What a strange journey it’s been for Oliver Anthony, the former factory worker who suddenly found himself atop the Billboard Hot 100 after his breakout “Rich Men North of Richmond” was boosted online by right-wing media and prominent conservatives.
After first facing backlash over his folksy country ballad’s reactionary lyrics conjuring up Reagan-era imagery of “welfare queens,” and launching an entire news cycle around the song’s overnight success, Anthony now finds himself in the crosshairs of the extreme right.
This isn’t quite as simple, however, as the shift of criticism from left to right following Anthony’s latest comments. This recent uproar over the singer’s self-described “centrist” politics features alt-right trolls and unapologetically racist commentators taking aim at “establishment” conservatives for supposedly pushing a “conservafraud” to peddle “ethonocide narratives” from the Jewish elite.
In a way, Anthony’s rise to fame has yet again exposed the dark (and extremely online) underbelly of the right-wing movement for all to see.
“Rich Men North of Richmond,” like other controversial country songs in recent months, saw meteoric success after conservatives embraced the tune’s populist lyrics about economic frustration and the feeling that there are two Americas. Of course, outside of its soulful themes about working-class hardship, the song also featured Anthony punching down on welfare recipients and making a Jeffrey Epstein reference, likely helping it gain steam within right-wing circles.
Unlike country superstars Jason Aldean and Morgan Wallen, two other singers who saw their latest songs blow up the charts after the political right rallied around their “cancellations,” Anthony was an absolute unknown before releasing the song on Aug. 8. In a matter of days, with the backing of conservative celebrities and Republican politicians, the song went viral and soon raced up the iTunes and Billboard charts.
The immediate success, however, led to skepticism about Anthony as an organic success, with some suggesting he was the product of “astroturfing,” aka a coordinated PR campaign, rather than a grassroots movement. Right-wing marketing guru Jason Howerton was an early champion of Anthony’s, which was soon followed by conservative media figures singing the unknown artist’s praises, leading to accusations that he was an “industry plant.” (Howerton, after saying he’d “offered to cover the cost for Oliver to produce a record” earlier this month, later told The Washington Post he is “not working with Oliver in any official capacity.”)
Anthony, whose real name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford, has largely avoided speaking to the press since finding instant success. In a video post previewing the release of “Rich Men” earlier this month, however, he declared that he sits “pretty dead center down the aisle on politics and always have.”
Last week, he followed that up with a lengthy Facebook post in which he explained his beliefs a bit more. “I am sad to see the world in the state it’s in, with everyone fighting with each other. I have spent many nights feeling hopeless, that the greatest country on Earth is quickly fading away,” he wrote.
It wasn’t until he spoke with Fox News this weekend at the site of his free concert in North Carolina, however, that his self-described “centrist” politics suddenly sparked outrage among the far-right.
“I don’t see our country lasting more than another generation the way we are headed. We have to go back to the roots of what made this country great in the first place, which was our sense of community,” he told Fox News reporter Griff Jenkins. “We are the melting pot of the world. And that’s what makes us strong, our diversity. And we need to learn to harness that and appreciate it and not use it as a political tool to keep everyone separate from it.”
After the interview aired on Fox & Friends this week, it didn’t take long for far-right provocateurs to turn on Anthony for committing the sin of embracing diversity as an American strength, which former Fox News host Tucker Carlson helped turn into a pejorative within the conservative movement. Furthermore, these newfound right-wing critics claimed Anthony appears to have been “faking” his southern accent.
“Promoted algorithm boosted ‘based’ red beard hillbilly song guy was faking his accent and says diversity is our strength,” the social media account @Black_Pilled tweeted on Monday. (The term “black pill,” according to the Anti-Defamation League, “represents nihilism, or a realization that the system is too far gone to change” within the extreme right.)
That post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, appeared to be the impetus for the alt-right backlash against Anthony. Soon after, a number of other prominent figures on the fringe right launched antisemitic conspiracies about the singer’s sudden fame, alleging he is being used to push anti-white messaging.
Owen Benjamin, an openly racist comedian who recently purchased an Idaho compound that neighbors worry could be the next Ruby Ridge, ranted that Anthony was a “fake” while using an antisemitic symbol to describe the song.
“The #1 way the (((rich men north of Richmond))) undercut the wages of the people Oliver Anthony is impersonating is mass migration,” he wrote on X. “The fact he said America is a melting pot and ‘diversity is our strength’ means he’s fake. And by fake I mean he’s an ad campaign. An actor. Not authentic. Kind of like Mickey Mouse at Disney. It isn’t ‘white supremacy’ that makes the demographic [he’s] impersonating hate migrants, it’s the fact the migrants destroy their ability to make a living.”
Benjamin, who was banned from Twitter before current owner Elon Musk reinstated him, continued: “The [song’s] first line is ‘I’ve been selling my soul.’ If you people don’t get better at recognizing this stuff, according to their religion they have a right and duty to turn you into cattle and cull you if they want. No one who’s ever changed ‘build the wall’ would ever say ‘diversity is our strength.’ It’s physically not possible.”
The platform Anti-White Watch, which has been described as “a sinister new effort from white nationalists to co-opt the language of social justice,” praised @Black_Pilled and others for realizing that Anthony was “repeating zionist ‘melting pot’ ethnocide narratives.” Another account was even more explicit, merely saying “[g]ood goy” while sharing a video of Anthony’s comments.
The commentary only seemed to grow more unhinged and apocalyptic from there.
“‘We are the melting pot of the world, and that's what makes us strong - our diversity.’ This is far from merely failing to Name Them. It is abject prostration before the false gods of this dark age,” another far-right account shared. “If you're defending this guy after this pathetic display, you need to repent.”
Other alt-right trolls with large online followings demanded to know if the singer had gotten a call from or already sold out to “the rich men north of Richmond.” One “manosphere” influencer with 13,700 followers, meanwhile, called Anthony “yet another conservafraud” who “sounds like Obama with this crap.”
In an attempt to nip the backlash against Anthony in the bud, far-right podcaster Tim Pool and Timcast contributor Phil Labonte insisted that the singer’s full quote was perfectly in line with right-wing ideology. Anthony, they said, is probably just a “normie” who doesn’t understand the jargon of the “very online” alt-right community.
“I just think the guy isn’t an extremely online dude,” Labonte, singer for the metal band All That Remains, said this week. “We all see the term diversity and there’s all kinds of things attached to it…there’s all that stuff attached to it, right? But if you’re just a normal guy who goes to work and writes a song, the idea of ‘we should have a diverse country’ is, especially a guy his age, that’s something everybody kinda grew up with.”
Labonte added: “That’s something that’s been an integral part of the United States’ story for the vast majority of our history. So, I think this was just a situation of he is kind of a normie and people are applying a lot of extremely online context to a guy who is totally unfamiliar.”
Pool, who has relentlessly celebrated Anthony’s song, has also used his show and social media accounts to repeatedly defend the singer, claiming his far-right critics are “taking his quote out of context.”