The membership platform SubscribeStar promotes itself as a “free speech,” adult-friendly alternative to Patreon, but it seems to be the platform of choice for the alt-right, too. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Why I Don’t Like SubscribeStar

Arilin Thorferra

If a platform promoted itself as supporting “free and intelligent conversation without fear of being bullied, de-platformed or prosecuted” and “free of political biases,” would you think, oh, that sounds like it’s for me? Or would you worry that sounds like a dog whistle, how free speech alternative sometimes means, you know, free speech, but in our current political moment too often means neo-Nazis welcome?

Well, those quotes are from SubscribeStar. Specifically, they’re from a late 2018 Financial Times article about PayPal cutting them off after it was “flooded with alt-right activists,” most notoriously Sargon of Akkad. While using PayPal as a moral arbiter is hardly without flaws, it is the sort of thing that makes one wonder.

Okay, you might say, SubscribeStar has a bit of “alt tech” vibe, but they’re more ultra-libertarian, right? Maybe. But let’s dig in a little. On January 14, 2024, these were the first few “Stars” on SubscribeStar’s “Explore Stars” page.

  1. Naomi Wu, a/k/a “Sexy Cyborg,” a Chinese “internet personality” (in Wikipedia’s words). She’s here because she was kicked off Patreon after doxxing a reporter at Vice, after arguing that the profile of her the reporter wrote included details that put her at risk.
  2. Dave Cullen, a “tech journalist.” Not the journalist who’s written about gun control activism and school shootings in Parkland: Birth of a Movement; this Dave Cullen is a pro-Brexit Irish ultra-nationalist who is against feminism, abortion, and gay marriage. He has a Gab account.
  3. FreedomToons. A right-winger “creating educational and satirical cartoons about freedom and liberty.” Cool.
  4. Daisy Cousens. “Together we can fight the culture wars, and with your support, I may come out unscathed. I also write for The Spectator…” Cool.
  5. Military History Visualized. Seems to be what it says on the tin. While this stuff tends to be popular with the right wing, I can’t find anything that suggests the creator takes any political stances.
  6. Dreamkeepers. Yes, this is the popular furry comic. The popular furry comic which (checks notes) bought ads on alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos’s show and created a fan art fursona for him. While they tried to distance themselves from that later, they were still, as a possibly too-kind former associate put it, “wrapped up in an ideological echo chamber” in 2021. The creator has a Gab account.
  7. Tracy Beanz. “Independent journalist,” by which she means early QAnon proponent. She has a Gab account.
  8. Mind and Magick. Digging deep into esoteric occult stuff, but probably not political.
  9. Yaron Brook. “Brook travels extensively promoting Ayn Rand and her philosophy—Objectivism, Capitalism, Political & Economic Freedom.” Cool.
  10. Should I Smoke This. A cigar review show. Andy Ngo, an infamous far-right “journalist” on a crusade against anti-fascists, relying on disinformation and doxxing tactics while openly carrying water for neo-Nazis.

So, numbers 2, 3, 4, 7, and 10 are far-right activists, number 9 is a hardcore objectivist, number 6 is an alt-fur, and only number 5 is apolitical. Number 1, Ms. Wu, isn’t apolitical, but she’s difficult to categorize. She has left-leaning techno-libertarian fans, but also conservative fans drawn to her fights with ostensibly left-leaning organizations like Vice.

Is this ratio an outlier? Am I just cherry-picking by using the first ten? I don’t think so. A significant portion of their successful stars are far-right activists, conspiracy theorists, or full-bore white supremacists. So far, every single time I’ve found a reference to the politics of an ostensibly non-political creator, it’s conservative, from British historian David Starkey to science YouTuber Isaac Arthur. (Technically, I found Arthur’s wife’s politics—she’s an Ohio state representative who, in March 2022, argued that the history of the Holocaust should be taught from the perspective of the Nazis. Good times.) Even when I can’t find someone openly declaring their politics, there’s often a conservative vibe in the very concept, like “Family Friendly Gaming” and “The Urban Prepper.” I’m not saying “conservative vibe” is automatically bad—it’s just a thing that makes you go hmmm when taken in context.

What I didn’t find is anyone who’s overtly leftist. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but I’m saying that not finding a single one in the first ten “explore” pages—200 creators—while finding dozens of overtly conservative, libertarian, or far-right creators probably means something.

Don’t misunderstand me. I know people get kicked off Patreon due to content violations. But many people kicked off Patreon get booted not because their drawings are too darn fetishy, but because they’re engaging in hate speech or making threats. And a lot of those people are not only on SubscribeStar, they’re actively promoted by the platform, and in some cases, were actively recruited to it.

So, do I really recommend Patreon over SubscribeStar? Bluntly, unless you really know that what you do can’t be done on Patreon, yes. It’s true that they’re more restrictive than SubscribeStar, and some visual artists in particular might feel “safer” hosted on a site that pitches itself to adult creators. And, sure, Patreon is a for-profit site subject to the pressures of venture capital. Eventually, they’ll have to do ever more to court creators bringing in millions a year—a real risk for creators bringing in mere thousands. But hopping to SubscribeStar preemptively because Patreon might kick you off and just turning a blind eye to the company you’re keeping seems unwise at best.

I can’t help but think of a story that went around on social media—you know the one, right? About a punk bartender throwing out a polite Nazi dude because if you let one hang around, before you know it, you’re running a Nazi bar. I’m not saying SubscribeStar is a Nazi bar. But I am saying it’s a bar that has a statistically significant number of Nazis in it. And the bartenders have put out the word that if you get kicked out of other bars for, you know, reasons, you’re always welcome at the good ol’ “SS.”