For decades, Kanye West was one of the most magnetic celebrities on earth. This was evident not only in the bestselling albums, packed concerts, and mega-hyped sneaker drops, but in the thriving online communities that organized around him. Ye had earned a devoted subreddit with hundreds of thousands of followers, a handful of highly influential fan forums, and a quick-to-mobilize army of snake-emoji-ready soldiers ready to man the Instagram ramparts. Even as West became more and more controversial a public figure, and his new albums became less and less vital, these fans found camaraderie among one another and occasionally still organized to defend their fave.
At least, until now. Having witnessing Ye’s yearslong escalation from “dragon energy” mantras to open Hitler worship, many of these former stans are finally ready to leave their onetime idol behind—though not “the friends we made along the way,” as r/Kanye moderator Clement Leveau put it to me. “Kanye brought all of us together, but we don’t identify with him anymore.”
Since 2016, as Ye’s reactionary turn advanced from public support for Donald Trump to sporting bigoted symbols like the “White Lives Matter” slogan and the swastiska, plenty of attention has turned to the fan communities: subreddits like r/Kanye, forums like KanyeToThe, Instagram and Twitter accounts like @TeamKanyeDaily. For all of them, grappling with Ye’s reactionary drift has been a yearslong struggle; as Aaron Mak reported for Slate four years ago, KanyeToThe’s reckoning with its hero’s MAGA turn dates back to 2018, when he told TMZ that slavery was a “choice.” But West’s dining with white supremacist Nick Fuentes and praise for Hitler during an Infowars appearance were the “absolute breaking point,” Leveau stated, and now these spaces are condemning Ye much more strongly. On Oct. 28, a KanyeToThe admin pinned an official “Statement on Antisemitism,” which declared that “Antisemitic content is not tolerated under any circumstances in our forums.” TeamKanyeDaily hasn’t posted an update in weeks. And r/Kanye has transformed into a Holocaust memorial space, a dumping ground for cathartic anti-Ye rants, and—gasp!—a shrine to Taylor Swift.
Leveau, a 22-year-old New Yorker who became a Kanye West fan in high school during The Life of Pablo’s messy rollout, told me the subreddit he’s been helping run for a half-decade had long been in the throes of an identity crisis. “Within the server, the regulars had not enjoyed Kanye for years,” he told me.
Obviously, it’s never not been fraught to be a fan and defender of West, who interrupted Taylor Swift’s VMAs speech and subsequently was called a “jackass” by the president of the United States fully 13 years ago. Even the MAGA hats of the last five years weren’t a turning point. “Ye has kinda been a controversial figure for years, so it was something at least I was accustomed to, and I was more invested in what he had to offer musically,” Christian, a 22-year-old Baltimore-based student and longtime r/Kanye mod, told me. “There are progressive and conservative people within the fanbase and the conservative fans deserved a degree of respect, despite our disagreements.”
But the risible Kanye comments kept piling up—the TMZ interview, his bizarre religious nationalism, the “death con 3” tweet. From there, Leveau began to notice more insidious elements within his beloved subreddit. “Over the past few months, we’ve seen a huge increase in hateful comments, and it’s exactly aligned with the type of audience that Kanye is drawing now,” he said.
It’s required a more preemptive approach to moderation in a forum that explicitly doesn’t allow hate speech, Christian said: “There have been more people joining and getting instantly banned than ever before.” That type of work, especially when done entirely voluntarily, takes its toll. In mid-November, one “honorary moderator” told Insider’s Kieran Press-Reynolds that the subreddit had become a “bloodbath” and he was quitting.
Surges of hate speech weren’t the only thing r/Kanye mods had to worry about, however—there were also the consequences of being associated with a hateful celebrity, no matter how different the fans themselves were. Leveau told me that the subreddit’s official Discord server lost its verified partnership with Discord, likely thanks to Ye’s antisemitism and the stain it had cast on his following. The mods made an attempt to contact Discord and appeal the decision, to little avail. “We were worried this community would get blipped out of existence because of what Kanye was saying,” Leveau told me. So he took a “hard-line” stance on comments in both the subreddit and the server, in order to preserve something of importance to him and so many others: “We have a very vibrant community, and it’s been hard to find a new net to cast for all of us.” He stresses that the members of r/Kanye are a truly eclectic bunch—chess players, visual artists, programmers, and teenage musicians, all of whom have befriended one another and even come to collaborate on projects. That’s not something anybody wishes to lose, considering that successful musical groups like Brockhampton can trace their formation directly back to websites like KanyeToThe.
All of this is not to say that Ye’s most online fans have universally abandoned him. There are still plenty of anonymous fan accounts with thousands of followers—like @kanyedefenseforce and @ye4us and @kanyestreams1—that seem likely to continue defending West until the music stops, and have been rewarded with his support. Plenty of newer fans attracted to Ye because of his far-right turn have done their part to try to infiltrate the more ambivalent spaces and double down on Ye’s hateful speech. But these parties may be outliers: One r/Kanye user who described themselves as “not even close to being a liberal” wrote a post expressing disappointment that there was persistent support for a man who said he “likes Hitler.”
The end result is that actual defenders of Kanye West are now being shown the door by the subreddit he inspired. As Christian said of fans who are supportive of Ye’s pro-Nazi turn: “They’re entitled to their own opinions, but are welcome to do it anywhere but near us.”