Who is Sam Harris and why did his Trump comments cause such a stir?

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American writer, scientist and philosopher Sam Harris has become the right-wing media’s public enemy number one — at least for a day — after essentially claiming a media and government coverup to keep Donald Trump out of office would be justifiable.

Right-wing media commentators have seized upon this statement, treating Mr Harris as the embodiment of liberal thought and, by extension, suggesting all liberals support media coverups, cheating and skullduggery, so long as it keeps Mr Trump out of office.

Who is Sam Harris?

Mr Harris is perhaps best known for his writings on faith and religion, but he has delved into other topics, all of which seem to centre on understanding morality and ethics from both a philosophical and physiological perspective.

He is not just a prolific thinker and writer; he’s also an outspoken commentator who says things that make lots of people angry and which get him a lot of attention. He initially employed this tactic by enraging Christians online, and continued it when he shifted his focus to Muslims. In 2017, he featured race “scientist” Charles Murray on his podcast. Mr Murray is the author of The Bell Curve, a book that attempts to link race and intelligence and intelligence to one’s genetics, and which has appealed to some white supremacists. His appearance on Mr Harris’s podcast was met with a mix of revulsion on the left and nodding approval on the right.

Mr Harris also earned a collective groan from the left when he was profiled by Bari Weiss in the New York Times as one of the four “renegades” of the “Intellectual Dark Web”, a spooky term that essentially describes a group of academics who, like Ms Weiss, are focused on perceived threats to free speech on college campuses.

Despite the allegations of Islamophobia, his interview with a race scientist and his apparent membership in the anti-cancel culture Avengers, Mr Harris considers himself a liberal. Not just a liberal, but an outspoken liberal who did not hide his — admittedly begrudging — support for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

What did he say?

Mr Harris appeared on an episode of the TRIGGERnometry podcast and, in an episode that was released on Wednesday, said that if the Hunter Biden laptop story was intentionally ignored, it was worth it to keep Mr Trump out of office.

“Hunter Biden literally could have had the corpses of children in his basement, I would not have cared,” he said. “There’s nothing, it’s Hunter Biden, it’s not Joe Biden. Whatever the scope of Joe Biden’s corruption is…it is infinitesimal compared to the corruption we know Trump is involved in. It’s like a firefly to the sun.”

He said that regardless of the laptop’s content, it would not even be worse than the Trump University scandal, in which Mr Trump oversaw what was effectively a fake university, with even the National Review calling it a “massive scam”.

“It doesn’t even stack up to Trump University. Trump University, as a story, is worse than anything that could be in Hunter Biden’s laptop, in my view,” he said. “Now that doesn’t answer the people who say ‘it’s still completely unfair to not have looked at the laptop in a timely way and to have shut down the New York Post’s Twitter account. Like that, that’s a left-wing conspiracy to deny the presidency to Donald Trump.’ Absolutely it was. But I think it was warranted.”


Right-wing media commenters and some conservatives on social media viewed this as a damning admission of guilt not just for Mr Harris, but for the media, the government, Hunter Biden and everyone else involved in that supposed scandal.

Jack Posobiec, a right-wing commenter and Roger Stone associate, responded to Mr Harris’s statements on Thursday.

“Holy s*** Sam Harris just admitted he supported censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story because it helped Biden,” he wrote. “This man just set his entire career on fire.”

Dave Smith, a self-described libertarian and comedian, said he appreciated Sam Harris “for saying this out loud”.

“This is what the vast majority of the anti Trump crowd believes, but most of them won’t say it. At least when it’s said, you can see it for what it is.”

Mr Posobiec also took the massive leap that Mr Smith took by claiming all non-Trump voters were ideologically congruent with Mr Harris.

“I think it’s funny people are surprised Sam Harris thinks this way. There’s a whole segment of the country that thinks this way. They want Trump’s family and yours in jail. Wake up,” he wrote.

Sam Harris responds

Mr Harris posted a Twitter thread to respond to the backlash.

He claimed he was “essentially arguing for a principle of self-defense” because he viewed “Trump as a very dangerous person to elect”. He said that when Mr Trump refused to concede and transfer power to Joe Biden, he “viewed him as more dangerous still (However, I’ve never been under any illusion that he is Orange Hitler).”

He said that “ignoring the Hunter Biden laptop story until after the election” was “… probably the right call.”

“Nothing I said on that podcast was meant to suggest that the Democrats would have been right to commit election fraud or take other illegal measures to deny Trump the presidency (nor do I think they did that),” he concluded.


It’s unlikely Mr Harris’s apology will sway any hearts and minds on the right. He has effectively given them a perfect caricature of an elitist liberal to lampoon on social media.

The insinuations that somehow Mr Harris speaks on behalf of the media, or the government, or anyone but himself are unfounded.

Mr Harris effectively endorsed media consent manufacturing, so long as it was done to stop an adequately dangerous threat. That is not congruent with the ideals of democracy. If liberals want to protect democracy, they must be willing to live with its results, good or bad.