Are Nazi sympathizers laundering racist ideology with an army of digital apes and abusing the law to muffle criticism of their dastardly plot? That may sound freakishly preposterous, and yet it’s exactly the batshit situation described in court papers filed on Monday, in response to a recent lawsuit from Yuga Labs, the multi-billion dollar company behind the Bored Apes Yacht Club. The case, which pits a couple of NFT millionaires against a copycat conceptual artist, is already raising significant questions about art and commerce. It may even reshape our understanding of NFTs, themselves.
The Bored Apes, for anyone still unfamiliar with the project, are algorithmically-generated images of cartoon apes, immortalized on the Ethereum blockchain, that have become wildly popular with digital collectors and celebrities including Justin Bieber, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jimmy Fallon, Tom Brady and Mark Cuban. Even with the recent downswing in the crypto market, BAYC’s 10,000 digital apes are collectively valued at some $4 billion, making Yuga Lab’s founders, Greg Solano and Wylie Aronow, incredibly wealthy—at least on digital paper.
But all is not well on the planet of the bored apes. Ever since they were revealed by Buzzfeed as the founders—or as they claim, “doxxed”—Solano and Aronow have faced whispers that their BAYC project contains hidden racist symbols. Leading the online backlash is the conceptual artist Ryder Ripps, a creative director who has worked with the likes of Nike and Redbull but has more recently focused his efforts on taking down Yuga. According to Ripps, the Bored Apes are filled with Nazi dog whistles, including a logo that is reminiscent of the SS Totenkopf emblem. On a web page laying out his case, Ripps further alleges that Solano wrote his undergraduate thesis on Nazi fiction and that Aronow goes by an internet nickname that’s an anagram/4chan slang for “stupid negro.” And, of course, there’s the apes themselves, which Ripps sees as “simianization,” an alleged effort to dehumanize various ethnic groups.