There is something inherently 2017 about a man finding fame and derision on social media for reporting on world history using facts. In a political climate where the definition of “true” is constantly twisted and every part of the human experience can become a political battleground, there’s suddenly a calling for people with academic skill sets to interject, lest we lose an entire generation to the brain-rot of conspiracy YouTube videos and actual information wars.
A man who has risen to meet that challenge, and who seems equally perplexed as to why he is rising to meet anything at all, is Mike Stuchbery. The thirty-something Australian has spent the majority of his life preparing history curricula for students and serving as a researcher for the Australian government. Having found a voice while writing a column for the Australian Broadcasting System, he followed his passion for history in a move to Europe so he could better entrench himself in modern civilization’s brutal backstory. He got married, saw a bunch of weird castles and went back to teaching kids about history.
Then, one fateful day, Stuchbery was working on travel writing from his home. Sitting in his underwear, drinking a black coffee, he logged onto social media and saw a video from right-wing provocateur Paul Joseph Watson. The InfoWars editor was ranting about a video released by the BBC which dared to suggest that the Roman empire had ethnic diversity. Watson cried that PC culture had gone too far.
Normally, in the hero’s journey, there is a refusal of the call. Not so here, as Stuchbery took to an incredibly long Twitter thread to correct this political degeneration of accepted truth.
Shortly afterward, he proved his willingness to dedicate himself and his future to being The Hero Of History by launching a global thermonuclear war against one of Twitter’s worst alt-right trolls. That thread, in which Stuchbery leans into his new identity, is another gripping read.
There’s a real draw about what Mike Stuchbery is doing right now. If Hamilton could reignite interest in dry historical topics by setting it to sick hip-hop beats, Stuchbery is reigniting an interest in dry historical topics by constantly dunking on idiots on social media. Which is why we interviewed him about this new-found calling in mixing comedy and facts.
“Yeah, making history accessible has always been something I’m dedicated to,” Stuchbery says. “But hitting fuckwits across the face with it? That’s so much better.”
It helps that there are “currently a lot of assholes willing to be dunked on.” He began with InfoWars’ Watson shouting about indoctrination, which is more or less Watson’s source of income. Another is Ian Miles Cheong, just one more cog in the new cottage industry of corrupting historical facts on the internet.
“Why do all these guys have three names, like serial killers?” he asks. None of us know. But those folks entered with Stuchbery into a dark period. “I’d say I was stuck in that for three days, because I was shocked by being attacked on this level and this constant harassment, but then I realized I could step out and have some fun with this.”
A big question here is whether fake news is a new phenomenon or if it’s always existed in the background, now emboldened by recent events. “Co-opting history has been around since the 19th century, prominently,” Stuchbery says. “Nations were looking for impetus for war, Germany and Poland drew on national mythology. Then the Nazis brought in the literal fake news about the Aryan Race. But there’s a new generation of powerful people using the same tactics to get young people involved in a glorious past, especially regarding European nations and the scourge of Muslim invasion and shit like that. It’s history and it is being corrupted.”
There’s a real question for a real man of science though. Do you ever have questions or doubt about these answers, now that you’re giving them on such a large stage? While the awful, politically minded folks undermining him on social media might be posing a new narrative, is there ever any concern that they could be right? “Yeah, look,” he confesses. “I wake up in the night and in a panic I’ll say to my wife, ‘Honey, what if the Nazis actually were socialists? No. No that’s stupid, I’m sorry.’”
This is where the discussion has to go with a man who made his name standing up to the internet. “These are dudes in their basement,” says Stuchbery, who self-defines as a man on his underwear on the couch. “But they’re armchair geneticists who want to argue about the accomplishments of Africans and how their DNA wouldn’t allow them to build a library.” He laments having to argue with folks whose accepted structure of facts is so bewilderingly limited that it gaslights actual scientists. “The delusion of rot is everywhere,” he says, “but the thing that gets me through is the DMs from people within their same movement who reach out to let me know how bullshit these situations are; by telling me how stupid everyone in their movement is.”
This makes for a modern social media nightmare, even for the best of us. It’s hard to ask Stuchbery what his feed looks like these days, knowing what he’s earned. “It’s a lot of people tagging me into arguments,” he says. “Sometimes I get tagged in and have to say that the subject is outside my wheelhouse. Sometimes people ask me to translate things? It’s wild.”
This seems like a bleak level of stardom, and it certainly is in practice. “I got way too angry about Nazis living on Twitter,” he says, ”along with picking fights with every so-called Free Speech person who came at me. That’s how I carved out this small mode of people pointing out egregious twisting of history to further race-hate online and working together to stop it.” He laughs, knowingly. “There is a resistance cell in my DMs.”
It would be easy to talk about how fighting idiots online was the end of this, but the folks standing on the right side of history still have to keep a day job. So what is it like to be a public fighter for good while still beholding to the real world? “A lot of folks are sending me academic papers and books. That’s nice,” Stuchbery says. But he knows that what he does now cuts through a lot of traditional gatekeeping. He isn’t being a dick online for the sake of being a dick—he’s sticking up for science and facts and all those other things that seem to be losing out right now.
We ask him what, from the entirety of history, Americans might draw from for a source of inspiration right now. The answer is honest, but as one might expect from Mike, not the most pleasant.
“The Protestant Reformation,” he says. “This year marks 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his pamphlet to the door. That wave of populism swept the population and the pamphlet culture that rose from that because of the printing press—there’s suddenly multiple sources of news and multiple perspectives and no one really knows what’s going on. I don’t have particular insights that can help you through that, but this sort of shifting in global power structures and who owns and disseminates information—that’s something we can draw comfort from. If that makes any sense?”
But where the comfort is supposed to come from today? The Reformation, after all, got bleak fast. “Okay, so that did lead to 200 years of war,” he concedes. “What we can draw comfort from is that—some countries that—oh no, that’s not good either. You know what—I don’t know?”
Few things are quite as dispiriting as an interview with a historian ending in a bleak tap-out. Fortunately he comes back with a real answer.
“It’s all happened before,” Stuchbery says, “but we made our way through it. Yeah, it was ugly for a while. At the end of centuries of turmoil, we had men and women who rejected the prejudices of the past and gave us new directions forward in terms of science, philosophy and listening to reason instead of superstition. So maybe take comfort in the long view here. There is a peaceful course, which we can take from the last 1000 years of European history.”
So there’s that. The historian who wants us to believe in the power of tomorrow actually wants us to believe in the power of one-thousand tomorrows. Statistically, he’s probably right.
You can support Mike Stuchbery’s work and get original content by participating in his Patreon.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.