Axios co-founder Mike Allen recently sat down over videochat with Mark Zuckerberg for an interview that aired last night on HBO. And while everyone in the tech world is spending the morning discussing Zuck’s most disingenuous quotes, we here at Gizmodo couldn’t help but zone out during the softball chat while wondering about something a little more personal. Would Mike Allen’s dad have been banned from Facebook for promoting extremism?
Mike Allen made his name coming up through the ranks at Time magazine and Politico before co-founding Axios in 2016. But political-minded writing runs in Allen’s family. Mike Allen’s father, Gary Allen, who died in 1986, was a far-right conspiracy theorist who worked as a spokesperson for the John Birch Society and was even a speechwriter for segregationist George Wallace.
To put his political views even more plainly, Gary Allen believed that President Richard Nixon was too liberal and that an international conspiracy of powerful bankers were trying to impose Communism in the United States. As Gary Allen wrote in his 1971 book, titled None Dare Call it Conspiracy, “the techniques of the Illuminati have long been recognized as models for Communist methodology.”
Gary Allen was obsessed with the idea that a secretive cabal of wealthy elites, in conjunction with every major news outlet in the country, was trying to destroy national boundaries, insisting that “They Run America,” as he put it in a series of articles in the 1970s. Allen accused many people of being communists in the 1960s, especially when he wrote frequently in the pages of the John Birch Society’s magazine “American Opinion.” But those writings would sometimes get Allen in trouble, for instance when he accused Filipino-American labor organizer Larry Itliong in California of being a communist, prompting Itliong to sue for libel.
Allen also wrote a bunch of racist nonsense about Black neighborhoods in Los Angeles where, according to Allen, “60 per cent of the families in the area are drawing welfare.” As he wrote in his 1967 book Communists in the Streets, first reexamined by Gawker in 2014, that Black nationalists were promoting “Negro racial superiority” and were “preparing to inflict a bloody revolution on the United States.”
Race-baiting and anti-Semitic conspiracies about a world-controlling cabal have a long history and today’s most toxic version, known as QAnon, clearly draws inspiration from many of the same dark fantasies promoted by Allen. Facebook has tried to crack down on QAnon, but it’s been a very bungled effort to say the least.
Allen was writing speeches for George Wallace’s unsuccessful third-party bid for president in 1968, so it’s no surprise that he’d be peddling racist garbage. Wallace, who was formerly the governor of Alabama, was explicitly running for the top job in the country on a platform of racial segregation.
“I don’t regard myself as a racist. I think the biggest racists in the world are those who call other folks racist,” Wallace said on CBS’s Face the Nation on July 21, 1968.
Where have we heard that one before?
In the lead-up to the 1972 presidential election, the John Birch Society tried to “saturate the country” with Gary Allen’s 1971 book, None Dare Call it Conspiracy, which, among other things, accused Richard Nixon of being aligned with a leftist plot of international bankers, according to news articles from the time.
From Allen’s book:
Richard Nixon was elected President on a platform which promised to stop America’s retreat before world Communism. Yet he appointed Henry Kissinger, a man who represented the opposite of the stands Mr. Nixon took during his campaign, to a position which is virtually Assistant President. Is it surprising then that Mr. Nixon has done just the opposite of what he promised he would do during his 1968 campaign?
How did Mr. Nixon come to pick an ultra-liberal to be his number one foreign policy advisor? We are told by Time magazine that Mr. Nixon met Kissinger at a cocktail party given by Clare Boothe Luce during the Christmas holidays in 1967. Mr. Nixon is supposed to have been so impressed by Dr. Kissinger’s cocktail party repartee that he appointed him to the most powerful position in the Nixon Administration. Mr. Nixon would have to be stupid to have done that; and Mr. Nixon is not stupid. The Kissinger appointment was arranged by Nelson Rockefeller.
Yes, you read that correctly. Allen believed that Henry Kissinger was an “ultra-liberal.”
What would Facebook do with Gary Allen’s content today? Officially, Facebook has banned white supremacist content on its platform, so it’s unlikely that his most racist passages from 1967's Communists in the Streets would be allowed to circulate widely on the platform. But many of the same ideas that Allen was spouting about conspiracies would definitely be right at home on Facebook in 2020.
People shouldn’t be judged by what their parents did, but it’s hard not to consider the hypothetical when Mike Allen is conducting softball interviews with powerful figures. Allen’s dad lived on the fringes of American political society, trying to chart a course to the mainstream through anti-communist and anti-Black fearmongering. The younger Allen appears to have learned that you can be much more influential by simply wallowing in access journalism—promising to take it easy on interview subjects to secure an exclusive, or even attending an off-the-record Christmas party with president-elect Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
What possible good would there be for reporters to attend an off-the-record party with a newly elected president who called Mexicans rapists and promised to ban Muslims? Your guess is as good as ours. And it will largely be up to history to decide if explicit racism is worse than merely condoning it through inaction.
Whatever Mike Allen’s personal political beliefs, it’s safe to say Axios will never be banned from Facebook. And he’ll likely never conduct an interview with Zuck that’s interesting enough to merit watching. But he might surprise us one day. Axios reporter Jonathan Swan spent years cozying up to Trump with softball interviews before he finally said the obvious to the president’s face, an act that seemed revolutionary only because Swan had gotten access after years of normalizing Trump.
Give Zuck a curveball next time, Mike. You should know better than anyone that it was great for Swan’s ratings.