On a summer afternoon in Erie, Pennsylvania, Right Side Broadcasting Network host Matthew Alvarez was doing what the outlet does best: interviewing diehard supporters of former president Donald Trump before one of his raucous rallies, the WWE-style events that defined his 2016 sprint to the White House and continued after his 2020 election loss. At one point during his cheery canvass of the crowd, Alvarez pointed his microphone at a stocky man wearing a Trump 2024 baseball cap and a “Thin Blue Line” T-shirt. “Joe Biden is a disgrace to this country,” the man said in a thick drawl. “And so are all the left and the RINOs, the globalists, every one of ’em! Kill ’em all! Kill ’em all!”
“I agree with you on that,” Alvarez cautiously replied.
Within a few hours, Alvarez was back in front of the RSBN camera with a clarification. “That is not something that I agree with, obviously,” he said nervously. “I didn’t hear those words spoken. It’s very loud outside. All I know is I’m here for God, for this country, for truth, for President Trump, that kind of thing.”
To be fair to Alvarez, it’s unclear whether the man said “kill” and not “jail.” But the incident made clear the hazards of RSBN’s business model: real-time broadcasts of Trump’s rallies and the wild culture that surrounds them. It’s been a successful model for the company, which was launched by Joe Seales in 2015 when he was a stay-at-home dad with two kids and an innovative idea: to create a service that would livestream Trump’s increasingly popular rallies.
“I was watching Donald Trump rallies and I kept noticing that he kept asking for the media to turn the cameras and show the crowd,” Seales says. “He begged for it. The idea was born from that. How hard would it be to get a camera into one of these things?”
Not hard, it turned out. By the time Trump seized the Republican nomination by force, Seales had established RSBN as a powerful dealer of Trumpism, a megaphone for his movement — with adoring fans and a seat reserved in the incoming administration’s briefing room. In the run-up to the 2016 election, Seales, who serves as its CEO, says RSBN reached more than 100 million unique viewers.
Part of their success, he explains, was that RSBN did what other media outlets filming the rallies refused to do: it would, as Trump demanded, “show the crowds.”
Eight years later, putting a camera on the Trump faithful remains a hallmark of RSBN’s coverage. The network’s popular YouTube page, which boasts more than 1.5 million subscribers, proclaims in its description: “Unlike the mainstream media, we show the CROWDS!”
Gore Vidal observed nearly sixty years ago that, to his dismay, television producers had realized that punditry paid more than reporting. “Producers discovered that one way of inexpensively enlivening the air is to invite people to talk to one another while the camera records,” Vidal wrote in 1965. With Trump’s election campaign Right Side discovered an even cheaper kind of content to air: rally coverage. Seales eschews punditry from star hosts, aspiring instead to show Trump and his supporters as they are, the reality of their movement unmolested by commentary, context or contemptuous fact-checks.
“I still want to keep the original idea of just being out there, showing what’s happening, reporting what’s going on, letting people decide for themselves,” Seales says. “Commentary isn’t needed.”
The Trump campaign certainly appreciates having access to the constant feed. As one veteran of the 2016 campaign put it: “We ran a political campaign like a high-school president election. So Right Side was enormously helpful.”
“Fox and Newsmax will cover some rallies and skip others,” they added. “Right Side will always be there. It’s C-SPAN for Trump folks.”
Unlike other conservative media outlets, RSBN managed to avoid the legal peril that comes with airing Trump’s claims unfiltered. But the network was still wary of running afoul of YouTube’s strict misinformation policies which regulate what can be said about elections and Covid.
Indeed, RSBN has sometimes found itself caught between YouTube and its pro-Trump audience. In 2021, after their YouTube channel had already been suspended several times, it aired an interview with MyPillow founder Mike Lindell during the Conservative Political Action Conference. When Lindell embarked on a rant about Covid vaccines being “the mark of the Beast,” his microphone was muted for more than thirty seconds, leaving a silent feed and the sight of Lindell gesturing wildly at his host.
“I was actually running the board at the time,” Seales says. “I didn’t know what else todo. I didn’t want to do it, but I felt like I had to protect the network at the time.”
There was some blowback from viewers, but Lindell publicly backed RSBN in the aftermath, calming things down and keeping RSBN’s subscriber base intact. “I’m not a censorship kind of guy. I like to just let them say what they say and if it sounds stupid, let them sound stupid,” Seales says. “So I did not want to do that but I felt like I had to.”
In the years since, more unregulated alternatives have sprouted up and given RSBN safe haven. Seales recently signed a deal with Rumble — one of Twitter’s most formidable alternatives and a favorite of contentious pundits and provocateurs like Steve Bannon and Andrew Tate — where RSBN has amassed 490,000 subscribers.
“Rumble has been a blessing for us,” Seales says.
Despite the network’s success, Seales has maintained a nimble operation. RSBN is still based in Auburn, Alabama, and has a staff of nine full-timers. The company has never taken on investors and remains supported by donations, advertising and its Rumble deal. That’s enough to fund its staff, air original shows, including one hosted by Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, and keep a team of cameramen crisscrossing the United States to film every waking moment of the Trump campaign (with some room for his 2024 opponents).
“It takes every DJT event live without fail,” one Republican operative supporting Trump said. “It’s a helpful resource.”
Other campaigns are less appreciative of RSBN’s work. A former Trump advisor who is now supporting one of his rivals texted me this when asked about the outlet: “Trump relies on a constellation of pay-to-play websites that exist solely to dupe his die-hard supporters, cover up his increasingly frequent mistakes, compensate for his waning grassroots enthusiasm and promote false information that legitimate conservative media outlets with standards won’t touch with a ten-foot pole.”
The company’s success is, like electoral politics, cyclical. With the exceptions of 2016 and 2020, RSBN has reported a loss every year since Seales launched the network. “I am hoping that 2024 will be no different,” Seales says. “We usually are able to bank enough during election seasons to sustain us for another few years.”
In 2017, Seales had bigger ambitions for RSBN. Fresh off the high of the 2016 campaign, he sought to grow the company into a 24/7 network with original commentary to rival bigger fish such as the Blaze or the Daily Wire. There were plans to open up a DC office. But growth proved difficult: many of the personalities Seales tapped to host shows, including YouTube prankster Joey Salads and infamous Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, were quickly let go because of their extreme views and a lack of audience interest. RSBN entered talks with former Infowars host Joe Biggs for a show about the Second Amendment, but called them off upon discovering his public comments about rape, drugging and punching women. (Biggs, among the founders of the Proud Boys movement, was later convicted of seditious conspiracy in the January 6 riot and sentenced to seventeen years in prison.)
So Seales scaled back on those ambitions.
“We’ve tried shows, we’ve tried to grow in that aspect, and it’s been really tough for us to get things off the ground,” Seales says. “We’ve really just decided, for now, to stick with what we do best. That’s livestreaming. And our audience and our numbers speak for themselves because we compete with the best of them — even the cable news, their digital side, we routinely beat them on livestream.”
Despite those challenges, RSBN has cultivated stars in pro-Trump media, including one personality Seales plucked from local news who has, in a few years, emerged as a household name in the MAGA movement.
When Brian Glenn first applied for a job at RSBN, after he was fired from a local news station in Waco, Texas, for calling the Covid pandemic a “hoax,” Seales didn’t want to hire him.
“I was very reluctant to give him a shot,” Seales said. “I didn’t want mainstream media.”
Seales eventually caved and hired the local newsman, first dispatching him to a rally in Carson City, Nevada, in 2020. “He just blew me away. He was basically able to hold the audience’s attention for the whole eight hours plus that we were on air,” Seales says. “That takes a real special talent.”
Glenn soon earned national attention when tabloids reported on his cozy relationship with one of his subjects, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. The pair were caught “schmoozing” in November 2022 (the Daily Mail’s words, not mine), Glenn wielding an alibi in the form of a video camera (he said he was filming Greene for a story). The photos were released just weeks after both Glenn and Greene filed for divorce from their respective partners. Now, the pair are openly dating, thrusting RSBN, thanks to its star host and now program director, further into the spotlight of the conservative media world.
“Brian took our broadcast to a whole new level,” Seales says. “I told Brian, as long as on the air he keeps it professional and doesn’t do anything crazy that I’m not going to say anything about it. And if you’re interviewing her, just make sure you’re professional and as unbiased as possible.” (Glenn did kiss MTG on the cheek at the conclusion of a ten-minute interview back in April.)
Like so many in conservative media, Glenn has endeared himself to Trump with fealty. Recently, when Glenn was shadowing the former president during a California event with a microphone and a camera, he lost it on a heckler mocking the size of Trump’s crowd. “This guy’s an idiot, President Trump,” Glenn assured the former president. “I’m gonna throw his ass outta here.” “God bless you, we support you, you know that,” Glenn added. “Thank you very much, we appreciate it,” Trump replied.
In September, Trump posted to his own social media platform four links in quick succession. Each was to a story about Trump, each was published on RSBN, and each was penned by the same author: Summer Lane, a little-known writer who has emerged as Trump’s favorite scribe. It’s not hard to see why: Lane is a prolific blogger for RBSN (she wrote a staggering twelve stories on the day Trump promoted four of her pieces) and quite fond of the former president (“Trump is winning big in New Hampshire ahead of next week’s speech,” one headline blared).
“Summer is one of the writers that President Trump loves to read the most,” Seales says.
Lane didn’t always cover politics. She started writing at seventeen years old and within two years was self-publishing her own novels. She went on to write thirty books over the course of a decade, the bulk of which belong to several franchises that Lane created, including the Collapse series (“follows the story of a young woman, Cassidy Hart, and her adventures, romances and fights amidst the devastation of an apocalypse in California”) and the Resurrection series (also starring Cassidy, who teams up with the “Freedom Fighters” militia to take on “a technologically advanced AI army that answers to the terrifying and evil globalist kingpin, Ares.”)
Lane said she decided to start writing about politics in 2020, making her a relative late-bloomer when it comes to covering the MAGA movement. She voted for Trump in 2016, but wasn’t very active in political commentary; she says she “was very feminist at heart” but mostly “apolitical” as an author.
“Everything changed for me after Covid,” Lane says. She saw the government response to the pandemic as “disturbing” and says it prompted her to start writing about politics. “I had a one-year-old daughter, I was a new mom, and I was just thinking about what the future of this country is going to look like.”
She joined RSBN in late 2021, months after Trump had left office in the chaos of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Like many in media and politics who have remained loyal to Trump since, Lane holds a conspiracist’s view of what happened that day.
“I don’t hold Trump personally responsible for what other people may or may not have done,” she says. “I don’t know if anybody will ever know the true scope of what went on that day.”
There are times when speaking to Lane where the portrait she paints of the United States starts to resemble the post-apocalyptic hellscape of her books. When I asked about rules against misinformation on social media platforms, she intoned: “There’s always a looming police state looking over your shoulder and it’s quickly getting closer and closer, which is why I’m so passionate about getting Trump back in office personally.”
She also seems to see her role as a reporter in a way similar to how Seales views RSBN: not as a questioning journalistic endeavor, but as a microphone bringing Trump and his movement to a bigger audience. When I asked about Trump promoting her work, she said it’s more than anything “an affirmation that I’m on the right track, that I’m amplifying the message that he’s trying to amplify.”
“I’m very honored and humbled by it,” she said. “I believe in what he does, I support his agenda personally.”
In the 2024 race, the popularity of RSBN among the MAGA faithful and Trump himself could revive the dynamics of 2016, when a supportive media made up of outlets like RSBN and Breitbart created a separate ecosystem of Trump coverage free from the skepticism and hostility of the mainstream press. Those dynamics would be favorable to both RSBN and the former president. Indeed, keeping cameras on himself has been Trump’s lifelong ambition and perhaps his most successful project, from when he was a real estate mogul to when he mounted a quixotic bid for the White House.
As Trump once again storms to the Republican nomination — he leads his competition by an average of more than forty-five points in the polls — RSBN’s small but relentless team will be there, armed with cameras and microphones, airing the Trump show.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s December 2023 World edition.