The Slatest

Why Kanye’s Rightward Turn Matters

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 17:  Kanye West onstage at adidas Creates 747 Warehouse St. - an event in basketball culture on February 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for adidas)
Kanye West in Los Angeles on Feb. 17. Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

The alt-right in this country has been reeling since August, when the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, erupted in violence that ended with the death of one young counterprotester. Since then, nearly every week brings another obituary for the reactionary wave that carried Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos to national prominence. But the ideologically adjacent infrastructure of new voices on the cultural right is still thriving and growing. Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychologist and a glorified motivational speaker given to babbling about “dragons of chaos” and tangents about how wearing makeup is an invitation to be sexually pestered, is one of the year’s biggest publishing successes and is currently on a cross-country lecture tour that will put him in venues that more typically host major rock acts. But the Peterson juggernaut may soon have megawatt competition. Over the weekend, Kanye West wrote a series of elliptical tweets on his current mindset.

West later tweeted that he is a fan of Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens, who made a protested appearance at UCLA on Friday, and offered some evidence that he agrees with her commentary.

Turning Point USA is a conservative youth group dedicated to fighting back against the purportedly perpetual crisis of liberal indoctrination and political correctness on American college campuses. It is perhaps best known for a protest of safe spaces conceived by their chapter at Kent State, in which one member—in a diaper and sucking on a pacifier—romped around campus to make a point that probably seemed clearer on paper. The diaper was presumably high-end—the group takes in many millions in donations. Much of that funding has recently gone toward helping conservative students win campus elections.

Candace Owens is one of the group’s leading activists and speakers. Most of her material is shopworn conservative rhetoric on black Americans: Black people with concerns about how racism past and present shapes their realities—the kind of black people who might have been troubled by TPUSA’s national field director texting to a colleague “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE … fuck them all”—are backward. Black people who dismiss and ignore racism—those who argue that racism in America is largely over, anyway—are, by contrast, real go-getters. “There is an ideological civil war happening,” she said at the UCLA event. “Black people that are focused on their past and shouting about slavery, and black people that are focused on their futures, OK? That’s really what it comes down to.”

The episode is yet another example of how far we are through the looking glass: A man who criticized the then–sitting president by saying he “doesn’t care” about black people on national television in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is, in the topsy-turvy world of 2018, a cheerleader for a pundit who thinks black people ought to quit whining. This has been distressing to many of his fans. It has thrilled all the wrong people. “It is hard to put into words how significant and powerful this endorsement from Kanye is!!” a weekend email from TPUSA read. “When pop icons like Kayne start to compliment leaders like Candace, you know there is a sea change happening in America. Please consider a tax deductible gift today to help us WIN THE FIGHT!!!”

TPUSA head Charlie Kirk took the gushing to social media.

West has also been applauded by Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson and Alex Jones himself. He’s gotten kind words too from Pizzagate conspiracy theorist and Gorilla Mindset author Mike Cernovich, who actually began tweeting praise for a tangent about breaking free of a “simulation” well before West mentioned Owens.

On Monday, West, presumably beaming, tweeted clips of a laudatory Periscope broadcast about him from Dilbert creator Scott Adams, who generally busies himself these days with men’s rights activism and attempts to hypnotize readers of his blog to orgasm. “It feels like there’s something big happening,” he said. “And I think a framework to see this big happening stuff is that people are breaking out of what I call their mental prisons.”

The business of helping right-curious folks break out of their “mental prisons” is booming. Hacks and quacks have long been central to right-wing politics, as the historian Rick Perlstein documented in his 2012 piece for the Baffler, “The Long Con.” But the cast of grifters peddling everything from “vitality” supplements to idiot mysticism is expanding. However dubious the political fortunes of the new far right might be, it clearly has legs as a subculture—one sizable enough, now, to have captured the attention of one of the most important figures in superstardom.