Over the past week, the fanbase for YouTuber Jon “JonTron” Jafari has been forced to reevaluate how they feel about their favourite YouTuber.
On Monday, Jafari debated Steve Bonnell, a professional streamer who goes by Destiny, over his political views. Over the course of the two hour debate, Jafari expressed some extreme views, such as the idea that white people are experiencing a “demographic displacement” in America, that Mexican immigrants are attempting to break off parts of America into Mexico, and that the United States “[doesn’t] need immigrants from incompatible places”.
Jafari has three million subscribers on YouTube, though he hasn’t made many videos lately, just seven videos in the past six months. While Jafari has made edgy jokes in the past, fans of his see his videos as apolitical. Since he started his channel in 2013, Jafari’s been making humour-oriented videos like a series where he attempted to play every single Star Wars game called “Starcade”, or a review of A Talking Cat!?!, a terrible 2013 children’s movie starring Eric Roberts. What’s a fan to do when they discover their favourite YouTuber’s politics?
One JonTron fan, DeVaun, told me that “he seemed like the kind of guy you could just get along with”. He was clued into JonTron shortly after he left Game Grumps in 2013, a channel he cofounded with YouTube personality Arin Hanson in 2012.
But after Jafari’s debate with Steve Bonnell, DeVaun won’t be watching his videos.
He’s not alone, which won’t surprise anyone who looks at the JonTron subreddit this week, which was packed floor to ceiling with mockery and disdain for the YouTuber’s political stance until the mods locked down the ability for users to make new posts three days ago.
Before the mods cleaned up the subreddit, posts like this were flooded it.
I talked to five fans to find out what they thought of things. While not all the fans I talked to are going to stop watching JonTron content, most of them did say they wouldn’t be comfortable supporting the channel now that they know how Jafari feels politically.
Lee, who started watching Jafari’s videos in 2015 after his wife introduced him to the channel, doesn’t think he’ll be watching his videos either, and also expressed concern that Jafari’s views could affect Normal Boots, the network of similarly themed gaming channels Jafari co-founded on YouTube. “JonTron isn’t just Jon himself anymore — it has grown into a media company that actually employs people,” he said over email. “Jon has been using the official JonTron Twitter account to discuss, debate, and spread his alt-right views.”
Swearing off JonTron is not for everyone. One longtime fan whose Reddit handle, sw00dsd00dswitht00ds, is a reference to a joke in the JonTron video California Games, said that he finds Jafari’s views disgusting and ahistorical, he also said that declining to watch his videos because of them was “asinine and petty”.
“It’s not like Jon’s advocating fascism,” he said. “If he makes good content I don’t understand why people would care that much how he views the third world. It’s not going to affect our lives in anyway if someone disagrees with you on the Internet.”
Of course, not everyone disagrees with what Jafari has to say. If you look at the comments on his most recent video, uploaded two weeks ago, you’ll find vocal supporters of Jafari who think he has done nothing wrong. Two days ago one commenter called Z0h wrote, “I see nothing wrong with the opinions of JonTron.” Another, Captain L-Ron, wrote, “After that Destiny shit I had to come here and subscribe to you.”
Lee, who will no longer be watching Jafari’s videos, said, “Once you start publicly discussing those beliefs, and in the case of Jon, spread them from the official JonTron Twitter, it starts to become activism. … I absolutely won’t have those beliefs be spread and supported by my viewership of his content, giving him ad revenue and views.”
But even the fans that are disappointed in Jafari and don’t plan on watching his videos any more haven’t quite given up hope on him. One fan, Sam, described himself as a “former edgelord”, and frequent poster on notorious subreddit the_donald, as well as a reader of /pol/, 4chan’s “politically incorrect” subforum. He’s since shifted away from the hard right politics found in those places, describing himself as a “center-leaning libertarian”.
About a month ago, Sam said that he found himself at a crossroads between the “alt lite“, a wading pool of hard right opinion typified by people like Gavin McInnes and Milo Yiannopoulos, and the alt right, which Sam described as “actual white nationalism”.
Referring to Jafari’s debate with Bonnell, Sam said, “Jon basically parroted white nationalist talking points the whole time. Going on and on about how discrimination no longer exists and blatantly ignoring the socio-economic factors behind black crime. … I’ve talked to numerous white nationalists, Jon was almost word for word. I was absolutely floored afterward.”
But Sam has faith that Jafari can change his views. “I think for Jon to come back from where he is now, he needs to take a break from basically any sort of politics, like I did,” he said. “‘Cause he’s clearly out of his depth.”
Indeed, in a Tweet after the debate, even JonTron himself said, “I don’t feel like I articulated myself particularly well, never been on the spot like that before.”
Will, another JonTron fan, also said that the thinks Jafari can change. Like Sam, he points to his own life experience for reference.
“For about eight years, I was very pro-life and would go to protests in front of Planned Parenthood buildings. But as time went on I began to do research and realise both the benefits and importance of abortions as well as Planned Parenthood as a whole,” he said over email. “If you only look at one view and are too stubborn to listen to the view of the other side (which is what I think Jon did), of course your side is going to make more sense. … I believe researching and discussing with an open mind really is the key to changing stances.”
Despite their hopes, neither Sam nor Will will be watching JonTron’s videos until he disavows his current political stance.
“I think that might be easy for some people, but how is a black person supposed to watch Jon and pretend like doesn’t hold disparaging views about them?” Sam said. “And where does it end? As long as they make you giggle every once in a while everything is cool? If Richard Spencer decided to go on a stand up tour I sure as fuck wouldn’t support him.”
DeVaun watched Jafari’s debate with Bonnell, during which Jafari claimed that wealthy black Americans commit more crimes than wealthy white Americans. He was floored. “Why would I support someone with views such as his when I’m a black man living in the US and know very well the shit we have to go through as a community?” he said over email. “To hear him dismiss it as fantasy and to say discrimination doesn’t exist completely trivialises the hardships many people have to go through.
“It’s just really saddening to hear the things he said and I will not reward that by giving him my viewership so he can continue his career and voice his bigotry to his very large and impressionable fanbase.”
DeVaun said that, in the debate, JonTron seemed like a completely different person than the one in the videos he has watched and loved.
“It just disappointed the hell out of me to see this guy whose content I loved just being completely unreasonable to sound arguments and facts so he could hold onto his very bigoted views,” he said. “I guess this is why they say you should never meet your heroes.”
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