Appearing on Alex Jones’s Infowars show on Thursday, the musician Kanye West, who now goes by the name Ye, did something remarkable: He made Alex Jones seem comparatively reasonable. Jones, you will recall, is the unhinged conspiracy theorist infamous for insisting that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax fabricated with actors. Jones has also frequently indulged in anti-Semitism, and even on the interview with West agreed that there is a “Jewish mafia,” after West at length accused Jews of being pedophiles. But elsewhere in the interview West, by repeatedly praising Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, went too far even for the vile, shamelessly mendacious Jones.
At one point, Jones complained that it was unfair for people to call West a Nazi. “I see good things about Hitler, also,” West replied. “I love everyone. The Jewish people are not going to tell me, you know, you can love us and you can love what we’re doing to you with the contracts and you can love what we’re pushing with the pornography.”
West went on: “But this guy that invented highways and invented the very microphone that I use as a musician. You can’t say out loud that this person never did anything good and I’m done with that, I’m done with the classifications, and every human being has value that they brought to the table, especially Hitler.” (For the record, Hitler neither invented highways nor the microphone.)
West has a track record of anti-Semitism. His turn to an outright Nazi apologia is not entirely surprising, given that he has recently been hanging out with the extremist Nick Fuentes, himself known for Holocaust denial and pro-Hitler speeches. It’s possible to dismiss West’s Nazi phase as a sad case of a troubled artist and write it off as a merely personal thing. West has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder—which doesn’t excuse the bigotry, but does place it in a more complex personal dynamic. The disorder and the downward spiral into prejudice feed on each other, with West concocting paranoid fantasies of a Jewish doctor trying to kill him.
But Kanye is also very much a public figure, and his personal drama has a broader political consequence—especially since figures on both the far right and in the mainstream Republican Party are happy to exploit him. On October 6, 2022, the Twitter account of the House Judiciary GOP tweeted, “Kanye. Elon. Trump.” This tweet was clearly meant to identify a pantheon of heroes, and it stayed up for nearly two months, being deleted only after West praised Hitler on InfoWars.
The House Judiciary GOP tweet was disgraceful—but also revealing. The three figures do represent a kind of Hall of Fame for the GOP, one that is full of overlapping connections. In taking over Twitter, Musk has restored West’s account, which had been suspended over anti-Semitism. On October 10, Musk tweeted a message to Kanye, “Welcome back to Twitter, my friend!” Musk added, “Talked to ye today & expressed my concerns about his recent tweet, which I think he took to heart.” Musk’s flirtation with West continued even after the Jones interview with the praise for Hitler. West tweeted a photo reading, “I live the first amendment! Long live Ye! I pray to Jesus that Elon is for real… JESUS IS KING.” Musk responded: “Jesus taught love, kindness and forgiveness. I used to think that turning the other cheek was weak & foolish, but I was the fool for not appreciating its profound wisdom” This suggests that the proper response to overt Nazi propaganda from one of the most famous artists in the world is “love, kindness and forgiveness.” Late on Thursday night, the whole fiasco came to a climax: West sent out a tweet superimposing a swastika on a Star of David. This caused him to be temporarily suspended from Twitter, for 12 hours.
Under Musk’s management, Twitter is becoming much more hospitable to reactionary bigots, while also arbitrarily shutting down left-wing accounts to please the far right. Musk’s takeover of Twitter has to be seen as a power play by the right wing of the tech world—a community that includes Peter Thiel as well as Musk. This is a world that has a record of being amenable to antidemocratic, racist, and even fascist thought.
Kanye’s embrace of Nazism is no mere regrettable personal peccadillo. It’s a public fact being exploited by powerful political forces. In an interview with Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker, Morton Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), both explained and exemplified the process. Klein remarked, “Kanye West is a Black conservative, so obviously that’s something that Trump appreciates. Maybe he thinks his being friends with this very well-known Black conservative will help him politically in getting votes next time he runs for an election.”
A politically expedient alliance with a bigot is something Klein himself understands all too well. The ZOA has embraced Trump, recently giving him its highest award, the Theodor Herzl Gold Medallion. This honor had previously only been given to Lord Balfour, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, David-Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, and—a suitably ridiculous descent—Sheldon Adelson. In his interview with Chotiner, Klein went out of his way to minimize or deny Trump’s bigotry, defending the “good people on both sides” remark after the racist violence at Charlottesville, falsely claiming Trump didn’t want a Muslim ban, and arguing that birtherism was based on reasonable suspicions.
Klein’s performance was disgraceful, but all too typical, shared by more mainstream Jewish organizations. Klein values Trump’s support for hard-right policies in Israel and was willing to overlook a lot of bigotry—including even some anti-Semitism from the former president.
This is the same process that has led so many, even at this late date, to provide protective cover for Kanye West. In early October, Tucker Carlson spent a week on his Fox News show airing an interview with West, whom Carlson described as “interesting, deep, provocative.” In fact the interview was carefully edited to excise blatantly anti-Semitic statements. Carlson had decided that mainstreaming West overrode the basic journalistic obligation to accurately report what he actually said.
Hours before the Alex Jones interview aired, Atlantic writer Thomas Chatterton Williams tweeted a strange attempt to relativize West’s bigotry: “Racism and other identity-based hate are horrible, but how did it become the worst transgression of all. How is material damage not at least as bad? Relatedly, on what moral logic does even, for example, Pusha-T—*who incessantly glorifies murder and the drug trade*—call out Ye?” Is racism, as Williams suggests, really so far removed from material damage? Can we not criticize West’s anti-Semitism and self-hating anti-Black racism without querying the lyrics and words of every one of his critics?
After the Jones interview, Republicans and their allies in the press are likely to finally distance themselves from West. But this will be a quiet process. As centrist pundit Jonathan Chait notes in New York, elected Republicans, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have hedged or muted their criticism of Trump and even Fuentes. As Chait observes,
The issue is that Trump has expanded the Republican coalition to the right, activating and encompassing undisguised white supremacists, who, through their entry into the two-party system, have gained newfound influence. This is a dangerous and historically significant change to the American political scene. And hardly anybody in the GOP—certainly not Ron DeSantis—intends to reverse it.
Kanye, Fuentes—even Trump himself—are merely symptomatic figures: The real problem is that the broader GOP has decided that racists and anti-Semites are a necessary part of their coalition.