I interview the co-founder of Substack, Hamish McKenzie
The secret origin of the company
Politico recently interviewed Hamish. That was nothing.
I suspected there was a lot more the Substack co-founder could have said, so I worked my connections at Paddy Reilly’s bar in midtown Manhattan.
Paddy led me to a friend at Langley, who in turn contacted a DARPA bigshot, and a few nights later Hamish and I were sitting inside a disc-shaped craft on the tarmac at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
Hamish pressed a button on a control panel — and three hours later we were sitting inside a fairly large crater on the moon.
A bell rang softy; we stood up and walked through a long cylindrical airlock into the living room of a small cottage.
“Think of this as a pressurized air cabin on a plane,” Hamish said.
I started to light a cigar, then stopped. “Will I set the air on fire?” I said.
“Would the air in a plane cabin explode if you struck a match, Jon? Wow. Did I pick the right guy for this interview?”
A man walked into the room, handed me a stack of non-disclosure agreements, and told me to sign them. So much for free speech.
I lit my 30-cent cigar, leaned forward, pressed the lever on my 1964 cassette recorder, and we began the conversation:
Why are we here, Hamish?
You’ll see soon enough.
Is Substack actually a subsidiary and spin-off of Twitter? A backup in case Twitter goes down?
Where the hell did you get that idea?
I don’t know, it’s as if every Substack writer has his own Twitter composed of his readers.
And that’s a problem for you?
There’s not enough screaming and name-calling. It’s quiet. Maybe too quiet.
Then do podcasts with background sounds of lunatics yelling, if you think that’ll help you.
Who do you work for, Hamish?
Who do you really work for? Is it true the New York Times is going to shift the entire paper over to a Substack page?
Who told you that?
A guy I know who writes for Page Six told me he saw you and AG Sulzberger having lunch at a White Castle the other day. The conversation seemed quite intense.
I’ve never eaten at a White Castle.
So who do you really work for? Simon & Schuster? Paramount Global? Reuters?
You write at Substack. You still haven’t figured out we’re an independent company?
I just have this feeling.
That you’re hiding something.
Well, genius, we’re sitting on the moon. Of course I’m hiding something.
I try to play dumb when I’m interviewing big shots.
You’re doing a fairly good job.
Cut the crap, Hamish. You must work for somebody.
I picked you out for this conversation, Jon, because you’ll write pretty much anything. Most people would balk at what I’m about to tell you.
I knew it would get weird. There’s some kind of…Thing behind Substack.
The truth is, I do work for somebody.
The moon people.
The people who live here. Who come from the other side of the Milky Way.
Let me make a note, Hamish. “Invaders from space.”
They’re not invaders. They’re, I don’t know, researchers. Explorers. They approached me in 2015, a couple of years before we created the company. They wanted to read writers. Independent writers.
See, now you’re screwing with me. Because that’s what every real writer wants. People who’ll go a long way to read his work.
It’s the truth. That’s why they’re here on the moon. It’s remote, peaceful. Quiet. Gives them lots of time to read. This is what they do. They travel. They find new cultures. They read writers.
It’s why we’re sitting here right now. I’m going to introduce you to them. A few of them think you’re pretty good.
Come on. —How many is a few?
Out of how many?
What’s wrong with the other twenty-three?
You’ll have to ask them. But four is OK. They’re discriminating people.
The moon people.
Here, where we are.
Just a few miles away.
They came all this way to…
You’re serious. You’re not bullshitting me.
I’m dead serious.
I can print what you’re telling me? So other writers know there are still people who’ll go a long way to read?
I can take pictures of them here? Film them?
They don’t want publicity.
And yet you brought me here to meet them and do this interview with you. Come on.
They’re getting ready to move on. In a day or two, they’ll be gone.
On to other places where there are writers.
Lots of writers?
They told me writing never dies.
…That’s a nice thing to say.
Nicer if it’s true.
If? You mean you’re not sure—
I doubt the whole thing, Jon. That we’re sitting here on the moon, that I’m talking to you, that there are people who travel light years just to read…
—Hamish began to fade. The room we were sitting in faded. It was raining. I was standing alone in the rain holding an umbrella. It was late at night at Teterboro, and there was a private jet on the tarmac. The door was coming down.
A senator whose name I couldn’t remember for the life of me walked toward me with his security people, and I knew I was supposed to ask him a few questions. What were they? I was working for a small wire service out of France, or Spain. Right. I was supposed to get a few comments about the midterms. About Biden or Trump or DeSantis.
I let him walk past me and I didn’t say anything.
When I found my car and got in and turned on the engine and the heater, I saw a folded up NY Times on the seat next to me. I opened it up.
It didn’t look anything like the Times. There were articles on page one and the inside pages by Substack writers. Margin to margin, wall to wall.
I started to read. One devastating piece after another, about the true COVID vaccine death numbers, the trafficking of fentanyl up through the southern border, the discovery of new NSA documents detailing massive surveillance programs and conversations about plans to assassinate Julian Assange…
The paper suddenly caught fire and I threw it on the floor and trampled it.
The car was moving. I was driving along 12th Avenue in New York among the rumbling eighteen-wheelers making deliveries. I pulled over and parked and reached into the glove compartment and took out my cell phone and called you.
I said I was writing a new piece.
You said you would read it.
That’s all I needed to know.
I drove to my apartment and went to work.
— Jon Rappoport