Substackers Against Nazis

A collective letter to Substack leadership

Substackers Against Nazis

Hello all. Given that you follow me there’s a decent chance you follow other Substack newsletters that posted this open letter yesterday, timed to go out on the same day for maximum impact.

I was traveling yesterday when I saw them all come into my in-tray, but I knew I wanted to join the list of signatories and so now you’re getting it from me. This just to let you know my delay was a matter of logistics, not deliberation.

It is perhaps to be expected that a more and more standard feature of this media landscape—when so many who claim to be mainstream writers, politicians, and platform owners insist on normalizing Nazi methods, tactics, intentions, rhetoric, and goals, and so many more who insist on normalizing those who do so—that wherever you go, you will be in a place where Nazis are being normalized, usually under the auspices of promoting something Nazis are actively working to demolish, such as free speech or tolerance or open debate etc etc, and unfortunately Substack is not an exception to this.

You probably knew, but if you didn’t know, now you know.

The author of the letter is Jonathan M. Katz, a freelance reporter whose work I support here and who I recommend you follow. He wrote more about the matter—including why he’s choosing to stay on Substack for now—here. I think you can expect me to write more about my own view on this at greater length in the sometime in the not-so-distant future as well.

Regular weekly newsletter is still planned for this weekend.

Dear Chris, Hamish & Jairaj:

We’re asking a very simple question that has somehow been made complicated: Why are you platforming and monetizing Nazis?

According to a piece written by Substack publisher Jonathan M. Katz and published by The Atlantic on November 28, this platform has a Nazi problem:

“Some Substack newsletters by Nazis and white nationalists have thousands or tens of thousands of subscribers, making the platform a new and valuable tool for creating mailing lists for the far right. And many accept paid subscriptions through Substack, seemingly flouting terms of service that ban attempts to ‘publish content or fund initiatives that incite violence based on protected classes’...Substack, which takes a 10 percent cut of subscription revenue, makes money when readers pay for Nazi newsletters.”

As Patrick Casey, a leader of a now-defunct neo-Nazi group who is banned on nearly every other social platform except Substack, wrote on here in 2021: “I’m able to live comfortably doing something I find enjoyable and fulfilling. The cause isn’t going anywhere.” Several Nazis and white supremacists including Richard Spencer not only have paid subscriptions turned on but have received Substack “Bestseller” badges, indicating that they are making at a minimum thousands of dollars a year.

From our perspective as Substack publishers, it is unfathomable that someone with a swastika avatar, who writes about “The Jewish question,” or who promotes Great Replacement Theory, could be given the tools to succeed on your platform. And yet you’ve been unable to adequately explain your position.

In the past you have defended your decision to platform bigotry by saying you “make decisions based on principles not PR” and “will stick to our hands-off approach to content moderation.” But there’s a difference between a hands-off approach and putting your thumb on the scale. We know you moderate some content, including spam sites and newsletters written by sex workers. Why do you choose to promote and allow the monetization of sites that traffic in white nationalism?

Your unwillingness to play by your own rules on this issue has already led to the announced departures of several prominent Substackers, including Rusty Foster and Helena Fitzgerald. They follow previous exoduses of writers, including Substack Pro recipient Grace Lavery and Jude Ellison S. Doyle, who left with similar concerns.

As journalist Casey Newton told his more than 166,000 Substack subscribers after Katz’s piece came out: “The correct number of newsletters using Nazi symbols that you host and profit from on your platform is zero.”

We, your publishers, want to hear from you on the official Substack newsletter. Is platforming Nazis part of your vision of success? Let us know—from there we can each decide if this is still where we want to be.


Substackers Against Nazis