Interview with Andrew Callaghan

Printed in Issue 21
Interview by Olivia Whittick

Photos by Alexis Gross

Andrew Callaghan is drawn to annoying people like a moth to a flame. But partly maybe because he isn’t as immediately dismissive as the rest of us. He practices what he calls “radical listening” in his interviews, which is quite radical considering his subjects include Chet Hanks, the QAnon Shaman, attendees of the Hollywood antivax rally, a pickup artist bootcamp in Las Vegas, and numerous QAnon, Flat Earth, Conscious Life, and Bigfoot hunting conferences, to name only a few. 

Callaghan started making man-on-the-street content in 2018 with Quarter Confessions, a show he hosted when he was living in New Orleans, studying journalism at Loyola University. He was working as a doorman at Bourbon House Seafood, when his college friend Michael Moises asked if he wanted to start filming. Unsure of what to ask, but interested in viral fame, Callaghan went for the jugular—what is your darkest secret? And the wasted tourists of Bourbon Street delivered, beyond expectation.

Callaghan’s next major project, All Gas No Brakes (named after a memoir-zine he made hitchhiking across America at 19), was a YouTube series where he put on an oversized suit and interviewed people at niche subcultural events. These videos did big numbers online, and Callaghan was approached by Doing Things Media, a company owned by a man Callaghan has nothing nice to say about. A predatory contract, a dispute over covering the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis (Doing Things only wanted “party content”), and Callaghan was fired from his own project, losing the rights to his brand’s intellectual property. 

The conflict only seemed to galvanize Callaghan to double-down on independent journalism, to distance himself from shithead party coverage and to focus on issues that actually mattered to him. He launched Channel 5 News in April of 2021, alongside AGNB collaborators Nic Mosher and Evan Gilbert-Katz. They now dispatch to nearly 1.5M subscribers. Here, Andrew talks to us about red-pilled parents, conspiracy theories, news-based depression, and whether or not the world is getting worse. 

Olivia Whittick: I want to start with asking a question that’s also a bit asking for advice. Over the last few years my mom has gone from like a West Coast vitamins mom to like a paranoid Q-adjacent conspiracy theorist. And this has obviously happened to a lot of people—family members getting sucked into different parts of the internet and completely transforming politically. Given that your whole thing depends on an almost anthropological detachment—how do you manage that when the relationships or issues are more personal?

Andrew Callaghan: Well QAnon is a pretty fascinating psyop, in terms of how the people behind it were able to use social media to radicalize millions of people in a matter of months. In an evil way, it was genius. They took advantage of the pandemic and the uncertainties it brought, and realized that older, less tech-savvy right-wing Americans were spending an insane amount of time online and developing a growing distrust in mainstream media. This allowed Q propaganda, mostly through Facebook memes, to spread rapidly. Within a few months, underground conspiracy theories that I’d been following for years, like chemtrails, flat Earth, Pizzagate, and terms like “cultural Marxism” and “New World Order” became commonplace. I saw it in my own family. Right around when the riots kicked off, my great uncle became a Q guy. Before 2020, he was a Reagan-style fiscal conservative and within a month he became like a full blown UFO, flat Earth, reptilian Deep State, Rothschild’s-financed-the-Holocaust kind of guy. In terms of relationships with members of my family that got red-pilled, I don’t really care. It’s pretty impossible to deprogram someone who’s swallowed the paranoia pill, because the moment you truly challenge them, they think you’re compromised. In their eyes, you’re now part of the Deep State. I generally leave politics alone when it comes to family. But thankfully my Mom Mom and Pop Pop, who I am really close with, didn’t get red-pilled. Oh, I heard my cousin stormed the capitol, I’d like to talk to her about that. 

So you just let uncle be a flat Earther?

My uncle has always been a sci-fi sort of guy, really into alien lore. He is actually Pennsylvania’s top-rated UFO investigator, or field researcher as he says, and prior to getting red-pilled, invented something called the “Orange Orb Theory,” which declared that UFOs are not disc, but actually ball-shaped. I saw it all as harmless until he started applying that sci-fi outlook to real-life political events. All of a sudden it went from like, “They’re hidingextraterrestrial spacecraft at Area 51!,” to like, “The Democrats are cannibalistic vampires who are sacrificing babies and drinking their blood with JFK Jr. in underground lairs in Antarctica!” It’s a shame, but what the hell am I supposed to do? When you’re lost, you’re lost, and I hate to say it, but what’s the median age of most of these people? 60? 70? They won’t be around forever and shouldn’t have to spend the remaining decades of their life being blue-pilled by their grandchildren. Also I’m not even blue-pilled, I’m more black-pilled. I have what feels like unlimited empathy but am also resolute in the idea that our society is in hopeless decline. Gentrification is destroying the cities and conspiracies are destroying the heartland. That being said, you can still make some great friends along the way. Just try to apply radical listening techniques and open your heart to any and all people, even if it’s someone you vehemently disagree with. You might learn something. 

I guess these concepts like radical listening are things we’ve all been practicing more, whether we want to or not. But, like, how are people supposed to get along?

Like I said, part of me just feels like it’s just hopeless. I think we’re in a post-peak society. If we ever had a chance for harmony, it’s been destroyed by the social media era, and I don’t see a real chance to bridge the gap on a mass scale anytime soon. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but our echo chambers are shrinking and it seems like Americans are growing more and more terrified of each other by the day. There are chances to “bridge the gap,” from individual to individual, but on a mass level, I don’t think so. Parallel radicalization is occurring. I explained that my formerly semi-chill uncle went from a Reagan-style trickle-down conservative to a full blown QAnon flat Earther; a similar radialization is occurring with liberals in coastal cities. In particular, I’m referring to the digital identity crisis experienced by post-grads from the highly-educated creative class, who flow through what I call the Brown-to-Bushwick pipeline. When I say Brown, I’m referring to Brown University, an expensive liberal arts university. And when I say Bushwick, I’m referring to a majority-hispanic and Black neighbourhood being ravaged by gentrification. I’m using these two places as metaphors, but gentrifier colonialism is happening on a national level and causing a forced diaspora that is currently displacing millions of people, breaking up communities, and pushing families into bleak suburbia. This is all being spearheaded by the highly-educated, allegedly anti-racist, majority-white creative youth, who quite literally, wipe their identity clean at 18 to be cool in the city. I literally know racist lacrosse bros from my high school who are now living in Bed-Stuy, covered in stick-and-poke tattoos, with he/him pronouns and ACAB listed in their bio. If patriots in Missouri posting online about the Deep State infuriates you, but you are not concerned by this, I don’t know what to tell you. Sometimes it feels like everything is poisoned, but I try to stay positive and keep working. 

When you started this pop vox thing, with Quarter Confessions back in 2018, it was a lot more like shithead comedy, less politically-focused. What was the impetus for your project in the beginning? Was it curiosity or misanthropy? 

Since I was a little kid, I’ve always been a pretty radically empathetic person. I always wanted to talk to everyone. I was getting into a lot of trouble in high school, and I had a professor named Calvin Shaw who was teaching this journalism class, and he was the only teacher that I liked. He would let me leave campus for hours and cover whatever I wanted. I’d leave school for hours and go kick it with Juggalos at Westlake Center downtown and go to the tent city, Occupy Seattle, and participate in protests, and he would give me school credit. 

Through doing interviews all the time I’ve learned that everyone wants to be covered, everyone wants to be talked to, and everyone loves attention. If you’re a journalist, you basically get a free pass into any walk of life. I got a full scholarship to go to Loyola University in New Orleans, I was writing for my school newspaper, and Quarter Confessions started because I was bored. 

I think early on, I also just wanted the experience of going viral, I’m not going to lie. I wanted to do it just once. That way, I’d be able to have a platform of my own and eventually make long-form, more experimental work that isn’t designed to do viral numbers. At first, going viral was really exciting. I sort of hate when celebrities are like, “Oh, it’s so annoying being famous. Viral fame is just the worst drug in the world.” It has its terrible elements, like fake friends coming along and being seen and treated as a media abstraction rather than a human being, but if you can avoid getting addicted to clout after you take your first dose, it’s a cool experience. It gave me a reason to meet people that I looked up to. I never wanted to approach the world as a fan. 

You’ve gone from interviewing drunk people to covering politically-charged groups and events like All Lives Matter protests, or Proud Boys rallies—how do you respond to people who see you as giving these groups a platform? 

I want to make it clear, I only give already established right- wing groups a platform. Everyone knows what the Proud Boys are, everybody knows what QAnon is. I wouldn’t give neo-Nazi groups a platform, because I know that that would just expand their audience and probably indirectly recruit members for them. I like to take already established right-wing groups and investigate them. There’s definitely an argument to be made, so I don’t want to come out and say “fuck you” to people who have that criticism, because I like to listen to feedback, but I don’t really care for anyone’s take on the “platforming problematic ideologies” issue. 

It seems like it all comes down to the audience’s ability to interpret your persona. 

I guess I’ve become anti-intellectual, in the theory sense. I value lived experience and first-hand interaction more than reading or outside commentary. There’s so much to read, and there’s so many pundits giving their two cents. So if you think that putting myself in harm’s way at a right-wing rally to expose them beating up journalists is problematic, it doesn’t matter to me. The value of really being out here still wins. I’ll be in the mix no matter what. 

Obviously that’s a line that you walk, where you interact with people on the far-right who rage about wokeness and cancel culture, and then the more academic circles whose language and perspective can be alienating for people. How do we remedy that division?

Be willing to talk to somebody that you disagree with and recognize that there’s a middle ground between being literally anti-intellectual and anti-elitism. I think the most radical thing you can do is to open up your mind to different types of people and try to process what they’re saying. Everything has complicated origins, even someone’s paranoia about the Clintons being reptiles. My criticisms of the right wing are so sweeping that I can’t even put them into words sometimes. But it’s crazy, people don’t even know their own enemy. They don’t even understand the people they’re disagreeing with.

I see how conspiracies give people’s lives meaning, or give them a sense of control. But they also have this crazy shape-shifting quality that makes them inarguable and pointless. Like conspiracies will always find a way to be true. What’s your take on conspiracy theories, as they seem to increasingly affect reality?

Real life is so fucking crazy, if you do the research for things that have really happened. A conspiracy theory is based upon a different interpretation of something that’s already insane. The line between benign, fun conspiracies like UFOs and shit like flat Earth is so fine. And the flat Earth is the most insane conspiracy. Every conspiracy theory ever is accepted and validated under the flat Earth umbrella. They don’t believe in pictures. You only can have a real picture if you have the raw .jpeg file. But they only accept .jpeg raw files from other flat Earthers, because everyone else is compromised. So the only way they can see something and believe it is if their friend who’s also a flat Earther took the picture. And what do their friends do? They Photoshop images of the moon burning. And they’re like, “This is real. My friend showed it to me.” It’s so frustrating.

It’s like if you decided to believe Pokémon is real. 

It’s so annoying. Fuck, dude. Many of the connections I made at the flat Earth conference I still ride out to this day. They’re all still down the rabbit hole.

What do you mean by ride out?

Some of those people I met at that conference, that was early Q stuff. That was like Pizzagate Q. Some of those people were in the Capitol Hill riots, I correspond with tons of those people all the time. It’s all connected. The wellness community’s all connected to it, because wellness people all believe in conspiracies too, but they believe that there’s someone putting something in the food to make us low vibrational. 

I just want to get through the day, and I want to have a fun life. At this point, even if the Earth is flat, I don’t care. Why do people care? 

It has to do with anxiety about the changing world. Post-9/11 security culture and surveillance, the internet, scams, bizarre shit, and creepy crimes, like serial killers, hippies and drugs. Anyone alive before the 60s, which is QAnon’s key demographic, does have a vision of a less turbulent time for white America. It plays on nostalgia too.

Is the world getting worse?


It is?

I think so. I mean, it can’t be worse than 2020. I don’t think our quality of life is getting worse. I think society is collapsing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.

The decadent end times…

Yeah, the quality of life is still high, but the general quality of society is extremely low, which is good for me.

You mean because you get to be there to document it?

It’s good for any journalist. Journalism is like a death cult, kind of. If journalists were to be a metaphor, it would be a bunch of weird people dancing around a mass grave. Being like, “This is crazy. Are you guys streaming this right now?” They’re like, “Oh my god, I’m live.” That’s everybody, and social media is making it crazy because it’s really centering the individual. Look at the Capitol riot, everybody was livestreaming. Everybody sees themselves as the main character in a grand battle against good and evil all the time. 

Where do you get your news?

I don’t. Other people’s instagram stories. Sometimes I check both sides of mainstream media, like FOX versus CNN, to see how they’re both spinning an issue. But usually I tune out. 

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care about things that don’t affect your life directly—that’s a very selfish way of viewing the world—but I do think that the news tries to get you riled up about stuff that you have nothing to do with and the world doesn’t need your opinion on. 

Your videos have so many views, and I think for a certain demographic of people, it is their news coverage. And your generation is way more likely to watch a YouTube video to understand an issue than, like, network news or print. Do you feel like you have a responsibility to educate? 

I want to continue making videos about issues of racial justice, but I do not want to continue chasing around uprisings and waiting for an explosive moment. I got away with doing it once because it was so important, and Minneapolis was the first uprising we’d had in a long time. There was the Ferguson shit, but that was still a suburb of a poor city. Minneapolis is a rich, majority-white city—burning. It was a huge moment that set off a chain reaction. I do want to follow-up with Daunte Wright’s family, I’m close with them. I also want to follow up with other various families that have been affected by police brutality. What support do they have now that the protest fad is done, and now that Google has taken Black Lives Matter off of its banners, now that these corporations have moved on from BLM to pride and then back to corporatism? What happens to the families that were once in the spotlight? What happens to the tragedy of families affected by violence? 

Right, promoting more of a sustained cultural and political shift rather than a sort of crazed reaction that has a trend element. 

Listen, there’s no such thing as a wrong protestor. But I don’t know, it felt very non-genuine in a lot of coastal cities to me. So obligatory, it felt like they were under some sort of unspoken pressure to make a statement about it. If you really want to deconstruct racism, do it in your everyday life. Don’t rent in gentrified neighbourhoods, don’t support gentrified businesses. Be aware of when activist circles are being monopolized, which happens instantly, basically.

Are there any subcultures you covered that you were pleasantly surprised by?


 You like Furries?

Yeah, they’re really nice. A lot of them are on the spectrum and having the ability to be non-verbal and not have to make eye contact really helps them connect. I feel bad that they’re stigmatized, because a lot of them are asexual, and just super cool. They just like being animals. I would do it, maybe, one day. I don’t like frat bros at all. I feel extremely bad for flat Earthers.

Frat bros..I wouldn’t even think to call them a subculture.

They are, for sure. I don’t like frat bros. I like NASCAR people. I like Furries a lot. I like Bigfoot hunters—they think Bigfoot is real. 

It’s nice to have something to believe in…

Yes, exactly—community.

Do you ever feel depressed by the state of the world?

What I’m trying to get at is just because society is declining doesn’t mean you have to be declining as a person, or your general vibe and mood. Am I depressed about the state of the world? I think the state of the world is depressing, but that doesn’t make me depressed. People are always like, “You talk to so many fucking idiots, do you get sad?” and I’m like, “No, because I’m not an idiot, and neither are my friends.” I don’t think that you should let what’s happening in politics define your mental health.

Read this story in print, in Issue 21