BAYC (Bored Ape Yacht Club, the highest market cap NFT) is racist. All that remains to be answered is: why?
New: Listen to this story instead of reading it at the link below.
Let neither perceived errors, nor purity tests, of the people who discovered this shield BAYC’s racism.
Yesterday, it came to my attention that the world’s largest non-fungible token project, known colloquially as “apes”, but officially as BAYC (the “Bored Ape Yacht Club”), is undeniably racist. That is to say, it contains racist imagery and nods to racist alt-right communities online (such as /pol/, groypers, “Boogaloo Boys”). I am sure of this, I consider it beyond doubt.
The only questions that remain for me is who knew? and why did they do it?.
This article will have four main sections: in the first, I will explain why I’m writing this article, why I think my voice is needed. In the second, I will go over only the obvious, credible evidence that clearly demonstrates racist dogwhistles in BAYC communications and content, whether sold as an NFT or otherwise, demonstrating to anyone of good faith that BAYC is clearly unabashedly racist. In the third, I will switch from straight reporting of facts to speculation based on my years of experience, and give several theories as to why BAYC may be racist. In the final section, I will discuss why the conflicts of interest of some of those who first discovered this do not truly matter, and indeed, would be suspicious if absent.
Why add your voice?
I was late to this party — this has been known in activist and NFT circles for a while. And, indeed, I had been informed in the past of BAYC’s racism, I just found it too far-fetched to believe. But yesterday I finally was able to find time to do the research required to overcome my skepticism, after watching a June 19th presentation by Philion published three weeks prior.
I am uniquely situated to make this assessment: I founded 8chan in October 2013, after having been a 4chan user since 2006. Although I was mostly a user of 4chan/g/, the Technology board which made me a life-long free software developer, I have internationally recognized expertise of imageboard culture in general, and at different times of my life used the 4chan boards /r9k/ (ROBOT9000 —through which Pepe and Wojak entered the mainstream, Wojak originating from German imageboard culture), /new/ (News), /jp/ (Otaku Culture), and /prog/ (Programming). I have been cited in hundreds of mainstream media articles about imageboard and internet culture, and have appeared in scores of podcasts, documentaries, and television news segments.
I was never in the alt-right, I was a libertarian (an Ayn Randian “objectivist” type cringelord). However, after Jim Watkins (you may know him as QAnon) acquired 8chan via domain shenanigans in January 2015, I came to learn much about the alt-right. I’ve only learned more about it since resigning from 8chan in April 2016, and fighting against Watkins, his son, and 8chan itself since Q4 2018.
I have an ethical duty, therefore, to add my voice to those saying BAYC is racist. First of all, I am one of few with the requisite experience to say so credibly. But more importantly, those who are saying it have conflicts of interest which are causing them not to be believed. I have no such conflicts, I have been against NFT’s since the very beginning, and I am in general very crypto-skeptical.
I still have some channers (ex in some cases) as friends. Of a sample of three, all three agreed that this was intentional dogwhistling upon reviewing the evidence (one even thought it was hilarious). They won’t speak out on their own, their opinion needs someone like me to be heard in the mainstream.
I add my voice primarily to establish it as a fact that BAYC contains racist dogwhistles, and to encourage people to think in a more nuanced way about the founders and the potential motives.
What’s the proof BAYC is racist?
I am taking the advice of Liv Agar, who also reviewed Philion’s video, and in this section I am only “going with the slam dunks”. A particular failing of Philion’s video, and another reason I write this, is because the video contains a lot of nebulous (“galaxy brained”) associations between 4chan racists and BAYC, mixed in with very strong connections. This was done, I believe, because YouTube rewards watch time, and Philion’s audience is terminally online. I do not believe any of what Philion included he thought to be false, but I find no reason to regurgitate it all, and think that because some of it is obviously false — or at least highly far-fetched — repeating it only hurts the argument.
Proof 1: The BAYC logo is literally just the Totenkopf
The most bizarre thing to me about this evidence, besides how striking it is, is that the number of teeth — 18 — were matched perfectly, despite the design being so different.
While some, such as A. T. Wilkinson,² have pointed out that the Totenkopf does not always appear with a rough border historically, this does not satisfy me because when it is used as a meme by the alt-right on 4chan and elsewhere, the version RR shows, with the rough border, is the most common.
Truly, the rough border of the BAYC logo is bizarre for a modern NFT project. And, as an expert in computer typography (my job is actually making fonts, not any of this), I can say unequivocally it does not at all match the humanist sans-serif used in the BAYC logo.
Wilkinson again points to motorcycle gang patches,² and again I have skepticism of this calm explanation. Many motorcycle gangs are racist or white nationalist, many of the patches he lists are also from racist or semi-racist groups. Even were a motorcycle gang patch the source of the design, the copying of the number of teeth is inexplicable.
I don’t view this as very strong evidence, but mention it as a possible motive for the number: while the symbol of the Totenkopf predated Adolf Hitler, its number of teeth, 18, was given a folk etymology among White Supremacists: 1=A, 8=H, AH, Adolf Hitler. (The Philion video failed to mention the Totenkopf predating Hitler’s rise, more reason for me to mention it.)
Proof 2: Many BAYC NFT’s wear hachimaki which read “kamikaze” (神風)
I know Japanese. Japanese is a complex, beautiful language, so I consider myself a lifelong student of it, and write much better than I speak as I learned it originally to post on 2channel, the English Wikipedia article about which I wrote; nevertheless, I consider my level above intermediate.
I certainly know enough Japanese to know that in Japan this image would be very offensive, especially labeled as a “sushi chef headband” —and especially if drawn by a foreigner.
This was the most shocking dogwhistle of all to me because it’s just so absurdly, obviously racist. It reminded me of racist 4chan and 8chan posts I’d come across in my past about so-called “gooks” and “japs”. Indeed, the word kamikaze itself is often used as a slur for Japanese people.
The word kamikaze, in Japanese, today occupies the same place as entartete does in German. Consider this exchange reported in an article entitled “Kamikaze (Suicide) Pilots: How Do Today’s Youth View Them?” by the BBC’s Japanese edition:⁴
— “Irrational.” “Heroic.” “Stupid.”
Those were among the answers heard by the BBC when it asked three Tokyo men what they thought of the kamikaze pilots of WWII.
“Heroic?” said Mr. Takumi Ikezawa, looking for confirmation from Shunpei, his little brother. “Ha! I didn’t know you were so far right!”, came the reply.
Decades after the war, opinions about the kamikaze pilots remain divided. One reason is that the history has been used for political purposes.
Indeed, much like entartete, kamikaze is very politically colored. The more happy you are to say it and wear it in any context, the more likely you are to be a Japanese ultra-nationalist.
Here’s how a Japanese–Japanese dictionary describes the word kamikaze for a Japanese audience (emphasis mine):
1. A wind said to be the result of God’s intervention. Especially, the violent winds of the the Kamakura era (Mongol invasions of Japan).
2. During the Second World War, the name given to suicide squads of the military of the (Hirohito-era) Empire of Japan. Officially 神風特別攻撃隊 (Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kōgekitai — The Kamikaze Special Attack Forces). See also 特攻隊 (tokkōtai).
3. (Relates to №2) An analogy for how they behaved, with total indifference to human life. See also 神風運転 (kamikaze unten, literally “kamikaze-esque operation”)
4. A Japanese two-seater airplane that flew between Tokyo and London in 1937, setting a record of over 51 hours of total flight time.
This word is offensive. You don’t even need to take my word for it, native speakers of good faith, writing before NFT’s came into being, agree. Some people on my Twitter attempted to troll me regarding this, and native speakers who see no problem with this likely have ultra-nationalist tendencies. I have no fear stating that kamikaze is not a neutral term in Japanese.
Even were it, putting it on a hachimaki gives it more shockingly racist connotation, once again, especially for a foreigner. Even the far-right idolize the “divine wind” because it repelled foreign invasions.
Why? Because these exact hachimaki were given out as medals by the Hirohito imperial Japanese government during WWII.
Now, you’ll note that the order of the kanji is reversed in those. That’s the traditional writing order. Traditionally, Japanese is written vertically: top-to-bottom, right-to-left. So 神風 appears as 風神 on the hachimaki. 4chan racists do not know this — it’s clear that the below Pepe meme was the source.
Proof 3: “Riding the Kali Yuga” and Yuga Labs (BAYC publisher)
I considered this proof low quality…before BAYC lied about it. For those unaware, BAYC is produced by a company called Yuga Labs.
In so-called “esoteric Hitlerism”, believed in by many in the alt-right (it is also why some of them worship a frog “god” called Kek) the “Kali Yuga” is the current era, an era of strife and contention, especially among races. To “ride” the Kali Yuga, then, is to “accelerate” events through trolling — to purposely attempt to make things worse to “make them better” (fascist)— accelerationism.
BAYC (through Yuga Labs) claimed that their use of Yuga was because of a video game character, a boss in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for the Nintendo 3DS. This lie fell apart multiple ways. First, it was directly contradicted by another NFT creator, as shown by Pauly:
Second, it was covered up by one of the four BAYC founders, Wylie Aronow (“Gordon Goner”):
If there was truly no reason to think Kali Yuga was an alt-right meme, there would have been no reason to send a copyright claim via the DMCA to the Internet Archive, the only way to cause a takedown from the WayBack Machine.
Proof 4: The names of two of the founders are 4chan memes / racist
The four founders are:
- Gordon Goner—Wylie Aronow
- Gargamel — Greg Solano
- Emperor Tomato Ketchup — Kerem Atalay
- No Sass — Zeshan Ali
Before discussing the two with the racist names, it’s worth noting that I believe Aronow’s cringe “ape” is a reference to the 4chan “growing stronger” meme:
It’s also worth noting that all four pass for white. Frequently, defenders of BAYC have tried to use their countries of origin as proof they cannot be racist. Race is not ethnicity nor nationality, it is a social construct based on your appearance, and often groups many nationalities. So unclear were the boundaries of race in early racist American society, that the Supreme Court had to weigh in on whether “high caste Hindus” were white. (They said no.)
People unfamiliar with the behavior of racists online (how blissful that ignorance must be) may think that surely, even if they pass as white and could believe in white supremacy, that’s unlikely due to their countries of origin. Once again no.
As 8chan’s admin, I can say with authority and certainty that the users of /pol/ were predominately from Latin America, especially the countries of Chile, Urugay, Argentina, and Peru. (8chan even had a very popular /argentina/ board, populated with all kinds of Argentines, but many racist ones too.)
In fact — all early “Board Owners” (8chan’s word for the Reddit concept of a subreddit’s founding moderators) were from Latin America!
Now to the suspicious names.
Emperor Tomato Ketchup — this name seems harmless to an outsider, but is deeply troubling. It is a 4chan meme to provide it as a movie suggestion…because it was a Japanese film released in 1971 — since banned worldwide as child pornography. Just saying the title of the film is a meme, as it may trigger filtering software.
Gargamel — an anti-Semitic stereotype which appeared in The Smurfs. Used as a racist caricature of Jewish people. Unbelievable to use this as a name. Solano even seems ashamed of it and tries to play it off by shortening it to “Garga”, as he cannot admit he used a racist meme as a handle. Disgusting denialism.
OK, wow, that’s all really racist! Why would BAYC do this?
This is where facts end and speculation begins.
And where I’d like to recommend people calm down. Many seem to claim that the four founders are all in perfect unison, and that we know for a fact they all knew what they were doing. We don’t know this. We don’t know if they were trolling one another, or if they were doing it cynically, or who is who. I speculate that of the four founders, the two with racist names are most likely themselves racist (because duh).
Two main theories right now seem to me the most plausible:
Theory 1: BAYC is racist to get on 4chan’s good side
Many early NFT’s were heavily promoted by 4chan, and audiences of alt-right celebrities such as Nick Fuentes and his “groyper gang”. 4chan has a board called /biz/ — Business & Finance. It to me, if I were a clever NFT founder who only cared about profit, that I would insert dogwhistles to get these types of people excited.
Theory 2: BAYC is racist as a mass trolling campaign
Also possible, of course. If this is true, it is the most successful troll in world history. They have even trolled celebrities into accepting them and signing NDA’s. I hope this is not true, but my main beat is anti-Q research, so…it could be. Q led to the January 6th attack after all.
But wait, the people who discovered this aren’t ethically pure!
This does not matter.
However, they are more pure than many are being led to believe. Because of how NFT’s have been discussed in the media, there has been a lot of confusion by many about the NFT projects run by the main person who discovered this, @ryder_ripps (hereon RR), especially the one called RR/BAYC, which features knockoff apes with, in many cases, the same art as the original BAYC.
First of all, let’s get a few things clear.
- I own no RR/BAYC NFT.
- I will never accept any RR/BAYC NFT.
- I do not know if the actions of RR vis-à-vis the RR/BAYC NFT are legal. I do not know if it is legal to use the copyrighted artwork (however racist) of BAYC this way.
- I am a furry, my profile image is not an NFT. I have absolutely no financial conflict of interest with RR, BAYC, NFT’s, etc. I own no NFT, and never plan to do so.
(Note to readers: This section previously stated that RR listed the RR/BAYC NFT’s at 0 ETH. I apologize for the misunderstanding: it costed 0 ETH to “reserve” the knockoff apes, but between 0.1 ETH and 0.15 ETH to buy them. I assume this was done to raise money to fight them legally, also regarding RR’s logo which BAYC supporters, and BAYC themselves, claim infringes.)
However, there is indeed a secondary market in RR/BAYC NFT’s, once they have been minted. I will discuss two related things about this. First, there is no proof that I am aware of that RR has used this secondary market to profit—feel free to make me aware. His source of wealth seems to be an earlier NFT project, as well as current other NFT projects.
Some anti-racists are demanding unfair levels of ideological purity from RR. Let’s think about why RR discovered this first, and not, perhaps, me. Because RR cared about NFT’s. RR’s behavior is genuinely eccentric, and many of RR’s conceptual artworks sold as NFT’s rightly strike many as grifts, especially his re-mint of CryptoPunk #3100. I am not defending RR’s NFT’s.
However, I don’t think that we should immediately shut off our brains just because the speaker has been involved in the NFT market. No one else would have cared enough about removing racists from their community, to do the extreme amount of research required, and to take the amount of legal risk required to get people’s attention.
I do not think any NFT’s are legitimate, either as free software projects or assets.
I also do not think RR is a bad person for making NFT’s. These issues are more complex.
Some anti-racists have pointed to this text, which appeared when any RR/BAYC NFT was reserved, as proof RR is somehow lying:
By purchasing this Ryder Ripps artwork in the form of an NFT, you understand that this is a new mint of BAYC imagery, re-contextualizing it for educational purposes, as protest and satirical commentary. You cannot copy an NFT. Please see the RR/BAYC contract here to verify provenance: Etherscan. By reserving your RR/BAYC, you are purchasing a hold for an order that will be fulfilled or rejected/refunded by Ryder within 24h (Depending on the vibe of your wallet and the mood of Ryder at the time).
Source (click any ape artwork on page; emphasis mine)
Sorry, no lies detected here.
Furthermore, some anti-racists have accused RR of being in the wrong legally, for copying the artwork of BAYC wholesale.
I’m not a lawyer so won’t even try to respond to this. I do not care. It does not make RR wrong about BAYC racism. That is what I care about.
Some, such as Liv Agar, rightly pointed to the fact that Philion, a YouTuber, showed his RR/BAYC NFT, whom he named “Caesar”, in the viral YouTube presentation I saw which made me aware of this entire incident, as possibly unethical due to it raising the secondary market value of his NFT, as a conflict of interest.
It was not a conflict I thought particularly important, and before I knew that Philion had disabled ads/monetization on his YouTube video, I even found it unethical. But Philion not only did that, but made this promise to me in private, that he would not resell his RR “Caesar” NFT, which only peaked at a few hundred dollars anyway:
That satisfies me.
As I said on Twitter, the conclusion is clear:
Owning a BAYC NFT, knowing its racist origins, is equivalent to owning a Klan uniform. Burn your BAYC NFT. Inform holders of BAYC NFT’s. Refuse to work with BAYC NFT avatars. This is a big deal. Do not allow this trolling campaign, or whatever the füçk it is, to continue.
Date of retrieval: 12 July 2022.
¹ Ripps, Ryder (January 2022). “Bored Ape Yacht Club is Racist and Contains Nazi Dog Whistles”. Self-published via GordonGoner.com: <https://gordongoner.com/>.
² Wilkinson, A. T. (1 July 2022) “Does the Evidence Suggest Yuga Labs Was Trolled?”. The Subconscious of Metropolis. Via Substack: <https://atwilkinson.substack.com/p/does-the-evidence-suggest-yuga-labs>.
³ Bored Ape Yacht Club (1 May 2021). “#8428”. Via OpenSea: <https://opensea.io/assets/ethereum/0xbc4ca0eda7647a8ab7c2061c2e118a18a936f13d/8428>
⁴ Ōi, Mariko [大井真理子] (4 December 2017). 「神風特攻隊――現代の若者たちはどうみているのか」[Kamikaze Pilots: How Do Today’s Youth View Them?]. Via BBC News Japan: <https://www.bbc.com/japanese/features-and-analysis-41883845>.