PewDiePie, the famous video-game blogger, has rescinded a pledge to donate $50,000 to a Jewish anti-hate group after a revolt by his fans, engulfing what was supposed to be a public-relations effort into controversy.
The Swedish YouTube celebrity posted a video today in which he announced he was canceling his initial pledge to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), saying he had learned “a lot of things” about the group.
The ADL has existed for over 100 years, and roots out anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry.
PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, said he wanted to instead pick a charity he was “personally passionate about,” and that it didn’t feel “genuine” to make the donation to the ADL.
The announcement of the donation prompted conspiracy theories and angry memes from some of his fans, who claimed without evidence on Twitter and Reddit, and in the comments of his video that the star must have been blackmailed into making the donation.
And it prompted Kjellberg to issue a statement that simultaneously blamed the media for his earlier troubles, denied the blackmail memes and said that he was finally ready to take responsibility for the immense power that comes with being famous online.
His decision to rescind a donation to a group fighting the alt right will not help his claims that he’s not part of their effort.
Many in the alt right say they defend “free speech,” but it’s a shield to allow the freedom to harass women and make misogynistic, violent comments.
Mike Cernovich, one of America’s most visible right-wing provocateurs who came to prominence through his role in #Gamergate, a coordinated campaign of harassment against women in the gaming industry, quickly applauded PewDiePie’s fans:
PewDiePie has 100 million subscribers.
He donated 50 thousand to the ADL.
His entire base revolted, he pulled his donation.
That’s a lot of woke people.
— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) September 12, 2019
PewDiePie said a day earlier that he was making the $50,000 donation as a way to “move past” controversies.
But the announcement was met with condemnation from fans, who questioned why PewDiePie was making a donation to the ADL, a group that has previously spoken out against him.
As Kjellberg has adopted the media and “political correctness” as his enemies, he’s attracted the attention of right-wing conspiracy promoting figures like Jordan Peterson and Alex Jones, whose rhetoric about PC bullies and the establishment sounds a lot like his.
PewDiePie said today he saw the donation as an “opportunity” to separate himself from the alt right.
In March, the suspect in a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, told viewers on a livestream to “subscribe to PewDiePie” moments before more than 50 people were killed.
“The donation wasn’t to try to clear my name or save grace. If it was, I would’ve done it years ago,” PewDiePie said in his YouTube video. “But after the Christchurch tragedy, I felt a responsibility to do something about it, because it’s no longer just about me. It affected other people in a way, and I’m not OK with that.”
PewDiePie has been attached to several controversies in his nearly decade-long career of being a YouTuber.
He’s uttered racial slurs and made Nazi jokes in his videos and on his livestreams.
In 2017, nine videos of his were found to include “anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery.”
In the wake of the revelation, Disney cut ties with PewDiePie, a move that the ADL commended.
“This is clearly hate speech … PewDiePie’s effort to defend it as an attempt to be funny falls flat,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement in 2017. “PewDiePie is entitled to his views, but neither Disney nor any other company has any obligation to support his wide dissemination of hate speech.”
After PewDiePie made his initial announcement about the ADL donation, his fan base was quick to criticize the YouTuber, an outspoken free-speech advocate, for giving money to an organization they say has helped to clamp down on free speech by policing hate speech.
The ADL said in a statement that the organization has not been in contact with PewDiePie at all “beyond his public posts.”
“ADL learned about the potential donation from Felix Kjellberg when everyone else did: when he made the announcement on his channel earlier this week,” an ADL spokesperson said.