My personal journey into the drama-infused existence of Gonzalo Lira began in mid-February 2022, when I appeared as part of a panel discussion organized by Joe Lauria of Consortium News (CN), which included the British writer Alexander Mercouris.
It was just prior to the Russian “special military operation” kicking off in Ukraine. Alexander and I subsequently appeared on several CN-hosted panels to discuss the war in Ukraine, and in conversations following the broadcast he mentioned a fellow he called “Gonzo Lira” and asked if I followed him. I indicated that I did not, and Alexander replied that I should, as “Gonzo” resided in Kharkov, and had some first-hand insights into the conflict that I might find interesting. Alexander asked if he could forward my contact information to Gonzo Lira, and I agreed.
I must admit that I did not follow up on Alexander’s recommendation to follow Gonzo and had forgotten about our conversation about Mr. Lira when, sometime in late March, I was suddenly contacted by the man himself, who asked if I would agree to be interviewed by him for his YouTube channel. I did a quick Google search, and read several items about Gonzalo Lira, AKA Coach Red Pill, including a particularly unflattering article written by Mark Hay of The Daily Beast. I quickly decided that if Gonzo was making The Daily Beast uncomfortable, then I was more than happy to be interviewed by him.
The setup for the interview, which took place on March 30, was informative in its own right. Alexander’s colleague Alex Christoforou was providing technical assistance, and because of connectivity issues due to Gonzalo broadcasting from Kharkov (literally a war zone), the YouTube platform could not be accessed, and instead we shifted to Twitter Spaces (a somewhat ironic choice, given my later permanent suspension).
But the most interesting aspect of the pre-interview technical discussions was a to-and-fro between Gonzalo and Mr. Christoforou about Mr. Lira’s safety. Beyond the obvious reality of broadcasting from a city under attack (air-raid sirens were sounding in the background during this time), Gonzalo expressed a clear concern that he was being sought out by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). I opined that perhaps broadcasting from Kharkov might not be the wisest decision under these circumstances, a concern echoed by Mr. Christoforou, but this was dismissed by Gonzalo. “I’m taking precautions,” he said, without further elaboration.
The Twitter Spaces session was enjoyable, with Gonzalo asking relevant questions and, in the true spirit of the journalist/interviewer, allowed me to answer without any undue commentary from his end – something so-called “professional” journalists in the mainstream media should do more often. According to Mr. Lira, it was “well received” by his followers.
Gonzo reached out to me again, on April 11, for a follow-up interview on his YouTube channel. This time, Mr. Christoforou was successful in surmounting the technical challenges surrounding Mr. Lira’s geographical realities, and the interview went off without a hitch. When we finished, Gonzo thanked me, and in the subsequent conversation, he relayed his concerns that the authorities in Kiev were not only displeased with what he had to say but were actively looking for him.
Gonzo’s pinned Tweet from March 26, in which he listed the names of eight Ukrainian politicians, journalists, dissidents, and human rights figures who had either been killed, arrested, or gone missing since the war with Russia had broken out, jumped out at me. The idea of having just completed a live-streamed interview lasting more some 77 minutes at a time when the Ukrainian SBU, which undoubtedly possesses considerable cyber skills sufficient to geolocate a lengthy online presence such as the YouTube broadcast we had just finished, bothered me – especially in light of Gonzo’s own self-expressed concerns, and I said as much.
Gonzalo Lira was fatalistic about his future. “I know the risks,” he said. “And I take precautions.”
Gonzo’s last tweet was posted on his account (@realGonzaloLira, 54,400 followers) at 7.07am on April 15, 2022. “New Patrick Lancaster,” he wrote, referring to a US Navy veteran-turned war correspondent who has been actively reporting from the frontlines in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. “Must watch.”
“Only the guilty fear judgement,” Gonzo had written in his Twitter bio. “Only liars need stifle the truth.”
Gonzo posted Mr. Lancaster’s report on his Telegram account (over 89,000 subscribers) at 7.16am. The post has more than 130,000 views at the time of writing.
“Here I talk about whatever’s on my mind,” Gonzalo noted in his Telegram introduction. “Unvaxed – and if that makes you angry and makes you hope that I die soon, I want you to know that I have no such wish for you.”
No soldier believes that he or she will be shot until the bullet strikes home. And no political dissident or free speech advocate believes he or she will be silenced until the knock comes at their door.
I received a telephone call on Sunday, April 17 from a producer for George Galloway’s The Mother of all Talk Shows (MOAT). Gonzalo Lira was scheduled to appear as a guest, and he had gone missing. George wanted to know if I had heard from Gonzalo. Sadly, I had not.
On the same day, Max Blumenthal and Esha Krishnaswamy, writing for The Grayzone, published an article titled “‘One less traitor’: Zelensky oversees campaign of assassination, kidnapping and torture of political opposition” which, in light of Gonzalo’s disappearance, was not only timely but deeply disturbing.
Citing war-time necessity, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has declared martial law and banned all real opposition parties (the neo-Nazi parties and organizations, however, remained untouched.) “The activities of those politicians aimed at division or collusion will not succeed, but will receive a harsh response,” Zelensky stated.
“As he wiped out his opposition,” Blumenthal and Krishnaswamy wrote, “Zelensky ordered an unprecedented domestic propaganda initiative to nationalize all television news broadcasting and combine all channels into a single 24-hour channel called ‘United News’ to ‘tell the truth about war.’”
The order directing this action was signed on March 18, 2022.
Zelensky, The Greyzone authors noted, had ominously warned that “there would be consequences for collaborators.”
And now Gonzo Lira had gone missing.