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Twenty-nine-year-old YouTuber PewDiePie is not responsible for the New Zealand shooting. We shouldn’t shift the blame from the apparent neo-Nazi and Islamophobe who allegedly shot up two mosques last week.
Yet tragedies like this don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s crucial to discuss why, during a sickening live stream of his attack, alleged New Zealand gunman Brenton Tarrant gleefully encouraged viewers to “subscribe to PewDiePie.” If PewDiePie didn’t have a history of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism, there’d be nothing to talk about—but he does. So let’s talk about it.
PewDiePie, born Felix Kjellberg, is an influential figure to over 90 million subscribers. His devotees revere him with all the cultish fervor of modern stan culture, going as far as to deface war monuments and hack the Wall Street Journal’s website to promote his channel. While PewDiePie has since encouraged his fans not to do anything illegal, he and his content hold an eerie amount of power over his supporters. It’s not all gaming and memes, either—that content is frequently problematic. Here’s a brief rundown of PewDiePie’s worst bouts of bigotry.
- He incorporated anti-Semitic themes and imagery into nine of his videos, one of which called for the death of all Jewish people.
- He said the N-word during a gaming live stream.
- He frequently makes casually sexist comments, even going as far as to victim-blame.
- His diss track against YouTube rival T-Series included racist verses mocking their skin color (“I’m a blue-eyes white dragon while you’re just dark magician”) and language (“Your language sounds like it come from a mumble rap community”).
- He endorsed EsemicolonR, a virulently anti-Semitic, homophobic, and sexist YouTuber.
- He collaborated with Ben Shapiro who has decided that English departments at American universities are “brainwashing centers for the militant gay movement”; has used the anti-Semitic trope of the “Evil Jew”; posted a Columbus Day video depicting Indigenous peoples as cannibals; has stated that Arab peoples “like to bomb crap and live in open sewage”; and has spoken out against the trans community on multiple occasions.
- He championed Jordan Peterson’s book. (Peterson loudly opposed legislation protecting gender expression and identity; dismissed the existence of female oppression, Islamophobia, and white privilege; and has made a number of disparaging comments about “identity politics” and oppression.)
- He reportedly followed several controversial figures on Twitter, many of whom have been criticized for their alt-right (or right-wing extremist) and otherwise racist language. (YouTuber JonTron, for example, made white nationalistic comments about race and immigration; Stefan Molyneux is a white supremacist who actively promotes eugenics; Canadian alt-right white nationalist Lauren Southern was banned from the U.K. for aggressive Islamophobia; Paul Joseph Watson is a talking head for Infowars.)
smash an egg over this guys head pic.twitter.com/m8TFmEsiQq— goku (@gokunaruto3000) March 17, 2019
Nearly all of these scandals have been met with half-hearted apologies, most of which involve some iteration of “I was just joking.” Nevertheless, jokes are a form of normalization. PewDiePie’s continued insistence on making light of violent white supremacy sends a very specific message to his subscribers: that mass genocide is funny, oppression is inconsequential, and even neo-Nazis can make some great points.
PewDiePie using his platform to bombard a young, impressionable generation with the pillars of the alt-right isn’t just irresponsible—it’s dangerous. Casual bigotry leads to violent hatred; people have died because of that very hatred that PewDiePie mocks and, casually or otherwise, promotes and validates. The slow and steady dehumanization of marginalized groups via ironic humor is one of the most insidious and pervasive forms of radicalization we face today.
The New Zealand gunman didn’t carry out two mass shootings because of one YouTuber. He didn’t shout out PewDiePie to credit him as an inspiration; he referenced a meme that was sure to distract and dismay the internet in the face of an unspeakable act of terrorism. But it’s no coincidence that Nazis are attracted to PewDiePie—his insistence on making bigoted jokes (which frames the rhetoric of neo-Nazism as entertaining) and spotlighting radical right-wing figures makes his channel seem like a welcoming space for that population.
While Nazis and casual racists have found a definite home on YouTube, they don’t flock to every corner of the platform. PewDiePie needs to make them feel unwelcome by reexamining how he handles marginalized identities on his channel. It’s time for him to condemn all the forms of bigotry he’s dismissed as “jokes”—no more excuses or feeble apologies, but decisive condemnation and the actions to match.
Correction: PewDiePie currently follows only K-pop group BTS on Twitter.
Anna Maria Ward is the social media editor of the Daily Dot. Her work focuses on the intersections of entertainment, pop culture, and social justice. She previously contributed to the Houston Chronicle and Orange magazine.