April 7, 2021

Over the past month, giant images of an imposing man in a pinstripe suit have appeared on billboards across London, professing to reveal the “next Mayor of London”. It’s a window into a fantasy world, and the UK’s first post-truth politician. The photo doesn’t show the incumbent, and odds-on favourite, Sadiq Khan. Nor does it show his Tory opponent Shaun Bailey, or even Laurence Fox, the “anti-woke” outsider seeking to challenge them.

Instead, the man gazing out is Brian Rose.

Rose, 49, would certainly make an unusual boss at City Hall. He is, after all, a former Wall Street stockbroker who has spent the past year hosting Covid-19 conspiracy grifters on his YouTube channel and website. He is also Britain’s first post-truth political candidate.

In Rose’s self-created fantasy world, his campaign is proving a roaring success: he is running in second place to be Mayor, he has the “largest outdoor campaign in British political history” and his raft of glossy films calling out Mayor Khan have racked up millions of views.

Yet in the consensus-based reality occupied by the rest of us, this version of Brian Rose doesn’t really exist. Why? Because all his metrics of success have been systematically distorted — and in the one that really matters, the polling for London mayor, he doesn’t even register, not even breaking 1%.

So how has Rose managed to craft such a fabricated narrative of success? The answer, I suspect, can be traced back to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when San Diego-born Rose first made a name for himself after hosting the conspiracy theorist David Icke — most famous for claiming that world is controlled by a secret lizard Illuminati — on his show “London Real”.

In the frantic early days of the pandemic, the interview hit a nerve and went viral. Unchallenged by Rose, Icke spun a grand narrative, that the “Covid pandemic” was fake, was really caused by 5G and  was a cover for a murderous global cult who were determined to create a fascist state. He said that 5G was designed to cause a mass cull, and that if humanity didn’t “get off its knees” then “human life as we know it is over”.

In an environment where 5G masts were already being destroyed, and engineers threatened, YouTube took the video down. All of which allowed Rose, never one to miss an opportunity, to turn himself into a free speech martyr; a victim of Big Tech censorship. Whether or not he knew it at the time, his Mayoral campaign had just begun.

In the following days, Rose went into overdrive, claiming that he had been censored by Big Tech and that he was determined to fight back. He launched a crowdfunder for what he called a “Digital Freedom Platform” to host another interview with Icke. It would, he said, be “of the people, by the people and for the people”. More importantly, it would be fully independent of London Real.

What he didn’t say, however, was that it would also be fully owned by Longstem Ltd, the company that owns London Real and has one shareholder: a Mr Brian Rose.

Still, in the early days of the pandemic the crowdfunder hit a nerve among those frustrated with Big Tech’s heavy-handed attempts at censorship. Rose hit the initial $100,000 target in less than a day — so, over the course of a few days, he added new features to the crowdfunding campaign to justify increasing the target, including unspecified “blockchain technology” for $200,000, and a promise to take YouTube and other tech companies to court for another $200,000. In the end, the crowdfunder maxed out at over a million dollars.

But it was unclear from the start what the point of the platform was, or even whether it was necessary. Several tech commentators have noted that he could have used any number of free video services, such as Bitchute, to host the videos, if YouTube took them down. Needless to say there have been no court cases brought against the big tech platforms — though Mr Rose’s spokesman assures us that they “plan to proceed” — or any introduction of “blockchain technology”. Instead, he seems to have dedicated all his energies to his Digital Freedom Platform, and hosted a slew of interviews with other controversial conspiracy figures, from Infowars‘s Alex Jones to anti-vaccine activists Judy Mikovits and Robert Kennedy Jr.

In fact, at the time, the only tangible development was the sacking of nearly all of London Real’s video production staff, and the hiring of political advisors for his mayoral bid. Today, the homepage for the “Digital Freedom Platform” takes you through to a campaign site of “Brian For Mayor”. When I pointed this out to Rose’s campaign, his spokesman said that the Digital Freedom Platform “is in the process of being set up as an entirely separate commercial entity”. He also emphasised that none of the money raised through the “Digital Freedom Platform” fundraiser has been used to fund this mayoral bid.

After raising $1m, Rose was flying high, but then he managed to push his luck just a little too far. Shortly after the crowdfunder was completed, he announced that he needed to raise running costs for the platform to $250,000 per month. Within hours, the penny dropped for his supporters; the comment threads under his video turned into a bear-pit. Overnight, he became an online pariah, and finally got the media attention he craved — but not the headline he wanted: “The YouTuber Accused of Using Coronavirus to Scam His Followers”.

And yet in many ways, Rose’s fall from grace was a long time coming. Before he set up his Digital Freedom Platform, the main source of income for London Real was their expensive online courses. Indeed, at one point these courses were the business’s main source of income; eight-week courses titled “Business Accelerator” or “Podcast Yourself” were, for example, on offer for $3,000, while those who wanted to join his exclusive “Inner Circle” – for personal mentoring – could do so by coughing up $15,000.

Predictably, many of Rose’s “customers” felt they had been scammed: the website Scamguard has 28 scathing reviews of the courses, and a Google search for reviews shows up multiple unhappy customers. A Facebook group set up to advise unhappy customers on how to get their money back has nearly 300 members. In fact, many of those who signed up for London Real’s courses managed to get their money back from credit card companies, after they were able to prove that the courses were such poor quality that they were covered under the credit card company’s guarantee against mis-selling.

The $15,000 “Inner Circle” fared even worse. A few months ago, a letter signed by nearly every single person from the “Inner Circle” was sent to Rose, asking for their money back and complaining about the lack of value from the course. One of the signatories told me: “We had no mentorship whatsoever, it was a joke, we would have three minutes with him every 15 days and he would just talk about himself. The whole course rebelled against him.” When they eventually complained, the member said, Rose lectured them about how lucky they were to speak to him, as “people queue just to shake my hand”.

“Like many businesses, we receive occasional complaints,” Rose’s spokesman admitted. But, he said, “the reality is that this is from a handful of people amongst the thousands of satisfied graduates of our academy”.

It’s a bold claim in the face of such criticism, yet such self-confidence informs much of Rose’s myth-making today. From the start of Rose’s mayoral bid, he has claimed to be the “second ranked candidate” in the mayoral race, because he was second favourite at the bookmakers. At one point, before any polling data was collected to burst Rose’s bubble, he was rated at only 3-1 to beat Sadiq Khan.

How did he achieve this? Well, a number of political pundits have questioned whether Rose may have bet heavily on himself to distort the odds. In a flattering interview with the Times last month, he confirmed that he has bet on himself. His spokesman told me: “Mr Rose has staked a small amount on himself in the mayoral race, which wouldn’t be enough to influence even a single bookmaker’s odd”. As it stands, he is still around 20-1 at many bookmakers, ahead of the Conservative Candidate Shaun Bailey.

One suspects, however, that those odds remain extremely generous. On the face of it, if you visit the London Real YouTube page, it looks like Rose’s recent films, including one criticising Sadiq Khan, are receiving hundreds of thousands of views. Yet many of these videos show the tell tale signs of being paid posts, and the vast majority of his films released in the last few weeks are getting around two or three thousand views, a massive drop off from the heights of his conspiracy content during the pandemic.

As for his claim that he has the “largest outdoor campaign in British political history”, this also doesn’t appear to tally with reality. The non-profit group “Reform Political Advertising” identified this as one of multiple “false statements of fact, or blatant misrepresentations” in his advertising, in a letter they sent to his campaign.

Typically undeterred, Rose has since tried to repeat the trick of the Digital Freedom Platform, and generate controversy by claiming to be victimised by powerful forces. For months, he has been one of the only candidates to be campaigning heavily in person under lockdown, releasing stylised videos of him without a mask and shaking hands and mingling with assorted Londoners.

When the inevitable happened and he was stopped and fined by police while campaigning in February, he attempted once again to turn himself into a martyr, releasing a video claiming that he was being targeted for political reasons. He was given an on-the-spot fine, and tried hard to spin up some notoriety firstly claiming falsely to have been arrested, and then also falsely that he now had a criminal record as a result of the fine.

When I asked Rose’s campaign about this, his spokesman said: “Mr Rose was referring to the fact that he would ultimately be arrested if he refused to comply with the terms of the FPN he received. As he has chosen not to comply with these terms, he anticipates that the next phase of the legal process will commence in due course.”

That, of course, remains to be seen. And in the meantime, faced with the increased scrutiny that comes with any political campaign, his fantasy world could soon be about to come crumbling down. Only a couple of days ago, for example. Dorian Yates, a regular London Real guest, pulled out of an interview and released a statement claiming that Rose had refused to allow him to question on-air what had happened to the money donated to the Digital Freedom Platform.

Rose is yet to respond to Yates’s claim, instead preferring to release films of him shadow-boxing the camera. But in truth, it is hard to see where he goes from here. The pivot from his glossy interviews via his Digital Freedom Platform to his mayoral bid has alienated his online fanbase, while more and more of his course “customers” are starting to speak out. He now has Facebook groups and Reddit threads dedicated to calling him out and picking apart his claims.

Indeed, once London’s voters deliver their verdict, it is hard to see where Brian goes next. After all, the actual votes counted come May 6th are a somewhat purer metric of popularity. And so far London seems immune to Brian’s reality distortion field.