Over the last few days, the media has twisted itself into knots trying to figure out how to understand Kanye West’s tweets about Donald Trump. Does Kanye really support Trump? Should we attribute his tweets to some sort of vague “mental health” issues? Is doing so actually offensive and dismissive? Even Vox, a site that’s made its name by explaining things, admitted that “explaining exactly what’s going on here” might be beyond its abilities.
I propose another way of thinking about Kanye’s tweets: As those of a conspiracy theorist, in a country where conspiracy theorists have risen to the highest halls of power. In this vein, Kanye’s remarks are less shocking, and start to make at least some sense.
When Alex Jones says it’s “self-evident” that Kanye has the same mission as Infowars, he’s absolutely right.
It’s hard to miss the truther influence in Kanye’s tweets. Just this afternoon, he wrote, “I’m just refusing to be enslaved by monolithic thought.” Over the past week he has tweeted urging his fans to not “let peer pressure manipulate you,” to “unlearn linear thoughts,” and that “truth is subjective.” Scrolling down farther through his feed, you get maxims like “the thought police want to suppress freedom of thought” and acknowledgement that “the blinders are off.”
In his tweets specifically concerning Trump, Kanye wrote that they are both “dragon energy” and that “we have the right to independent thought.” (What the hell is dragon energy?)
Trump is not the only conspiracy theorist who Kanye has affirmed support for since he reactivated his Twitter account earlier this month. The rapper also tweeted a number of complimentary videos made by Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator turned MAGA blogger, and says he loves “the way Candace Owens thinks.”
Adams himself is a believer of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory and Periscoped prolifically about the 2017 Vegas shooter’s connection to the left. Owens, the black conservative who now works as communications director for right wing student group Turning Point USA, used to go by “Red Pill Black” on YouTube. She has spread Trump’s conspiracy theory that organized “rings” of undocumented immigrants are voting illegally in elections.
All of this has obviously revved up the far-right machine, culminating most predictably with top conspiracy theorist magnate Alex Jones, who invited Kanye onto Infowars, his embattled show.
So far, Kanye isn’t tweeting conspiracy theories, but he is tweeting deeply conspiratorial lines of thinking, and hanging out with conspiracy nuts. But saying that his admiration of Trump is connected to that isn’t to say we should dismiss him.
Rather than focusing on Kanye’s political views or the ways in which the rapper has disappointed his fans—although any close inspection of Kanye’s record on race should have disappointed them long ago—this framework allows us to see the real threat at hand. It’s the spreading political and cultural power of far right conspiracists. As Osita Nwanevu wrote at Slate, Kanye’s tweets have shown that the influence of the new far right is “sizable enough, now, to have captured the attention of one of the most important figures in superstardom.”
Politically, we’ve seen that conspiracy theorists have already infiltrated the highest seat in the country. The New Republic’s Jeet Heer has warned of the dangers of overlooking the “paranoid style” in political life, an adoption of a term coined by Richard Hofstadter in the ‘60s to describe the “angry minds” and delusions of the extreme right. “If the United States is rushing toward a constitutional crisis,” now, Heer writes, “it’s because the paranoid style is in power.”
Kanye’s tweets aren’t unique, but that is exactly what makes them scary. In the last few years, far right conspiracy theories have driven people to shoot up pizza parlors. Aides of lawmakers and mainstream TV networks have claimed that survivors of the Parkland shooting are crisis actors, and White House senior advisers have stoked unfounded fears that voters are being illegally bused in over state lines. Which isn’t even to mention the pseudoscientific and racist theories that have been emboldening white supremacists and their violent acts.
Kanye’s tweets have only reminded us that rather than obsess over what the fuck is going on with Kanye, a celebrity, we should look to the source of his “dragon energy” and his endorsement of a hateful president.
The paranoid style didn’t start with Trump. It certainly won’t end there.