Ye’s horrifying appearance Thursday on Alex Jones’ "Infowars" livestream in which he shared his admiration for Hitler and Nazis marked a new frontier in his mainstreaming of antisemitism. But rather than evaluating this episode in isolation, we must take a hard look at the system that helped propel Ye to this level of fame and influence — and the sobering precedent of media-hungry bigots who’ve used their hate to amass power before him.
We should be cautious about letting former supporters and advocates wash their hands of Ye so easily.
Yes, we may be witnessing a radical shift in Ye’s public persona, but by all accounts this is who he’s always been. And we can’t ignore that he’s the avatar of Republicans’ making.
In Thursday interview, Ye appeared seated at a long table next to Alex Jones and the white nationalist Nick Fuentes, with a black hood zipped over his entire head, obscuring his face. The conversation immediately turned deeply antisemitic, prompting Jones, who himself has faced allegations of antisemitism, racism and sexism, to give him an off-ramp. Suggesting Ye had perhaps been unfairly maligned for his hatred of Jews, Jones offered: “You’re not Hitler. You’re not a Nazi. You don’t deserve to be described as that.”
Instead of taking the moment to extinguish a fire that’s been causing great pain to Jews and exacerbating the generational trauma of the Holocaust, Ye emptied a tank of gasoline. “I see good things about Hitler, also,” he told Jones. “Every human being has something of value that they brought to the table. Especially Hitler.” And that, sadly, was just the beginning.
As Jones was heading to a commercial break and teasing a George Soros compilation supposedly proving that antisemites’ favorite Hungarian Jewish billionaire is the actual enemy, Jones said, “I don’t like Nazis,” to which Ye could be heard clearly replying in the background, “I like Hitler.”
Ye once again jumped to Nazis’ defense a short while later. “They did good things, too,” he said. “We gotta stop dissing the Nazis all the time.” After a slew of remarks praising Donald Trump, praising Fuentes and claiming that Jews had frozen his bank account, Ye said: “I don’t love the word ‘evil’ next to Nazis. I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis.”
Since the interview, a number of public figures have denounced Ye; his Twitter account has been suspended (again); and headlines are abuzz with criticism of him having finally crossed the line this time. But we should be cautious about letting former supporters and advocates wash their hands of Ye so easily.
If history tells us anything, it’s that Ye ascending the political ladder is not entirely out of the question.
When Ye and Fuentes had dinner with Trump at Mar-a-lago last week, Republicans had an opportunity — an opportunity to disavow both Trump for cavorting with antisemites and white nationalists, and to disavow Ye for his antisemitism and delusions of being the party’s nominee. They could’ve thrown their weight behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, or another equally xenophobic (but less obvious about it) candidate. And while some Republicans took aim at Trump after disappointment in some GOP midterm races, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall that his reign is in decline, Ye remained a sideshow, a peculiarity at the feet of the king.
But if history tells us anything, it’s that Ye ascending the political ladder is not entirely out of the question. Look no further than Trump, who referred to Mexicans as rapists in his first presidential campaign announcement. Or to right-wing Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeting in October, “Joe Biden is Hitler,” before being easily re-elected. And lest we forget Trump’s buddy Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida (along with many other Republicans) openly embracing the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which posits that white people are being replaced by foreigners.
Writing Ye off as another overexposed celebrity obsessed with media attention is dangerous for these reasons. If we don’t recognize that it’s the seeds of antisemitism sowed by Trump and his supporters that allowed Ye to mainstream hatred of Jews, then we’re set up for multiple pieces of history to repeat themselves.
Less than two months ago, before an embarrassing string of defeats in the midterms, the House GOP Judiciary Committee tweeted three names: “Kanye. Elon. Trump.” Without context, we were left to interpret that they see these three men — Kanye West, Elon Musk, Donald Trump — as the face of the modern Republican Party. In the intervening weeks, Musk has bought Twitter and invited back a number of hateful accounts that were banned by his predecessors; Trump dined with Ye and the white nationalist Fuentes and posted on his social media platform that American Jews need to “get their act together” and support Israel before “it is too late!”; and Ye made a series of media appearances in which he vilified Jews and spoke of a “Jewish underground media mafia.” Still, the House GOP tweet remained.
That is until Thursday, when it appeared Ye had finally crossed the Rubicon.
As a third-generation Holocaust survivor, I never imagined as I was growing up and learning my family’s history that I would ever need to contend with antisemitism in such an urgent way.
Or that in the year 2022, I’d need to say that Adolf Hitler brought absolutely nothing of value during his bitter, hate-fueled rein. But here I am, and here we are as a society, trying to shield younger people unfamiliar with history and convince impressionable people on the internet the world over that an artist they once respected is lying to them.
The more extreme and erratically Ye behaves, the harder it is for spectators to look away, as modeled first by Trump.
Now the fact that the House GOP Judiciary Committee thought it could quietly delete its Oct. 6 tweet in the midst of Ye’s most virulently antisemitic media appearance to date shows that they’re trying to hit the eject button. And we can’t allow them to without acknowledging the implications of their actions from the start.
Because the notion that a man previously known as an elite Hollywood musical artist and fashion designer who has taken his talents to a hibachi table in a Maryland strip mall to dine with white nationalist Fuentes could realistically ascend the American political upper levels is not entirely out of the question. The more extreme and erratically Ye behaves, the harder it is for spectators to look away, as modeled first by Trump.
Ye may seem like a mentally unwell man whose rhetoric should be ignored and not given a platform, but ignorance is not bliss. In the case of men who will stop at nothing to amass power, the only choice we have is to take them at their word and respond accordingly.