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A new video reawakens debate over the Bored Ape Yacht Club’s ‘racist’ imagery

A video posted by Philion, an investigative YouTuber, has reignited the discussion over whether Yuga Labs’ flagship Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) nonfungible token (NFT) collection contains racist iconography and white nationalist esotericism.

Rusnack set out his case in an hour-long YouTube video broadcast Monday, arguing that BAYC is “one giant alt-right inside joke” employing jargon, symbols, and memes from the anonymous image board website 4Chan.

He said that the NFT graphics included racist stereotypes of Black and Asian people and made parallels between the symbolism and language used by Yuga Labs and the BAYC and that of the Nazis.

For example, one often-cited illustration by proponents of the allegations compares the BAYC insignia to the Nazi Totenkopf symbol used by the SS Panzer Division during World War II.

After the video, Rusnack issues a call to action, encouraging his viewers to put pressure on BAYC NFT owners to “burn” their token, which involves sending the NFT to an unusable and unrecoverable wallet address:

“I want every celebrity actor, athlete, and influencer to burn their fcking ape. I want to make such a fcking shit storm that everyone from Steph Curry to Post Malone to Jimmy Fallon is forced to act.”

The collection’s assertions of racist symbology have been a popular issue on social media this year, but they gained prominence when artist Ryder Ripps produced a compilation of what he believes is proof of Nazi iconography and antisemitism in early 2022.

Ripps purchased the name, the same pseudonymous identity used by Yuga Labs co-founder Wylie Aronow, to host a website with several instances of esoteric symbology. The movie goes through the material Rusnack gathered and the study Ripps completed.

In the video, Rusnack claims there comes a “point at which these patterns are no longer coincidences,” adding:

“If I bring up one instance of purposeful Nazi, fascist, or alt-right rhetoric, you could say, ‘I see it, but that’s a stretch.’” So, what is your phone number? “At what point do all of these instances become crystal apparent to you?”

A little a bit about us to start off the new year and what’s coming.

1. What’s the inspiration behind the name Yuga Labs?

We’re nerds, and Yuga is the name of a villain in Zelda whose ability is that he can turn himself and others into 2D art. Made sense for an NFT company.

— Yuga Labs (@yugalabs) January 3, 2022

Yuga Labs reacted to some of the charges without explicitly addressing the matter, tweeting in January that the Apes were used by many in the crypto world to refer to themselves. Probably about the crypto-slang phrase “ape in,” which refers to when someone invests extensively in coins or projects with little previous investigation.

In response to the BAYC logo, Yuga Labs said that the goal was to make the “club” seem “ramshackle and divey,” and that they picked a skull:

“We chose an ape skull to represent how bored these animals are — they’re ‘bored to death.’”

Mark Pitcavage, a senior research scholar at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism, was reported as claiming in a February interview with Input that he observed no similarity between the logo and the Totenkopf and was quoted as adding:

“The Nazi Totenkopf is a highly distinctive visual design of a skull and crossbones, and the monkey skull resembles it in no way save to the extent that all skulls resemble each other to some extent.”

Pitcavage did agree, however, that certain NFT qualities and features were problematic, such as the “hip hop” trait with a gold chain and the “sushi chef headband,” both of which are caricatures of Black culture and a Japanese person.

Binance was humiliated after releasing swastika-like emoji on Hitler’s birthday.

Overall, Pitcavage and fellow ADL researcher Carla Hill believe Ripps’ findings does not link to a particular group of radicals.

Ripps has been accused of using his compiled research as a PR stunt to market his own BAYC derivative NFT collection, RR/BAYC, which includes over 6,000 NFTs based on the original collection.

According to Ripps, the collection is a parody and protest intended to educate people about the BAYC’s purported extremist affiliations. These assertions, however, do not provide a counter-argument to the statements made by Ripps in his study.

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