Pro-Trump radio host Darin Damme announced that he's going off the air to spend more time with his family. With his departure, Phoenix is losing a jarring fringe voice — even by conservative talk radio standards.
The host of KTAR-FM 92.3’s Reality Check with Darin Damme announced in a Facebook post that he’s hanging up his headphones on December 7. During the past 10 months at the station, Damme was an unapologetic Trump fan and floated a variety of conspiracy theories during his 6 to 8 p.m. weeknight broadcast.
"The stories I've reported are now becoming known to the masses. The scandals that were once hidden are now out in the open," Damme wrote on Facebook last week.
Damme told Phoenix New Times that he wanted to spend more time with his three kids after long days preparing for the nightly show. "I just couldn’t envision doing it for another year. It was fun, but it was a very taxing hobby," he said.
There's no bad blood between him and KTAR's management, he said. "I will leave here with great new friends, no burnt bridges and a mutual respect that is rare when one leaves a radio station," Damme wrote on Facebook.
Before hosting Reality Check, Damme was known as "Krazy Kid," a DJ on local hip-hop and Top 40 music stations. But after creating Reality Check in January, Damme unveiled a new and unsettling side to his on-air personality.
He often parrots the pro-Trump media’s talking points. He's a dedicated proponent of fringe theories that would fit perfectly on the homepage of Infowars.com. He routinely delves into outlandish territory during amped-up monologues, where he splices the latest news clips together with his commentary, cutting back and forth between YouTube videos or press conferences.
Based on his Facebook and Twitter presence, Damme has been embedded with the right-wing fringe for some time. His page's Facebook profile image is a hand offering a red pill, an image from the film The Matrix that's inspired a whole worldview among the alt-right and "men's rights" communities, where taking the "red pill" means realizing some hidden truth to society.
But Damme rejects the label of conspiracy theorist. In an interview with New Times, he said, "I consider myself to be an investigative reporter."
"The definition of conspiracy has just been taken so far out of whack," Damme said, arguing that anybody who rejects the mainstream media's narrative is pilloried as a conspiracy theorist. He pointed to the Las Vegas mass shooting as an example. Recently, Damme's devoted a ton of airtime to the tragedy, casting doubt on the timeline of events and scrutinizing statements by law enforcement and an eyewitness security guard.
Yet despite swimming around in the same muck as fringe outlets, which immediately jumped on the massacre to disseminate fake news and conspiracy theories, Damme was insistent: "I haven’t said that there’s a cover-up. I haven’t said that there’s a conspiracy."
"I’m just pointing out that there’s inconsistencies with the story," he added. When pressed, Damme tells listeners that he doesn't "mean anything" when floating other possibilities — they ought to draw their own conclusions.
When asked if there's sources he trusts or media outlets he regularly looks to with confidence, Damme gave a short answer: "Nobody. No."
It's evident from his broadcasts. Damme has suggested that August's violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, might have been coordinated by the left to discredit Trump. But he disputes the notion that he called the violent rally a fake or "false flag" event.
"I don’t think it was a bunch of actors. But I do think there was complacency on the part of the leaders to allow a situation like that to happen," Damme said, suggesting that the authorities allowed the two contingents of white supremacists and anti-racist counter-protesters to grapple in the Charlottesville park.
"Right when they clashed into each other, the cops stood down," Damme said.
When asked why this might be, Damme explained, "Because then you have a battle between white supremacist racists and another group that was billed as anti-racist — but there was a whole bunch of people in that group that were anti-fascist, that were the same people that have been breaking windows and creating riots against government for a lot of years."
"Now, what you take from that point is up to you," he added.
It's vintage Damme: an average-guy-just-asking-questions persona designed to repel accusations of offensive — or dangerous — conspiracy-mongering.
Damme's fringe worldview, combined with a not-insignificant audience at KTAR, has led to a strange run of guest appearances. Earlier this month, Damme hosted notorious pro-Trump hoax artist and conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiac; a few days later, Damme chatted it up with Arizona Congressmen David Schweikert and Andy Biggs.
And last week, Damme went to bat for Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar after Gosar suggested that Democratic billionaire George Soros was a Nazi collaborator.
Ryan Hatch, vice president of content and operations at the station, confirmed Damme’s departure and said it was “entirely based on family considerations.”
"I was hopeful he would remain on air in ’18 and beyond," Hatch wrote in an email to Phoenix New Times. According to Hatch, Damme's timeslot had the highest ratings among evening radio shows in the Phoenix metro area.
In an October profile for Phoenix Magazine , Jimmy Magahern wrote that since Damme's debut, “the one-time Top 40 DJ has distinguished himself as Trump’s most ardent supporter and fearless apologist in mainstream Valley media.”
Magahern told New Times that like other right-wing bloggers and commentators, Damme prides himself on being on the cutting edge of conspiracies — whether there's any truth to them or not.
"It does seem he takes pride in being the first to come up with these theories, and I’m sure there’s a lot of competition in that area to come up with the wildest thing that’s going to have traction," Magahern said.
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Magahern was surprised to hear Damme chalk up his departure to family considerations, since there were no family or time-management issues that he could see when interviewing Damme for the profile.
The station's management may have played a role in Damme's decision to step down, according to Magahern. After all, Damme seemed to love the job; he had pushed KTAR for the opportunity to do a political news show during last year's election. Magahern said, "I can’t imagine him wanting a better job than this."
Damme said he has no immediate plans for a follow-up radio show or podcast. He admitted that he's not "100 percent right all the time," but insisted that when new information comes to light, he corrects the record.
"But that doesn’t happen very often," Damme added.