The Far Right Is Getting What It Asked For
With Ye on Infowars and Elon Musk lifting the floodgates on Twitter, the right wing is getting the free-speech thunderdome of its dreams. Or nightmares.
If you’re looking for a way to understand the right wing’s internet-poisoned, extremist trajectory, one great document is an infamous October 6 tweet from the House Judiciary GOP that read, “Kanye. Elon. Trump.” This tweet was likely intended to own the libs by adding Kanye to an informal, Avengers-style list of supposed free-speech warriors and truth tellers—a variation, perhaps, on the sort of viral meme that the Trump camp deployed during the 2016 election. (Remember the “Deplorables”?) It was written in support of the rapper Kanye West, now known as Ye, shortly after he wore a White Lives Matter shirt during one of his fashion shows.
This was just the beginning of a shocking two-month spiral of anti-Semitic rhetoric that has led to the undoing of Ye’s business empire and his full transformation into arguably the most openly bigoted famous person in American life. Throughout this grim unraveling—which has as its backdrop Ye’s ongoing mental-health issues—he has been thoroughly embraced by right-wing media as well as prominent white nationalists. He has also been active on the Republican political scene, most recently dining with former President Donald Trump and the white supremacist Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago.
All throughout, the @JudiciaryGOP tweet stayed up. Over the past eight weeks, people have used it as a barometer for what kind of awful behavior the GOP will accept. And so it is notable that, yesterday afternoon, it was finally deleted after Ye’s calamitous appearance on Alex Jones’s Infowars broadcast. Wearing a black face mask, Ye drank Yoo-hoo, read from the Bible, and repeatedly and enthusiastically offered his praise for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis (“They did good things, too”) while spewing anti-Semitic rhetoric alongside Fuentes.
Ye’s Infowars disaster is emblematic of something that seems to be happening across the far right. Although their messaging is always noxious and hateful, right-wing shock jocks and politicians like to employ thinly veiled innuendo and dog whistles to rally their audience. The game is to push the boundaries of social acceptability but leave just enough room to deny culpability when things go off the rails. Then they can blame political opponents for bias and censorship when they’re criticized or suspended by the supposedly “woke” left.
But things are taking a turn, and it’s not just about Ye. Though it’s always been a sewage system for political sludge, Twitter has recently lifted its floodgates under Elon Musk’s ownership, reinstating banned accounts, suspending researchers without cause, and drastically reducing content moderation overall. The New York Times reported today that hate speech has “soared” on the platform in the weeks since Musk’s takeover. And there’s reason to suspect that things may get even worse: Musk said yesterday that he wants to foreground “view count” on every tweet, which could encourage attention-grabbing and incendiary posts even more than the platform already does.
It’s a dog-catches-car moment: Republicans are getting what they asked (and tweeted) for, and finding that it makes them uncomfortable by association (in public at least). The makeshift walls have crumbled around the far right, and it’s flummoxing those who try to launder their message for a wider audience.
As Melissa Ryan, a progressive strategist who tracks the far right, told Semafor’s Dave Weigel earlier this week, Musk’s reinstating of banned right-wing accounts is “going to suck for Republicans … Some of these guys are going to go hog wild as soon as they can.”
Travis Brown, a researcher who has been tracking the reinstatement, has been struck by the rise in violent anti-Semitic rhetoric on the platform. “One thing that’s been remarkable to me is the sheer amount of blatant anti-Semitic stuff you can see,” he told me this week. “It’s much more on the surface recently. Click around in any of these Pepe avatar accounts and you will see jokes referencing 6 million cookies, which is a Holocaust reference.” Some of these accounts, Brown noted, have also thanked Musk for their reinstatement.
It’s well worth noting that researchers, academics, activists, politicians, and journalists covering the far right have been issuing warnings about this dynamic for years, sounding the alarm on the profound harm caused by the mainstream right’s embrace of anti-Semitic rhetoric and the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, as well as its associations with bigots. Though these problems do not begin and end with Trump, they’ve noted an acceleration of extremist and bigoted rhetoric that coincides with his descent down the golden escalator; his description of Mexicans as rapists; his refusal to condemn the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke; his mention of “good people on both sides” at the Charlottesville, Virginia, “Unite the Right” rally; and his flirtations with QAnon during his presidency (which became an open endorsement postpresidency).
All of which leads us to Ye, whose appearances on popular right-wing media channels have caused visible discomfort for shock jocks who love to toy with or even use hateful rhetoric in their broadcasts. On Monday, Ye and Fuentes appeared on Tim Pool’s popular YouTube channel. Before the show, Pool excitedly shared photos of Ye, Fuentes, and the noted troll Milo Yiannopoulos en route to the appearance in a private jet and hyped the broadcast on his Twitter feed. But during the show, Pool—who has recently begun monologuing about Great Replacement and has been called out by The Daily Beast for “dangerously whitewashing the far right”—was reduced to stammering as Ye went into a stream-of-consciousness riff about Jewish executives de-banking him and invoked Jared Kushner and Rahm Emanuel as members of a Jewish political conspiracy.
Pool appeared eager to try to sympathize with parts of Ye’s rhetoric. “I think they’ve been extremely unfair to you,” Pool said. But when Ye pushed back, asking, “Who is ‘they,’ though? We can’t say who ‘they’ is, can we?” Pool stammered and said he disagreed with the implication that Jews control the media. Ye walked out, leaving the host looking overwhelmed.
The dynamic was similar to Ye’s appearance yesterday on Infowars. Jones—who has made a career out of anti-Semitic dog whistling about a Jewish-controlled media, egged on birtherism, and spread lies that the Sandy Hook shooting was a “false flag” operation—seemed uncharacteristically rattled as Ye began talking favorably about Hitler. He tried to give the rapper an out, saying, “You’re not Hitler. You’re not a Nazi.” But, as in other appearances, Ye seemed almost delighted not to take it. “Well, I see good things about Hitler, also,” he responded. “Every human being has something of value that they brought to the table, especially Hitler.” Later on, in a jarring exchange just before a commercial break, Jones clarified for his audience that “I don’t like Nazis.” Ye, sneaking in the last word, shot back, “I like Hitler.” Jones can’t recontextualize this moment or accuse the media of misrepresenting what happened on Infowars yesterday. It was hours of Nazi sympathizing. There’s a small difference between this and Jones’s generally repugnant broadcasts—which have cost him dearly, thanks to a series of defamation cases—but it’s a meaningful one.
We should not mince words: The normalization and increase of this rhetoric are terrifying and threatening in a country that continues to watch as extremists commit hate crimes against people of color, religious minorities, and LGBTQ communities. At the same time, it is unclear what it means for politicians and launderers of the extremist right when the rules of the game change. It seems that the far right, which has longed for the marketplace of ideas to turn into a free-speech-maximalist thunderdome, is going to be forced to test how the rest of the country feels about having its most vile and extreme views amplified as explicitly as possible.
Overnight, it got an answer of sorts. Ye was once again indefinitely suspended from Twitter after posting a swastika inside a Star of David: an “incitement to violence,” Musk said. It’s been less than two weeks since he welcomed the rapper back from his previous ban.