Opinion

Critic v. Critic: ‘Canceled’ Mumford & Sons’ Banjo Player Quits Band

Did Winston Marshall bow to the woke mob ... or blaze a trail for free thinkers?

Winston Marshall has the greatest gig in the world – playing to millions of fans as part of a beloved rock band.

Check that. Marshall had the greatest gig in the world.

The Mumford & Sons banjo player praised intrepid reporter Andy Ngo earlier this year on social media, and that’s when the Cancel Culture mob attacked.

Mumford & Sons member apologizes after praising Andy Ngo's book

The blowback for recommending “Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy” coaxed Marshall to take a step back from the band. Ngo is one of the few reporters brave enough to expose the group’s fascist nature, along with the violence they bring to cities across the country.

For that the mob demanded Marshall’s scalp, and now they have it.

Marshall made his exit from the band official this week via an emotional op-ed posted at Medium. The musician rescinded his initial apology for promoting “Unmasked,” slammed those attempting to silence his opinions and vowed to be more open an ex-member of the band.

Some applauded Marshall’s stance, like Andrea Peyser and Bari Weiss. Sasha Stone, founder of Awards Daily, similarly cheered Marshall’s declaration of independence. 

This critic disagrees.

So I asked Stone to share her extended thoughts on the subject for the latest Critic v. Critic. Please weigh in via the comments section below – we’d both love to hear your respectful takes on the matter.

Sasha Stone: We are living in a time of an uncivil war where the daily battles are fought on social media and in the mainstream media which feeds off of it. The wins are calculated by who moves the needle in real life – who got fired, who got bullied into an apology, which movie bombed at the box office, which bill was passed.

It is odd to see politics and culture so tightly interwoven such that a banjo player in an alternative folk band would be viciously attacked on Twitter for praising Andy Ngo’s book. That tweet, harmless though it was, was the equivalent of stepping out onto No Man’s Land during WWI and trying say hello to the enemy on the other side. 

He could not have known what many of us who spend a lot of time on Twitter know – that the Left, when it comes to Antifa, sees no evil, hears no evil, speaks no evil. The news doesn’t cover it, just like they barely covered the protests that turned into riots over the summer.

When asked about them, they downplay who they are such that most people on the Left probably think Antifa is a figment of Trump’s imagination. Ngo provides proof that they are anything but.

Tucker: Anarchists are working to tear down America

It is yet another truth that is verboten on the left. Marshall’s praise of his book was the ultimate betrayal. How dare he? 

The same thing happened when Ben Shapiro spoke with Mark Duplass and the actor made the mistake of praising Shapiro on Twitter. It didn’t take too long for him to delete the tweet then denounce Shapiro on Twitter for fear of reprisal. 

When Shapiro contacted me for an interview I had to write my entire staff and warn them. I had to say this is what I was doing, and I explained the reasons why I was doing it. I told them that I was going to start being more outspoken and that it was going to get me in a lot of trouble – which it has. I told them that it was their choice to stay. And that associating with me might cause them some problems — which it has. Most of them chose to stay with a couple of exceptions.

It has not been easy.

My way of compromising was abandoning my “verified” Twitter account and starting my own personal account where I could say what I wanted without it impacting the website I run too much. 

This has sort of worked and sort of hasn’t. So I understand where Marshall is coming from when he says he wants to protect his bandmates. There is no happy ending if he stayed. If he shut up, he would be miserable. If he stayed people on Twitter would launch boycotts maybe, or they’d boo the band on stage. The story would trail them everywhere they went. For him, his compromise was leaving the band and staying true to what he himself believed. 

I personally do not believe the Left, in its current state, can be saved. I don’t think appeasement is going to work. I think it has to collapse completely and be rebuilt in order to thrive the way it once did when ours was the side that stood up for freedom of expression, freedom of speech and the right to dissent.

That is not where we are right now. 

There are some who hover in the middle. They understand what is happening with censorship and mass firings and suppression of dissent is wrong, but they also can’t get close to the “Trump line.” That means they can only go so far, even if they’ve already been cancelled or exiled or deplatformed.

You can call these folks the appeasers – those who speak out just enough to support the cause but not enough to 1) topple the movement that is causing it, and 2) lose their cred as a lefty. 

They go along with whatever narrative the New York Times or Rachel Maddow feeds to them because they have to be team players. That’s just the way it is now. The reason I applauded Marshall was that has now joined the fight, and has sacrificed his membership in the band to do so. That took courage. Standing by your word takes courage. Withstanding all of the vitriol they hurl at you takes courage.

Winston Marshall (Mumford & Sons) speaks to Andy Bush

How we define left, right, far left, far right is a slippery slope of late. I found I could not trust the mainstream press to tell me anything so I have done my own research and I think I have a pretty good handle on what the various factions are and what they mean. But that’s a longer conversation for a different time. 

Toto: I’m sympathetic to nearly every syllable you just shared, and that’s pretty rare for anyone to say in this conflicted age. And yet there’s one vital fact that cannot be denied. If Marshall had Tweeted his disdain for Ngo’s book, instead of praising it, he’d still be having the most magical career he could imagine.

This new abnormal must stop. And one of the best ways for it to stop is for people like Marshall to stand their ground. Defend their opinions. Tell the mob they can’t change his mind and their cancellation efforts can only go so far.

What would happen next? He might suffer a few more op-eds slamming him for speaking the truth, the same truth the media aggressively covers up as you rightly note. His band might face some social media hate, or even witness some protests at their next few live events. Music critics may view Mumford & Sons differently for a while, lumping Marshall’s views in with his band mates.

So what?

It’s a small price to pay for keeping your sanity, your soul and the very best gig you’ll ever have.

What we keep forgetting about the woke mob is how easily they’re distracted. They tried to cancel Mark Wahlberg last year after he pleaded for peace in wake of George Floyd’s death. That act of kindness coaxed some social justice warriors to “resurface” the actor’s ugly past. He could have done the Apology Tour TM a la Ellie Kemper.

Instead, he ignored the kerfuffle. And it went away.

Marshall should have done the same. By quitting the band, and giving the mob more power, he made it harder for the next victim to stand his or her ground. If he stood tall, stayed with the band and clung to his principles, he’d still be an employed musician with a beloved group. Even better for the culture at large? The woke brigade wouldn’t have another scalp on its mantle.

Stone: I agree with you, Christian, in that people do just kick it over to the next person in line. It is really hard to go through a Twitter swarm. It feels like being punched in the stomach. Your fight or flight impulse takes over and you can’t think rationally. If a person being cancelled simply walked away for a couple of days it WOULD blow over.

On the left, the primary motivation is to have a “good” image. To be thought of as “good” and not “bad.” It is incredibly hard to sit with the idea that suddenly so many prominent people think you are “bad.” 

I myself have been swarmed on Twitter repeatedly. But maybe because I was bullied as a kid, or because I’ve been online since 1994, I was able to separate myself from the person they believed they were attacking. That was until this past year when members of my own community started a Twitter swarm that I was a “white supremacist.”

What shocked me was how many people I knew who went along with it. Right? That’s what hurts – when people you know attack you. And they’re good at it. Back in Salem you had children turning on parents and husbands turning on wives all because they were afraid themselves of being called a witch. 

I agree that he had the option to let it blow over and Twitter would move on to the next shiny object, but I would allow for people who have never been through it to get through it the best way they know how. After all, sometimes it isn’t just a matter of people being angry on Twitter. Sometimes it is record contracts and concert bookings. Sometimes it is income.

Building a platform is hard. Losing one can mean you can’t put food on the table for your family.

I think his taking this stand, removing himself, ultimately hurts the fans of the band who can now see just how infantile and petty Twitter can be.

Cancelling the Golden Globes doesn’t make them look bad. It makes those who cancelled them look bad. So I have to figure this is a net win for the fight I believe in – which is simply: supporting the right for people to have an opinion. 

Toto: He quit the band, which to me says he couldn’t have an opinion and be part of a wildly popular band.

One element missing in this terrible story – his band mates. Do they have his back? What did they say about the entire situation? Do they defend their band mate’s ability to speak his mind?

Let’s not forget. Marshall didn’t don a red hat and say Jan. 6 was a wonderful thing. He did the most innocent thing imaginable, cheering a book that exposes a violent, cult-like group that the media refuses to cover. That’s it. That’s his thought crime.

At some point he must realize this is larger than just his story. And, as a creative person who works with the public, he likely has a thick skin by now. Some critics have probably hated his music. Fans may recoil at the newest album, saying it’s not as good as his last one, etc.

At some point we all have to fight the culture wars. For some, it means flexing social media. Others can contribute to worthy causes and rally behind those who are unfairly canceled. Many aren’t able to quit their job or survive a full-on cancellation for pragmatic reasons.

Marshall had the perfect opportunity to take a stand, to defend his absurdly easy to defend position and keep rockin’ into 2021 and beyond. His elaborate Medium essay is his way of admitting defeat, as carefully as it’s worded.

Do you really think he’s going to be more politically outspoken now, free from the confines of being part of a band? I doubt it.

Stone: That’s true that he quit the band, and I think he said that they didn’t ask him to, but I imagine the deal was if you want to play in the band you have to keep quiet. 

There are five basic groups of people right now:

  1. Those on the Left who are enthusiastic about their lurch towards authoritarianism (vocal minority). 
  2. Those on the Left who object to it but remain silent out of fear (silent majority)
  3. Those on the Right who are diving into the culture war and aren’t necessarily anti-Trump (he doesn’t upend their rationality). 
  4. Those on the Right who are opposed to the insanity on the Left but keep the fight with Trump and thus, stay silent (Never Trumpers like Rick Wilson, Charlie Sykes)
  5. Those on the right who are opposed to the insanity on the left, fight it, but are so anti-Trump that they don’t really give those who oppose the Left anywhere to go since Trump dominates the alternative (Andrew Sullivan)

Probably the only way to ultimately defeat what is happening on the Left is for all of the groups that oppose it to unite and vote them out of office so that, at the very least, it won’t be in our government. That isn’t going to happen. Because of Trump. The left has now defined itself almost completely and permanently as “the resistance” to Trump.

Everything they do in culture and politics is in direct response to Trump’s sudden and shocking rise to power, which, I think kicked the left into a cycle of mass panic, which has led to the reaction to Marshall. Any rational person would shrug it off – so what if he liked the book, big deal. But because Trump brings up Antifa as a threat, because the Left has called Antifa a lie, now Marshall has crossed enemy lines.

To my mind, his Medium piece and quitting the band was having it both ways: see, I’m still a good guy who hates the far Right, but also I’m not going to go along with this utter insanity. 

History will decide who among us chose the right path – those of us who are speaking out and fighting back, or those of us who were compliant and went along with something everyone knows isn’t right. 

I think I know how history will go. But history is written by the winners. The winner of this fight is, as yet, unknown.

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