by Nick Hanover
There’s a slim chance you know who Ty Richards is. And if you do know who Richards is, there’s a much greater chance you first learned about him last week, when he went on alt-right shit stirrer Gavin McInnes’ podcast to discuss KUTX “banning” his song “Western Chauvinist” after listeners sent in letters of concern about McInnes approvingly tweeting about the song on August 2nd. Maybe you didn’t even hear about Richards until Friday, when Cory Graves of Dallas-based site Central Track covered the issue and examined the question of whether or not Richards is a satirist or a Proud Boy.
That’s a simple question to answer, though. Richards is neither, he’s a morally compromised opportunist, like so many other unremarkable musicians before him who are realizing flirting with the alt-right will get them the attention and money they’ve otherwise never been able to procure in their careers. For artists like Richards, the key is to overlook everything else about figures like McInnes in order to focus on the “right to say what I want” aspect of the alt-right.
That’s easy enough for Richards; after all, his album Welcome to Flat Earth mimics the Parental Advisory sticker of the PMRC and the bulk of the songs on the album concern various free speech fears Richards has. The only problem was, before this incident, no one was paying enough attention to Richards in the first place to give him the free speech battle he so desperately craved.
This leads to far more important questions: why did it take KUTX three months to notice what Richards was doing? And why did KUTX play into Richards’ hand by attempting to debate his songwriting in good faith? And, perhaps most ominously, what happens now?
The answer to all of these questions requires looking back at not only how struggling, obscure and unremarkable artists have cozied up with the alt-right under the “free speech” banner since the rise of Trump but also the failure of Austin’s “take things at face value” approach to these kinds of artists.
If you’re looking to understand why someone claiming to satirize the alt-right is also willing to join forces with them, you need to understand where the alt-right really emerged from: internet trolling culture, particularly forums like 4chan and reddit.
Like any other radicalization movement, the alt-right most effectively recruits not from born and bred bigots, but from angry young men lashing out at anyone they perceive as being in the way of their right to say and do whatever they want. Internet forums provide a unique haven for these individuals, a safe place, if you will, where they can truly say and do whatever they want with no consequences, which in turn provokes them to test that by going further and further with their comments, making it easier for terrorist groups to convert them into troops.
As Richards told Central Track when questioned about his decision to go on McInnes’ show, “now that I’m researching, a lot of these guys on the right are all about free speech. I’ve yet to find a show on the left that is all about free speech. Free speech has been demonized — and equated with Trumpism, perhaps.” It’s not that the Richards of the world can’t see the bigoted language the alt-right indulges in, it’s simply that they view it as a test of free speech, something done for the lols, and any criticism of it isn’t also free speech but a barrier to it.
You can see this in the explanation Richards gave McInnes for writing “Western Chauvinist,” explaining “I was like, ‘It’d be really funny to put these opinions in a song and see how people react to it.’ Because it’s funny to me. Because I knew it’d be offensive.” There are no actual stakes for Richards or anyone else receiving criticism for play acting with alt-right tropes. Likewise, Richards and guys like him have no real skin in this game– their version of free speech isn’t a plea to be allowed to live without harassment and violence, it’s just something they find funnier the more harmful it is to people who don’t look like them.
So Richards isn’t being disingenuous when he claims to be unaware of anyone on the left “all about free speech,” he simply lacks the ability to understand that free speech is broad enough to encompass his trolling, criticism of that trolling and large progressive efforts like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo that are explicitly designed to give voice to legitimately oppressed people.
Equally concerning is that for artists like Richards, alt-right attention rewards them with far more publicity than they’ve earned otherwise, providing a very real commercial incentive to escalate their commentary. As of this writing, Richards has 151 Twitter followers. Prior to August 8th, his Tweets had, on average, less than one engagement. On August 8th, Richards tweeted at McInnes (bizarrely referring to him as a “comedian”) about the KUTX “ban,” resulting in a few dozen engagements, almost exclusively from alt-right accounts.
Elsewhere, the KUTX live video of “Western Chauvinist” currently has nearly 5,000 views on YouTube and the CRTV segment on the ban of it has more than 23,000. Meanwhile, the rest of Richards’ KUTX set– including other dog whistle track “Red Pill”— have 500 views. Even Richards’ Facebook page, the largest of his social media profiles at 11,000 followers, saw a distinct uptick in the wake of the McInnes attention.
Whether he consciously intended this or not, Richards is following in the footsteps of artists like Ted Nugent and Kid Rock, whose careers had stalled out before they pivoted hard towards American fringe groups. But it wouldn’t have been possible without KUTX naively attempting to engage Richards in good faith about his track.
Outside of controversy, the manipulative and dishonest plea from the alt-right for its detractors to argue with it in “good faith” is perhaps its greatest weapon. And make no mistake, it is a legitimate weapon, one that produces effective results with little effort. The best trolls know exactly what buttons to push to get their targets to waste a ludicrous amount of time trying to “educate” them while also making them more and more enraged. And the more the targets fight back, the easier it is for the troll to claim to be a victim, bringing in more of their troll brethren to lay siege to the target until they give up from exhaustion or break down.
By politely emailing Richards to inform him of listener issues with his song, asking him to explain the intent so they can assuage listener concerns, KUTX played right into Richards’ hands. Even with its post-McInnes spike in views, “Western Chauvinist” still isn’t exactly burning up the charts and had KUTX pulled the song from play without contacting him, it would have seemed like the normal occurrence of a three month old single hitting the end of its lifespan. But KUTX, for whatever reason, felt the need to give Richards the benefit of the doubt and in the process gave him a convenient opening.
Had KUTX, or Juice Consulting, the PR firm that represented Richards, done their homework, they would have found ample evidence of Richards’ real intent, from the baiting cover art to the aforementioned “Red Pill” track. Richards’ album seems desperate for a free speech battle but nothing about Richards’ music or social media usage shows any real passion or commitment for anything outside of lazily constructed 8bit versions of better known material.
So KUTX’s email must have seemed like a gift to Richards, a way to present himself as oppressed without any real risk or effort. Unlike the millions of women, people of color and queer people who constantly receive innumerable threats, harassment and cruelty on social media just for existing and are further oppressed when they speak up about it, Richards turned a politely worded email into a call for arms that got him the attention he had been seeking. The worst repercussion Richards has faced to date is getting yanked from a radio station he had already received three months of support from, and where he had topped out on #21 on its charts two months ago.
Meanwhile, KUTX’s actions have put its staff firmly on the radar of McInnes and his Proud Boys, particularly his decision to put up heavily edited screenshots of KUTX’s correspondence with him about the song, with antagonistic commentary from Richards alleging KUTX’s actions were a conspiracy against his artistry and right to free speech. Whatever ignorance Richards might claim to have about the Proud Boys’ real behavior, he knew exactly what he was doing further provoking them by insinuating KUTX was trying to mislead him and that they were further stifling his free speech by asking him not to publicly talk about his song being temporarily pulled from the station playlist.
Over on Richards’ Facebook, he is also claiming in comments that KUTX is restricting his speech as a government body because they receive federal grant funding, while also duplicitously acknowledging this isn’t really a 1st amendment issue:
Richards can only maintain this momentum with his new audience by continuing to be confrontational and incendiary. It’s a lose-lose situation for KUTX: if they continue to critically engage with him, they’re “censoring” him, but if they give in by either reinstating the song or disengaging, than Richards is perceived as winning. The only way this could have been avoided was by not taking Richards’ “satire” in good faith to begin with.
It’s remarkably similar to the situations that arise every single time venues like Hotel Vegas and Sidewinder in Austin (or elsewhere, for that matter) book Black Pussy without doing due diligence. By booking the band without considering the very real concerns about their name, the venues send a message to women and people of color that they value middling ticket sales over making them feel comfortable in the venue. And then by dropping the band after concerns arise, the band gets fresh attention and, according to their brags in the media, increased merch sales from people who’ve never even heard their music but love that they’re “sticking it to the libs.”
Venues and radio stations like KUTX making these booking decisions without thinking through the concerns about these artists and songs and acting after the fact are emboldening these trolls at the cost of actually oppressed people while also highlighting the very real need for more diverse voices in positions of authority within their own ranks. That the comfort of these generic artists trying to profit off of trollish behavior is consistently valued above the people their actions harm is far more necessary to discuss than whether these artists are full fledged bigots or merely the beneficiaries of the attention of bigots.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover