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Joe Rogan is one of the most popular podcasters in America. He interviews celebrities, politicians, intellectuals and other public figures on an eponymous show. (Years ago, he also hosted Fear Factor.)
Last week, Rogan essentially endorsed Sanders. The Sanders campaign quickly turned that into a viral video, seeing it as a key boost with Rogan’s millions of listeners, some of whom do not fall into Sanders’ traditional base of progressive voters.
Soon after Rogan voiced his support, some began calling on Sanders, 78, to refuse the endorsement and denounce Rogan. They expressed dismay over Sanders’ decision to use Rogan’s quotes in a piece of official social media marketing.
Critics also pointed to the comedian and podcast host’s history of racist and transphobic language as well as quotes that hewed much closer to conservative talking points. (In 2012, Rogan wrote in a now-deleted tweet that he was “starting to believe” the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in America.)
In last Tuesday’s episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan, 52, explained why he thought he would vote for Sanders in the upcoming election.
“I think I’ll probably vote for Bernie. Him as a human being, when I was hanging out with him, I believe in him, I like him, I like him a lot,” Rogan said on the episode of his show last week. “What Bernie stands for is a guy — look, you could dig up dirt on every single human being that’s ever existed if you catch them in their worst moment and you magnify those moments and you cut out everything else and you only display those worst moments. That said, you can’t find very many with Bernie. He’s been insanely consistent his entire life. He’s basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing his whole life. And that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from.”
Rogan has said he voted for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in the 2016 presidential election and “lean[s] FAR more left than right.”
On Thursday, Sanders’ campaign tweeted out their video of Rogan’s comments. It has been seen more than 5.5 million times and the Sanders campaign tweet had about 150,000 likes.
But not everyone, including Sanders’ supporters, liked what they were seeing.
Soon, some began to highlight Rogan’s provocative history, including using the n-word in the past. He has also been criticized for his comments about female UFC fighter Fallon Fox, who is transgender.
“If you want to be a woman in the bedroom and, you know, you want to play house and all of that other s— and you feel like you have, your body is really a woman’s body trapped inside a man’s frame and so you got a operation, that’s all good in the hood,” Rogan said in 2013. “But you can’t fight chicks.”
“She’s not really a she,” Rogan also said of Fox. “She’s a transgender, post-op person.”
In 2010, Rogan made headlines for referring a reporter with a gay slur. He later reportedly apologized but claimed that he did not intend for the word to be anti-gay.
“I apologize for my use of the word “f—–,’ ” he said, according to SB Nation.
“I enjoy that word immensely,” he continued, in part, “and although I do not intend for its use to be interpreted as a negative term for homosexuals, but rather as I’ve always used it to imply that a person is weak and pathetic …. I understand that in this ultra-sensitive, politically correct world we live in one must be careful of the words they choose, for in choosing the wrong one you can give your adversary a new angle of distraction.”
(A rep for Rogan could not be reached by PEOPLE for comment.)
The progressive group MoveOn, which endorsed Sanders in the 2016 election, called on him to “stop elevating this endorsement.”
“We stand in solidarity with folks hurt by this,” the group tweeted on Saturday.
“It’s one thing for Joe Rogan to endorse a candidate. It’s another for @BernieSanders’ campaign to produce a video bolstering the endorsement of someone known for promoting transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism and misogyny,” the group posted on Twitter.
The Human Rights Campaign similarly criticized Rogan’s past comments and said it was “disappointing that the Sanders campaign has accepted and promoted the endorsement,” according to The New York Times.
Sanders’ campaign took a slight step back from Rogan’s support on Friday, when spokeswoman Briahna Joy Gray reportedly said in a statement that “sharing a big tent requires including those who do not share every one of our beliefs, while always making clear that we will never compromise our values.”
“The truth is that by standing together in solidarity, we share the values of love and respect that will move us in the direction of a more humane, more equal world,” Gray said.
Sanders previously turned down an endorsement from Cenk Uygur, a journalist and host with The Young Turks, after Sanders’ supporters voiced concerns about Uygur’s past comments on women.
“[Uygur] has been a longtime fighter against corruption. However, our movement is bigger than any one person. I hear my supporters who were frustrated and understand their concerns. Cenk today said he is rejecting all endorsements for his campaign and I retract my endorsement,” Sanders tweeted in December.
Polling shows Sanders remains competitive with former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner, in the 2020 primary.
Voting will begin with the Iowa caucus next week.