could name.

And these are the kind of places where I watch, you know, the moms that raised me who cut the crust off of my peanut butter and jellies get radicalized. I know them to be good people. I know them to hold, you know, to have tolerance and openness and everything else. But when you're being served up a consistent media diet, which by the way, is all stuff that kind of serves the owner-class interest. And when that's the only game in town, that inspires a political change, as we've seen. And so, you know, I think it's a combination of those factors. And it'll continue until we come up with a good answer for it. It's kind of why I moved back here and am trying to make media that fights back.

John Fugelsang

Yeah, I keep trying to find the answer. I mean, I keep thinking do we need a cabinet-level position in charge of disinformation? I mean, if we the people control if we the people own these public airwaves, if we the people own the infrastructure that created the information superhighway, why can't we have a say in regulating destructive lies and you know, your story is amazing because it is true, your district had the largest swing to conservatives of anywhere in the country, going from blue to red. But you've also said quite pointedly that the left has really failed to respond to online radicalization and his push towards the red. I agree. How do you suggest Democrats and progressives and moderates and anti-evil people respond to what's happening?

JR 

Thanks for teeing that up. I have my own magic wand solution here. You know, the main outlet that I put out, media on is TikTok. Which, by the way, is now the world's most popular web domain. It's surpassed Facebook and Google. You know, everybody thinks that the kids are on TikTok, that's true, but non-traditional folks you wouldn't think are on TikTok. I live above a bar where I bartend. A guy who's definitely not part of the resistance crowd, was like, "Hey, are you on Tik Tok?" And I'm like, "oh, yeah," you know, so a lot of people are on these platforms. 

But the good thing when it comes to fighting back with left media is this.

There are 1000s of small accounts of people with compelling stories that are putting out the exact kind of media that we need, all on their own. And I look at that, and then I look at, say, Democrats spending a billion dollars on five Midwestern Senate candidates, none of whom won, and all of whom packed up and that infrastructure kind of left. If we could divert some of this money to support the homegrown organic media network that is already out there thriving without anybody's help. Maybe that's not an answer, but it's definitely a start.

But then that gets into one of the things that this story that I was kind of talking about today of what gets censored on there. And what stays up.

John Fugelsang

Well, you were just part of a really interesting piece that Ryan Grim did about different influencers who have found themselves censored on TikTok, normally, we hear our right-wing friends all the time talk about censorship on Twitter, it's censorship on Twitter, and it's like, oh, you mean, your rights were taken away because you broke the terms and service of their free platform. I mean, if I had $1, for every person who doesn't understand the First Amendment in this country, that a private corporation is allowed to just as the bar can kick you out for not wearing shoes, it's where it can take you off for spreading lies about the plague. For me, what's so meaningful is that you're giving a voice to people in Appalachia, who feel this way. I'm someone like I said, My family's from Brooklyn and the south, and I have very large conservative families with little blue pockets all around. And it can be a lonely gig. I know. But my God, you're a true believer. I mean, what is, how has your life changed in your region, since you have become this local media superstar pushing back on the lies and in my opinion, fighting a lot harder for your conservative neighbors than the media fights for them?

JR

Well, I appreciate that. You know, I don't know how much my own life has changed. But what's really interesting, what gives me a lot of hope is, you know, I will put out a lot of pieces that show exactly how big the wealth gap is, how much corporate capture has happened in everything that you interact with with in daily life. I do a lot of that. But what really gives me hope is going out and doing the other bit of what I do, which is covering union strikes covering labor organizing, specifically in Appalachia. 

Special metals is a Warren Buffett-owned company, it's in West Virginia, there're 450 steelworkers are on strike there right now. We went down to cover them and I can say, to a person. This is anecdotal, but most of those folks are hardcore Trump people, but they're also out there doing one of the most left things that you could possibly do, and they're fighting for their rights in the workplace. They're organizing against a billionaire-owned company. They're making basic demands, that would give them a better life where they live. And if we're not stepping into that space, and showing them that we're the ones to help them, that's really on us.

But what I've found every single time if you're upfront with these folks about where you stand, they'll welcome you and stand with you in a fight. And that is what gives me hope about this part of the country. It's not that long ago that West Virginia was a union state.

John Fugelsang

Yeah, not that long ago that Jay Rockefeller was an actual Democratic senator in West Virginia. I want to bring it back to and I'm sorry, I got off track to the piece with Ryan Grim about your Tik Tok video. Now, what was it specifically? Do you think that got it, that got it censored? I love the video, I've seen it but set it up for us. What what did you put up there? And what were you told?

JR

So we did the Grim piece, we brought in several other creators that have experienced the same problem. For me, there were several videos that were taken down. One of them was addressed to any conservatives that I have listening to me. And the point I made in this video that was taken down was that private wealth and private power, and private companies are now everything that we have been taught to fear about government. The little computer in your pocket knows who you know, who you're talking to where you are, where you go, what you want. If you have an Alexa, it is a listening device for one of the world's largest corporations, and it's listening to all the time. And the companies that control these are not accountable to any public institution, largely because they've captured them. I made those points in a video that was banned from the platform. 

In the Ryan Grim piece, we brought in several other creators. Black and BIPOC creators experience this all the time if you're out there talking about Black Lives Matter organizing. There are countless numbers of creators who have had that content taken down. Another interesting one was Jessica Burbank (@kaburbank), who makes a lot of educational content about American intervention in South American countries. She's had videos taken down on that. And the last person that we brought in was Alex Clavering. He posts @loloverruled, he's a public defender and had a video taken down for talking about a person that was held 10 years beyond his sentence. Just to wrap that up the first BIPOC creator that that I was talking about, there is Erynn Chambers (@Rynnstar). 

So those are several examples. There are many more beyond them. But the piece was about how factual political education on the left is being systemically taken down and throttled. While, far-right content, for example, a police officer in official uniform with 3%'er gear, making allusions to violence racked up millions of views.

John Fugelsang

Exactly, exactly. And meanwhile, the white authoritarian power structure knows that crying victim is the best way to bring more white grievance zombies to their cause. Yeah, but I mean, but you also offer solutions, what are your more recent videos addressing what we can do personally, about bad politics. For those who haven't seen it? What advice do you have for us in terms of say adopting a friend at risk?

JR 

Yeah, that video was about adopting somebody right on the edge of radicalization like, you know, to bring this back to the Facebook groups in my own hometown, I've watched people that I know, are open to a lot of ideas, be sucked in by the right-wing media network, because it's the only game in town. And the point I made is sometimes, you might not know it, but you might be the last line of defense for a family member who is getting sucked in by far-right messaging. So that video is part of a series that we'll be doing about just practical advice. And in this case, it is to, you know, not to argue or to fight or to push back but to share why you're concerned about the directions of things and to be that that one person who can step in and interrupt a slide into pretty extreme politics.

John Fugelsang

I mean, that's great, because I wanted to ask you, you know, how do you address the issue of what everyone says why the Democrats failed to reach the people whose policies they try to help we always hear this phrase flyover country I've never actually heard someone in New York or LA describe the center of the country that way. Most people I know came from flyover country. But I hear folks in the center talk about flyover country as if, you know, liberals on the coasts and a DC despise them. And I, I'm always like, despise you? Who's fighting so you're not buried under student loan debt who's fighting, so you don't have to have a GoFundMe to pay for your kid’s surgery who's fighting to have fewer pollutants in your air and water? Who's fighting to make sure that you don't get shot by a gang member who easily purchased a AR 15? I guess I'm saying where is the democratic disconnect where they have policies designed to help these people that childhood income tax credit was showing up in people's ATMs because of Biden, and yet they have failed to connect with these rural white folks whose policies they're trying to help?

JR 

Yeah, I mean, you know, there's a lot of answers out there who's to say what is right, but you know, it's for me, I imagine, we would nail this if we did everything necessary to make it so that the face of the Democratic Party in any little hamlet that you came from, in my own village of Wellsville, if the face of the Democratic Party, it's not Joe Biden, or Nancy Pelosi or AOC, or any other boogeyman, but if it is, Barb, if it is your neighbor, if it is a person in a Facebook group is saying, “whoa, whoa, we don't have we don't all have horns here, we are trying to figure out what is going to move us forward.” You know, what, what can we do together to hold the people who are in DC accountable. If the face is a known, trusted source that is local, then that's going to it's going to be hard to make that a boogeyman, which is what 50-year investment and right-wing media are so good at doing. So if that's the case, we really need an institutional investment from the party from the PACs in bringing up local trusted messengers, giving them what they need to put out media. You know, stay on accurate talking points fight back against misinformation. I will say though, I haven't seen that effort come together, and we need it now more than ever.

John Fugelsang

Yeah, you say this kind of dream candidate? And I'm kind of thinking that Senator Sherrod Brown of your state of Ohio, I mean, oh, anyways, he is, he's, he's the great white hope for a decent white guy to, you know, be in the Democratic Party. I mean, is that the sort of figure you'd like to see more of on the national and local level?

JR 

Yeah, absolutely. But, you know, we need more than these national figures. It really needs to be, you know, I believe a lot in this reverse coattails effect. Yeah. We spend a lot of time money and attention on senate candidates, and presidential candidates, or showing up every four years. We really need these local candidates at state rep level, state senate level that is here in the district know it well, constantly a face. And there should be, you know, more, more of a push behind those kinds of folks, because they can help us carry the message. It's all about trust.

John Fugelsang

Yeah, absolutely. I'm curious what it is that you see in Appalachia, and in the country. That's concerning you the most right now. Besides JD Vance?

JR 

Oh, yeah. I don't know how much time you have. 

John Fugelsang

Can we talk about that fucking guy? Can we talk about that fucking guy?

JR 

The highlight reel was the announcement, where his placard fell off of the podium when he was announcing his candidacy. That was just a kind of a sweet moment for me.

John Fugelsang

That, to me, Mitt Romney at a Wu-Tang show that guy, I just I cannot believe how he's tried to gentrify his own hometown.

JR 

Yeah, you know, I actually have a personal interaction here, I read the book (Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance), and I traded emails with him before Trump was elected. And I wanted to know why two guys from different ends of the state. But fundamentally, the same culture ended up on different sides. And my hope for him back then, was that he would come and he would take over his party, and they would take it in a better direction, and be more working-class and everything else. And if we had to run against him on all the other things that are bad, I would have been fine with that. But I've been so disappointed to see him fully cede that leadership role and fold to what we really should be calling a fascist movement.

That is what it is. And he has seen the political opportunity there and chosen that side, which was really disappointing to me. But when people show you who you are, who they are, you should believe them. Yeah, so that's, that's the JD Vance end of things. 

But you know, you asked me, you asked about what's concerning. You know, to win in these places, you have to show up in these places. Of course, that's a talking point that's always been out there. But really why are we seeing such a rise in extreme politics on the right? It is directly connected to that media investment. And I think if we don't come up with a solution to that and come up with it pretty fast, and really put some money behind that, that is the most concerning thing to me. So I think if any of your listeners are down there in, in the marble hallways with some money to push around, we need a good media infrastructure to get good messages out there. And it's part of the reason why I love your show what you're doing. 

John Fugelsang

I love what you do. Your video with a piece of paper explaining how a billionaire is actually very poor, very simple graph is the sort of thing that I think could wake up all kinds of conservative brothers and sisters from the Fox network.

JR 

Yeah. And I got a lot of feedback from conservative folks on that video. And just for the listeners here, it was a simple piece of graph paper that kind of gave you nightmares in math class, whenever you are using it, and each box on the paper was $5 billion. And we went made a graph that started at zero and went all the way up to Jeff Bezos. But the shocking thing about it was that the 1% did not register above $0 when you compare wealth on the scale to how it's exploded. Not to mention the fact that the people at the very top of that graph, pay a lot less taxes than you and I, because of how they manipulate income and all the rest of it. 

That video got 10 million views that earned media everywhere. But the important thing about it is, it expands, to me, the definition of working-class, which is another thing that needs to happen for us to really see each other on the same side. Yeah, because you might have radically different politics, but you have the same class. If you have to work for a living, you got a lot more in common with a Trump voter on a picket line than you do with, you know, a billionaire who donates to Democrats like Warren Buffett. You can donate as much as you want, but really, it is about the power that you have with that level of money to exert influence on our government. So any media that we can do to put us all in the same boat, to give us a class consciousness to work together to organize and to rein in the powers of wealth that be, that's what we're trying to do.

John Fugelsang

And to remind the whole culture, there's a big difference between the 1%, the 0.1%, and the 0.01%. John Russell, I'm such a fan of what you do. I look forward to having you in the city in our studio when we have a studio in the city again. In the meantime, how can folks listening follow you and The Holler and keep up with all your work?

JR 

Well, thank you so much I post we're not a fan of paywalls. So the important political content is for free, you can see that @heyjohnrussell, across all social media. The Holler is the newsletter, you can sign up there at TheHoller.co. And we're looking for those sustaining small-dollar donors to keep pumping out the message and getting it out there. So thank you so much.

John Fugelsang

Listen, please come back and join us again this platform is open to you anytime I love what you do I find your… as someone who's you know, making more and more videos, I find your editing, inspiring. I love how you are not just the politics. I love what you're doing on a creative level as an artist. And so I just heap praise on you. Please come see us again anytime. We'd love to help put some more eyeballs on any of your work. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Russell. That's what we're here for. We got to take a really quick break! When we come back, it's gonna be open phones with all y'alls calls all the way until midnight on the East Coast. 9 pm on the west with comedian Leighann Lord joining us in the next hour. We are just getting warmed up.