Elon Musk, Tucker Carlson Back US ‘Red Pill’ YouTuber Detained in Ukraine
- Gonzalo Lira, a US citizen and “red pill” YouTuber, was arrested in Ukraine in May.
- This week, Tucker Carlson and Elon Musk rallied behind him, claiming his detention is unjust.
- The Ukrainian government says Lira spread pro-Russian propaganda and justified the invasion.
A former “red pill” dating coach turned Russian propagandist has been detained in Ukraine since May — and now Tucker Carlson and Elon Musk have taken up his cause.
Ukraine’s Security Service, or SBU, arrested the American YouTuber Gonzalo Lira on May 1 at his home in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on charges of spreading pro-Russian propaganda.
Lira, who has US and Chilean citizenship, spent several years dabbling in various creative fields — including a brief stint writing about economics for Business Insider — before gaining minor fame on social media as an online dating coach known as “Coach Red Pill.”
His online moniker references a metaphor from “The Matrix” in which the protagonist is given a choice between learning potentially unpleasant truths — taking the red pill — and returning to mundane life — taking the blue pill. The “manosphere,” an online subculture promoting misogyny and opposing feminism, has co-opted the term “red pill.”
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Lira, who had lived in Ukraine for several years after marrying a Ukrainian woman, shifted to commentating on the war on YouTube, Telegram, and Twitter.
He often peddled Kremlin propaganda — denying war crimes and describing the invasion of Ukraine as “one of the most brilliant invasions in military history.”
He’s also attacked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy extensively, calling him “the cokehead of Kyiv” and calling his government a “neo-Nazi regime.”
‘Political prisoner’ or Russian propagandist?
The former Fox News host Carlson posted a video on X on Saturday, which has nearly 40 million views at the time of writing, that framed Lira as a “political prisoner” punished simply for exercising his free speech and criticizing Zelenskyy.
Carlson also repeated an unverified claim by Lira that he had been tortured in prison in Ukraine and accused the US State Department of being “uninterested” in his fate. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment from BI.
Carlson himself has generated controversy for promoting Kremlin propaganda and being highly critical of US support for Ukraine.
A Ukrainian government department that combats disinformation, Spravdi, said in a statement Monday that Lira was not jailed for criticizing Zelenskyy, but for “justifying Russian aggression against Ukraine,” a crime under article 436-2 of the country’s criminal code.
According to Spravdi, Lira justified the invasion by claiming a “neo-Nazi regime” ran Ukraine, a bogus claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin has long touted, and he’s denied the extent of Russian attacks on civilians, including the massacre in Bucha.
Lira also filmed videos of Ukrainian soldiers in which he insulted them and tried to show their faces before publishing the videos on social media, Spravdi said.
Spravdi also said Lira attempted to doxx US journalists covering the war by publishing their addresses online and putting their safety at risk.
Though Lira has been in detention for seven months, he has only now started to gain support in the US media — possibly because his trial is starting this month, with hearings scheduled for last Monday and December 21, according to Spravdi.
He faces a possible prison sentence of five to eight years, according to The Daily Beast.
Carlson was not the only high-profile figure to rally behind Lira this week.
Musk criticized the community-notes feature on X, the platform he owns, that allows readers to add context to potentially misleading posts. He claimed, without providing evidence, that the notes had been “gamed by state actors” after they added information about the reasons for Lira’s arrest.
Though Musk has long claimed his political views are neither right- nor left-wing, he has increasingly championed right-wing causes and rhetoric.
The US government has so far kept fairly quiet
Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, an American journalist who became a junior sergeant in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told BI that she has testified against Lira.
She said she couldn’t disclose details of her testimony until after the verdict. Still, she said it “revolved around issues of national security” and that “both Lira and his defense attorney took part in cross-examining me over the course of several hours.”
She believes US media outrage about Lira’s case was timed to coincide with Zelenskyy’s trip to Washington, where he has been campaigning for more aid.
In July, Lira tried to flee while under house arrest in Kharkiv but was detained as he tried to cross the border into Poland.
As he fled, he posted a lengthy thread on X containing various allegations, including that other prisoners beat him, which he claimed was at the instruction of Ukrainian authorities, and that the SBU extorted money from him. Spravdi did not respond to BI’s queries about Lira’s allegations.
Ashton-Cirillo said she believed that Lira’s allegations about being abused in prison were false based on her own interactions with him.
“In an effort to gain sympathy, Gonzalo Lira made up allegations of abuse and torture. As someone who spoke to him shortly after he was returned to custody, it was clear that he was in good health and treated extremely fairly by the state security services. His questions to me were sharp and lucid although based on the lies Lira is known for dispensing,” she said.
She declined to provide further details about their conversations.
The US government has so far kept fairly quiet about Lira’s case. A journalist asked Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the State Department, about Lira and his allegations of torture in August, and Miller responded: “I think I’d want to verify those reports before I commented on them.”
Lira’s father, Gonzalo Lira Sr., has been critical of the Ukrainian and US governments, claiming he hasn’t been able to speak to his son and that the US embassy has not been proactive in his case.
“The USA government, with its silence in the face of this scandalous incident, suggests a degree of complicity, or at least tacit approval of Gonzalo’s arrest since nothing else convincingly explains the conspicuous lack of response,” he told Carlson in an interview this week.