White Supremacy Figured Out How To Become YouTube Famous
YouTube is home to a seemingly endless variety of videos that reach all kinds of viewers and is creeping up on TV as the most watched video platform in the United States. But as John Herrman documented in The New York Times Magazine last month, political punditry on YouTube is vastly dominated by right-wing talkers. Some of the site’s notable right-wing political stars include the always-camera-ready men and women at the Infowars studio, frequently-shirtless 4chan muse StyxHexxenHammer666, and elaborate cosplay cartoon character “Mr. Dapperton.” Although these figures differ vastly in format and tone, their messages are aligned exclusively toward the hard, uncompromising Right, and have been increasingly influenced by their even more extremist counterparts on YouTube.
Shorenstein Center on Media fellow Zach Elexy noted in a case study of YouTube commentator Black Pigeon Speaks that in the same way that “liberals, scholars and pundits have failed to give talk radio—which is almost wholly conservative—its due,” those same observers “stand to miss a new platform that, so far, is also dominated by the right wing.” Far-right YouTube personalities are largely aware that they are at the epicenter of political talk on the platform, and openly gloat about their dominance.
As a platform, YouTube has served as an alternative media ecosystem apart from the mainstream where any person can contribute to national conversation and reach thousands of people overnight. But the Right’s overt domination of the platform, in addition to political forums on Reddit and 4chan, has created an environment where white nationalists and right-wing extremists can easily inject hateful rhetoric and conspiracy theories into national political discourse by positioning themselves alongside less overtly hateful rising right-wing media personalities.
These extremists roleplay as modern-day shock-jock radio hosts as they insert their sexist, racist, bigoted rhetoric—which they excuse by saying they are trying to “trigger” liberals and fight for “free speech”—into the existing stream of right-wing commentary on YouTube. By successfully identifying how right-wing e-celebrities operate and collaborate in the YouTube ecosystem, white nationalists and white supremacists have cracked the code to achieving YouTube success and getting their ideas validated by more popular internet figures, and therefore have emboldened the political base they represent and recruited new audiences.
The punditry faction of YouTube, much like cable news, thrives on collaboration and guest appearances on other pundits’ channels. These right-wing YouTube commentators believe that by bolstering one another they can break through “fake news” mainstream media narratives and spread their own flavor of political analysis. The most extreme of these commentators will identify YouTube pundits slightly closer to center-Right than them, and appear on their programs to share their viewpoints. They then use this access to a larger platform to recruit more people to their own pages, where they espouse extremist views with even less restraint.
In practice, this means that some of the most popular right-wing social media pundits have validated white supremacists and ethno-nationalist voices by joining these extremists on their programs and allowing them to grow their audiences. And as a result, those voices have quickly recruited a radicalized following and felt emboldened to take their ideologies offline. The nation saw this dynamic play out with tragic results earlier this year, when alt-right activists who had organized online converged on Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester.
On YouTube, major right-wing internet personalities such as self-described “New Right journalist” and social media personality Mike Cernovich and Lauren Southern, a former reporter for Rebel Media, a news site that has acted as an alt-right safe space, validate lesser known extremists by promoting them with their platforms, which reach millions of people every month and routinely earn exposure from mainstream press. Although these two are now attempting to break away from their prior affiliations with the alt-right, they have used their YouTube platforms to validate and share ideas with openly alt-right pundits like Tara McCarthy, who believes a globalist agenda is underway to undermine white people.
In May, Cernovich appeared on right-wing YouTuber Brittani Pettibone’s “Virtue of the West” podcast, which is dedicated to discussing the white nationalist ideology of a virtuous Western world under attack by a liberal agenda. Cernovich’s appearance effectively endorsed the legitimacy of Pettibone and her former co-host McCarthy to Cernovich’s much larger audience and exposed potential new fans to the duo, who openly express much more extremist views than Cernovich does.
This trickle-down effect is not limited to Cernovich. Many other prominent right-wing social media personalities have appeared on programs like “Virtue of the West.” For example, video blogger Tarl Warwick, who is heralded on 4chan and promoted by major video bloggers like Paul Joseph Watson, has guided his audience to openly alt-right media platforms such as Red Ice. Digital pundit Carl Benjamin, known best as “Sargon of Akkad,” has exposed his regular audience of hundreds of thousands of viewers to white nationalists and their hateful ideologies.
This trickle-down exposure effect is a characteristic of all media, but the lack of a gatekeeper on social media has allowed unchecked extremists like McCarthy to harness the power granted by voices such as Cernovich to elevate openly white supremacist alt-right ideologies. Soon after McCarthy scored an interview with Cernovich, she treated her followers to a conversation with Andrew Anglin and Greg Johnson of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. (McCarthy’s interview with Anglin and Johnson was later removed from YouTube and re-uploaded off-site.)
Cernovich’s appearance on “Virtue of the West” is not an isolated event. Every day, all across YouTube, popular pundits with large audiences and connections to those in power are engaging with, promoting and validating extremist YouTube personalities who seek to radicalize their audiences. and promote extreme right-wing politics.
Tensions Rise, Bloggers Flee As YouTube’s Efforts To Combat Extremism Begin
YouTube has been criticized for designing algorithms that are, as The Guardian reported, “drawing viewers into ever more extreme content, recommending a succession of videos that can quickly take them into dark corners of the internet,” and has been toying with remedies that can effectively isolate extremist and terroristic content without censoring speech on the site.
In early August, YouTube announced it would no longer allow videos on its site that were flagged for “controversial religious or supremacist content” to earn ad revenue and rack up views from the platform’s “recommended videos” feature. Since that announcement, conspiracy theorists, alt-right activists and “new right” internet pundits have expressed outrage.
Videos these social media pundits created that meet YouTube’s criteria for extremism have been placed in a “limited state,” where they exist in a purgatory space without advertising or video recommendations, meaning only a direct link will bring viewers to the video and that the content creator earns no revenue. YouTube’s action served to accomplish two things: It removed financial incentives for these personalities to cater to extremists, and it helped curb a rabbit-hole effect in which the site’s algorithms recommended increasingly more extremist content to otherwise mainstream right-wing audiences and resulted in right-wing extremist YouTube stars receiving otherwise unearned exposure.
Leaders of the right-wing political YouTube universe criticized the policy in a myriad of ways, even likening it to Nazism. In a post announcing a national protest against Google (which was later cancelled), right-wing troll Jack Posobiec claimed YouTube was “censoring and silencing dissenting voices by creating ‘ghettos’ for videos questioning the dominant narrative.” Right-wing vlogger Tarl Warwick claimed that the new “suppression feature” would be counter-productive to YouTube’s goals. Infowars editors Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson gloated that they reach millions of viewers and have made YouTube a “right-wing safe space” and that YouTube implemented the new policy because they “realized they were losing.”
Now, extremists and white supremacists ensnared by YouTube’s new policy are threatening to leave YouTube and have begun hosting their videos on alternative sites such as VidMe and BitChute. The migration to video platforms friendly to the alt-right is similar to an alt-right push last year to ditch Twitter and join “Gab.ai” after Twitter banned many white supremacist accounts. These extremist YouTube stars have asked their followers to join them on these new platforms and send them money on Patreon (and alt-right alternative Hatereon) to replace the revenue they were previously earning from YouTube advertising. But as Business Insider reported, this effort has been so-far unsuccessful.
If white supremacist alt-right YouTubers are able to claim that their demonetization was censorship and successfully motivate their audiences to pick up alternative platforms like BitChute and Gab, they will be able to espouse their extremist views in even more isolated echo chambers and increase the risk for radicalization among viewers.
The Extremists Using YouTube To Get Famous
Below is an introduction to a few of the most prominent examples of right-wing extremists who have used YouTube to build large online followings, some with the help of better known right-wing social media personalities.
Black Pigeon Speaks
Black Pigeon Speaks (BPS) is an anonymous YouTube vlogger based in Japan with hundreds of thousands of followers. Shorenstein Center on Media fellow Zach Elexy noted that BPS’s worldview “overlaps with older ideas from many diverse movements and ideologies such as white nationalism, neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism, conservatism, classical liberalism, libertarianism, and Christian conservatism.” BPS does not outwardly identify with any particular political ideology, but frequently reiterates talking points popular among alt-right circles, such as his belief that empowered women destroy civilizations, transgender people are mentally ill, and efforts for diversity erase Western cultures. BPS distributes his videos to hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
Blonde in the Belly of the Beast
Rebecca, who does not share her last name, is a YouTuber based in Seattle who has said the idea that “all cultures are equal” is “garbage.” On her Patreon fundraising page, Rebecca states that she has become “increasingly hostile this last decade as I realized that feminism, Islam, Cultural Marxism and unrestricted tolerance have incrementally eroded our once great society into something unrecognizable.” On YouTube, she shares views about white identity, tells young women to abandon feminism, and makes bigoted arguments against migration in Europe. Rebecca has more than 70,000 subscribers to her channel and has been hosted by far-right superstar Stefan Molyneux, alt-right extremist Tara McCarthy, and alt-right media network Red Ice TV. She has also been promoted numerous times on white nationalist Richard Spencer’s site, AltRight.com.
Brittany Pettibone is a YouTube personality who refers to herself as an “American nationalist” but has expressed white nationalist views, such as that it’s “our fault” if white people become a minority race. She uses her platform to host even more unabashed white nationalists and has appeared on extremist outlets like Red Ice. Pettibone has also perpetuated “white genocide” and “Pizzagate” conspiracy theories. Although Pettibone’s personal YouTube following is modest in comparison to others listed, she has been able to recruit many popular pundits to appear on her “Virtue of the West” series, which until recently was co-hosted by openly alt-right pundit Tara McCarthy. Recently, Pettibone joined former Rebel Media reporter Lauren Southern in anti-immigrant group Defend Europe’s blundering effort to keep NGO boats full of refugees away from the European coast.
James Allsup is a popular YouTube personality with hundreds of thousands of subscribers who once delivered a speech at a Trump campaign rally. He was spotted alongside open white supremacists at the Unite the Right rally last month, where he told Mediaite that “white people are tired of being told by the cosmopolitan elites that we are the problem.” Allsup has used his YouTube channel to host openly white supremacist guests such as Baked Alaska, an internet troll who regularly espouses Nazi propaganda memes, to sympathize with white nationalist alt-right figure Richard Spencer, and to deliver outlandish responses to discussions about white privilege.
Colin Robertson, known online as Millennial Woes, is a Scottish video blogger who speaks openly of his alt-right identity and his concern that the white race will perish unless white people take actions to defend their culture and prevent their race from diversifying. Earlier this year, Robertson was revealed to be a jobless ex-student who lives with his father. Robertson spoke at the now-infamous conference hosted by Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute where attendees shouted “Heil Trump!” while giving Nazi salutes. He has been hosted by popular video blogger Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin, alt-right personality Tara McCarthy, white nationalist blogger Brittany Pettibone, and alt-right broadcast channel Red Ice TV. Robertson frequently spreads white supremacist ideas, such as the notion that it is “exasperating” to see white women with mixed-race children, and argues that believing in racial equality is “clearly deluding yourself.”
Paul Ray Ramsey, known as RamZPaul, is an internet personality who identifies as alt-right and white nationalist, and has spoken at multiple events hosted by the white supremacist group American Renaissance. The Southern Poverty Law center has identified Ramsey as a “smiling Nazi” because of his public affiliations with white supremacist figures such as American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer. Although Ramsey no longer claims to identify as alt-right, days before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville he posted a video claiming that white people “will not be replaced.” Ramsey was an ardent supporter of alt-right Unite the Right rally, has appeared on alt-right broadcast network Red Ice TV, and has been interviewed by NPR and BuzzFeed.
Red Ice TV (Henrik Palmgren and Lana Lokteff)
Herik Palmgren, the Swedish host of Red Ice, founded the network—which simulcasts on YouTube—in 2003 to cater to people looking for “pro-European” news. Lana Lokteff, a Russian co-host, joined the network in 2012. Red Ice TV is transparently white nationalist, with show titles like “Diversity Is a Weapon Against White People” and “The War on Whites Is Real.” The network also features openly racist and blatantly white supremacist guests and serves as a gateway for extremist YouTube bloggers seeking alt-right audiences.
Tara McCarthy is a British YouTube personality who openly touts her affiliation with the white supremacist alt-right. McCarthy hosts the “Reality Calls” podcast and formerly co-hosted with Brittany Pettibone “Virtue of the West,” a show that functions both as a platform for popular YouTube pundits and a critical booster for many alt-right internet stars. McCarthy is one of the most blatant white supremacists on YouTube and often uses her platform to boost the voices of neo-Nazis, warn viewers about a “white genocide conspiracy” and advocate that women submit to subservient gender roles. McCarthy has also suggested organizing an alt-right mentorship program to help guide young men who are exploring the movement. McCarthy is frequently able to book popular right-wing personalities to appear on her channel and shared screen time with popular personalities on “Virtue of the West.”
Wife with a Purpose
Ayla, who does not publicly share her last name, advocates for “radical traditionalism” on YouTube and her blog. Her blog warns that “feminism, homosexuality, atheism, hedonism, and transgender-ism” have overshadowed the Western world’s “hard work and priorities of family and faith.” Ayla, who considers herself an alt-right poster girl, is best known for proposing to her audience a “white baby challenge.” Ayla, who is Mormon, claimed the Mormon church “turned it’s (sic) back on its white members” when it denounced white supremacy following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Ayla has been promoted by alt-right broadcast station Red Ice TV and right-wing blogger Brittany Pettibone.
People Who Enable The Hate
Below is an introduction to some of the most prominent right-wing social media personalities who have used the popularity of their own platforms to host people with even more extreme views, or who have appeared on platforms hosted by extremists. These figures do not regularly use their platforms to personally express particularly racist or extremist ideologies, but frequently host guests or appear on platforms that do with minimal criticism.
Sargon of Akkad
Carl Benjamin, best known as Sargon of Akkad (or “Sargon” for short), is a YouTube personality who rose to fame during the “gamergate” controversy, which ended in death threats being sent to a female video game developer. Benjamin has hundreds of thousands of followers, with whom he shares anti-SJW (social justice warrior) rhetoric, criticizing liberals who express outrage at offensive content. Benjamin considers himself a “classical liberal,” but has expressed his fascination with the racist alt-right and has shared his platform with blatantly alt-right figures.
Stefan Molyneux is an author and vlogger with a large following on YouTube. He is a popular figure among “red-pilled” men’s right activists (“red pilled” is a term from the sci-fi movie The Matrix that refers to recognizing the brutal realities of the world rather than living in blissful ignorance), and identifies himself as a “race realist,” a common euphemism among white supremacists. Although Molyneux’s political views are bent toward the unforgiving Right, his primary involvement in the spread of extremism is his willingness to host openly alt-right extremists, providing these figures a big step toward online relevancy.
Roaming Millennial (RM) is an anonymous Canadian video blogger who uses her incredibly popular YouTube channel to convey far-right talking points that straddle the line of extremism. RM’s videos have been dedicated to botched debunks of racial oppression and gender inequality, labeling social justice “cancer,” and decrying non-traditional gender identity. Although RM does not identify as alt-right, she has welcomed right-wing extremists like Tara McCarthy to appear on her channel.
Tarl Warwick, or “Styx,” was an early arrival to YouTube in 2007 and now posts daily political commentary videos in which he espouses nationalistic views to his audience of more than 170,000 subscribers. Warwick is often heralded on the racist cesspool of 4chan and 8chan’s “politically incorrect” forum boards, where he says he sources his news to “break the stranglehold of the mainstream media.” Warwick has appeared on blatantly alt-right YouTube channels with Red Ice hosts and Tara McCarthy. He does not denounce ethno-nationalism, but does not claim to personally believe in a white ethno-state. Recently, Warwick has been seen boosting his profile on Infowars and Stefan Molyneux’s channel.