YouTube’s biggest gaming personality is done making Nazi jokes. Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg came under fire, and even lost his original YouTube Red show, in February for moments in his videos that were either anti-Semitic or sympathetic toward Nazis. He made those jokes to elicit emotional reactions and because, according to him, he didn’t think Nazis were a real, modern-day concern.
“I remember back when everything happened in February, I was sorta like, ‘I mean, they’re just jokes. There are not actual Nazis out there. What are you talking about,’” PewDiePie said in a recent YouTube upload. “And then I look at this, and I’m like, ‘Oh! Oh, OK. I see.’ And if for some reason Nazis think it’s great that I’m making these jokes, I don’t want to give them that benefit. So I’m going to stop doing it.”
PewDiePie’s efforts to distance himself from white hate groups comes after violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia. As part of a “Unite The Right” rally, a group of Nazis carrying tiki torches marched through the University of Virginia’s campus. During their march, the media recorded the white supremacists performing the “Hitler salute” and chanting “Jews will not replace us,” “blood and soil” (a Nazi slogan), and “white lives matter.”
As part of the rally, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. — who traveled from Ohio to participate in the Nazi display — allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. That assault killed Heather Heyer, who was protesting against the white supremacists, and injured 19 other people.
In the wake of those events, a number of American companies have made moves to put a wedge between themselves and white supremacists.. A significant number of Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members were organizing on the Discord chat and voice-communication app, and the company revealed this week that it is shutting down those communities. GoDaddy and Google also dropped the Nazi blog The Daily Stormer from their domain-hosting services.
PewDiePie is making a similar effort to make it clear that he was never really a Nazi despite The Daily Stormer previously calling him a hero.
“I thought now was as good a time as any to say that I want nothing to do with these people,” PewDiePie said. “I don’t think anyone who watches me think I’m an actual Nazi, but I know that some people may still have doubt mainly because of all the jokes I’ve been making. At this point, I really just want to distance myself from all this.”
While one of PewDiePie’s motivations in making this declaration is likely financial, the bigger revelation here is that he didn’t believe that Nazis still exist and are a problem. I’m not pointing this out to call him dumb or ignorant — instead, it is an unsettling phenomenon. For years, black and Jewish Americans and groups like the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Southern Poverty Law Center have warned the rest of the world about white nationalism. In May, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo that said the white-supremacist movement “likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year,” according to a report from The Hill. And it seemed like one of the primary arguments against Donald Trump’s campaign for president was that he was riding a white nationalist base into power and he was happy to embolden them.
And PewDiePie has likely heard all of these things in one form or another before. Maybe you’ve commented something to the effect of “Nazis are real and you are giving them comfort and cultural standing” on one of his YouTube videos. If he saw that comment, he didn’t believe you. He’s not alone, either. Hell, singer (and former candidate for congress) Clay Aiken apologized for, as he puts it, not believing that Trump is racist.
Now that everyone has seen Nazis emboldened and walking freely through an American university, people are starting to believe. But it’s awful that it had to get this bad before someone like PewDiePie would listen.