The Complex Evolution of a Folk Hero: Right-Wing Reaction to Oliver Anthony’s Message

In a swift turn of events, the conservative embrace of the rising folk singer Oliver Anthony has taken an unexpected twist. After rallying around his heartfelt Appalachian folk hit, supporters from the right are now grappling with his call for the United States to “harness” and “appreciate” diversity.

On August 8th, the relatively unknown artist, Oliver Anthony, uploaded his original composition titled “Rich Men North of Richmond” to YouTube. In a surprising move, the song quickly rose to claim the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The stripped-down folk tune captures the struggles of the working class, while also aiming jabs at who might be held accountable for these challenges. Prominent conservative figures such as Matt Walsh, Jack Posobiec, Ian Miles Cheong, Kari Lake, and Joe Rogan—individuals I’ve long since muted on Twitter—were among the first to laud the song. It’s a roster of voices that would not typically align, yet they united in support of Anthony’s evocative piece.

“I wish politicians would look out for miners / And not just minors on an island somewhere / Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothin’ to eat/ And the obese milkin’ welfare,” Anthony sings. In a single verse that even delves into Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy theories, he criticizes both the government for its lack of support for vulnerable segments of society and those same vulnerable individuals for not effectively utilizing government aid. Walsh celebrated the song’s “raw and authentic” qualities, while Posobiec mused about the last time a song had impacted him so profoundly. The song’s populist undertones, although somewhat ambiguous, resonated strongly with its audience, even though Anthony positioned himself as politically neutral.

However, the situation has taken an intriguing turn as the conservative figurehead they anointed as their messenger is now failing to uphold the entirety of their contradictory ideals. A noticeable fraction of Anthony’s fast-growing fan base is starting to express disappointment.

Various media outlets have embarked on thorough analyses of the song’s lyrics and the artist’s sudden rise to fame. Jay Kaspian Kang, writing for The New Yorker, categorized it as “reactionary nostalgia.” Similarly, Eric Levitz’s piece in New York Magazine argued that the song exemplifies “an incoherent form of populism that directs class resentment at targets that do not threaten the fundamental interests of rich men.”

This incoherence has taken center stage as Anthony’s popularity continues to soar. Fox News, with its finger on the pulse of the “Rich Men of Richmond” phenomenon, interviewed Anthony after one of his performances. During the interview, Anthony articulated a sentiment that caught many off guard:

“We’ve gotta go back to the roots of what made this country great in the first place, which is our sense of community. I mean, we are the melting pot of the world and that’s what makes us strong, is 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 each other, you know?”

As swiftly as conservatives and right-wing enthusiasts had rallied behind the bearded singer, enchanted by his “authentic” and soulful melodies, they’ve now found themselves grappling with his embrace of diversity. For some, diversity seems to be the first sign of the “wokeness” phenomenon, an ailment they fear. One user’s tweet, earning over 8,500 likes, stated, “Promoted algorithm boosted ‘based’ red beard hillbilly song guy was faking his accent and says diversity is our strength.” Another pondered, “Did he sell out already to the rich men north of Richmond?”

While Anthony’s yearning for a bygone era of neighborly kindness in Richmond, Virginia—historically the capital of the Confederacy—is steeped in a certain degree of ahistorical sentiment, his criticism of women on welfare remains distasteful. It’s a sentiment that arises either from personal biases or echoes of racist conservative talking points. There’s an element of schadenfreude to witness right-wing reactionaries thrown into disarray when their chosen Appalachian folk hero doesn’t align seamlessly with their ideological standpoints.

In fact, it almost appears as if the “authentic” portrayal of the American working-class man that Anthony embodies, and which conservatives have fervently sought to champion, is inherently multifaceted and contradictory. This complexity is not merely a top-down political strategy but rather a reflection of the intricate nature of human beliefs. The incoherence that has often characterized right-wing discourse—a critique of “the man” orchestrated by, ironically, “the man”—has seemingly come back to challenge its own proponents.

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