On Gargamel: Nazi Allegations, Latin American Poetry, and Starcraft
A co-founder of Bored Ape Yacht Club received allegations of antisemitism. I examined a decade of his writing across his social media and academic work to assess the truth behind the allegations.
Update from February 2023: This piece should be considered out-of-date. I have since reviewed and revised my assumptions and conclusions. In the future, I will write a retrospective on this piece and explain how my perception shifted.
What allegations? Why are you writing about this?
Over the past year, most anyone active in the NFT space has seen Ryder Ripps’ website alleging: “Bored Ape Yacht Club is Racist and Contains Nazi Dog Whistles.” The website implies that a comment from Yuga Labs co-founder Gargamel (known as Gregory Solano) indicates “that there is hidden encrypted meaning[s]” in the BAYC collection. A video was published on YouTube repeating many of the same allegations, and that video was later covered by H3H3 podcast host Ethan Klein. Gordon Goner (known as Wylie Aronow), another co-founder of BAYC, posted a response from himself and the other three co-founders. He also appeared to allude to Klein’s discussion of the conspiracy theory. Later, Yuga Labs stated that they filed a lawsuit against “responsible parties.”
As BAYC continues to grow in popularity, it seems more and more likely that these claims will be circulated among the public and in mainstream media. Although the quality of crypto coverage might be improving in some regard, mainstream media coverage falls short when analyzing the technological and cultural aspects of NFTs. I thought it might be a good idea to offer the perspective from a writer embedded within the space before journalists in traditional media decide to investigate the allegations.
During the mint and rise of BAYC, I remember vividly at the time feeling discomfort around the Pickelhaube and the Safari hat due to their historical connotations with Prussia and colonialism, respectively. Discussions on social media did mention these aspects (long before the launch of the Ryder Ripps website) although those conversations were mostly lost in the upward rise of the project. I was also bothered by the recent inclusion of “Stone Hole Jackson” as a name for a Koda in the Otherdeed collection, especially given that Yuga Labs should have scrutinized the traits for anything that might be construed as alt-right prior to release.
Yuga Labs exerts an enormous influence over the NFT space. Even if you do not trade or hold Yuga products, what happens with Yuga sends ripples to every corner of the NFT ecosystem – and even to the rest of our culture more broadly. I do think there is a thoughtful conversation to be had about the more questionable traits, albeit detached from some of the grifting fanfare that has appeared alongside it. If anything, the recent video and subsequent coverage made authentic and nuanced discussions more difficult.
Personally, I do not want any involvement with a racist or antisemitic project – no matter what profits can be gained. If I believed that Yuga was intentionally planting Nazi dog whistles into the project’s messaging, I would no longer want to trade in or participate in Yuga’s ecosystem. I know others feel similarly conflicted. Therefore, I thought it was worthwhile to investigate some of the more prominent claims and evaluate for myself. I also believe others should have all information available to evaluate for their own benefit.
This blog post focuses on a fundamental claim levied by Ryder Ripps’ website: that the name and work of co-founder Gregory Solano, known as Gargamel or Garga, constitutes evidence that Yuga Labs has intentionally embedded Nazi dog whistles:
“One of the co-founders goes by Gargamel, a character from the Smurfs who is acknowledged as an antisemetic depiction of a Jewish person, also a common term used on 4chan to discuss Jews. Since I've brought this up, he has gone through the effort to try to hide it. Gargamel's real name is Greg Solano, a writer who wrote his undergraduate thesis on fiction about nazis, and expressed interest in incorporating a character like Hans Reiter (SS officer) into his writing.”
Based on publicly available evidence presented below, I would dispute this particular claim as a mixture of misleading and factually inaccurate.
2. Evaluating Ryder Ripps’ Claims
“One of the co-founders goes by Gargamel, a character from the Smurfs who is
The first aspect of the claim against Solano involves the titular character behind his Web3 pseudonym, Gargamel. Ripps states that Gargamel “is acknowledged as an antisemtic depiction of a Jewish person.” Antisemitic tropes that portray Jews as ugly, manipulative outsiders are unfortunately far more pervasive than we should wish in the 21st century. These stereotypical depictions often portray Jews as greedy and hook-nosed – characteristics leveraged historically by antisemitic propaganda, including the Nazis. Pop culture has internalized and reflected these antisemitic tropes from Ebenezer Scrooge to the goblin bankers in the Harry Potter films to Watto, the character with a Yiddish accent in Star Wars.
Is Gargamel one of these stereotypical depictions? I scoured several academic databases and did not find any examples of Gargamel discussed in the context of antisemitism. I also looked for Jewish or antisemitic organizations who may have flagged Gargamel or the Smurfs as antisemitic material. I did not find a single example of any scholars or Jewish advocates identifying Gargamel as an antisemitic figure. So where did Ripps get the idea that Gargamel “is acknowledged as an antisemetic depiction of a Jewish person”?
The lone source cited by Ripps for his claim that Gargamel is a Wikipedia article. The source of the claim within the Wikipedia article is French writer Antoine Buéno. Buéno is the only scholar that I can find who has suggested any connection between the character of Gargamel and antisemitism.
In 2011, Buéno published Petit livre bleu: Analyse critique et politique de la société des Schtroumpfs, a fairly tongue-in-cheek analysis of the Smurfs as a communist, totalitarian society. The book caused a small media fracas at the time. Buéno responded to backlash by saying: “if my analysis is serious, it doesn't take itself seriously” and that his “approach is not devoid of self-mockery” (translated from French). The text is intended to be read as a unserious criticism of society, a sort of academic meta-analysis through a specific pop culture funnel that is much smaller than the problems which it channels. In other words, Buéno’s work is basically satire. It’s not a true example of Gargamel being “acknowledged as antisemitic.”
Buéno does argue that Gargamel’s nose is suggestive of historical Jewish stereotypes. I would agree that this is a distinct possibility – with caveats. The Smurfs may embody many of society’s broader cultural issues, but Gargamel’s character isn’t coded at all in American or European culture to be read as an antisemitic. I would wager that the vast majority of folks who are familiar with the Smurfs would not recognize Gargamel as a character coded with antisemitism, even if you asked directly. It’s far-fetched to suggest that any person with an association with the character implies some kind of surreptitious antisemitism. Did anyone accuse Hank Azaria of flirting with antisemitism when he played Gargamel in the live action movies? Not that I can find.
Rather than argue that the creator of the Smurfs created Gargamel with antisemitic intentions, Buéno concedes that: “The analysis of the Smurfs tells us more about the sociopolitical environment of Peyo than about Peyo himself.” Buéno tells his audience that although he finds stereotypical elements in the Smurfs, he is not suggesting harm is not present in the creator’s intentions. Likewise, absent missing evidence, I think Solano also should receive the benefit of the doubt regarding his intentions.
Intention can be difficult to discern. How would we know if Solano was consciously invoking a submerged antisemitic trope (however obscure) or was that he was merely reaching for an innocent reference to a widely beloved cartoon? In the response letter from the Yuga founders, Aronow writes:
“Garga chose his pseudonym because he’s a massive fan of the StarCraft (and hates ‘smurfs,’ which is how you refer to people who cheat the ladder system in the game). That’s why his bio on the BAYC site was just ‘Starcraft Obsessed. Eats Smurfs.”
Aronow’s explanation seems so elaborate that it could feel like an excuse made up after the fact. However, there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that Solano was indeed obsessed with Starcraft over the past few years. It’s a recurrent theme throughout his blog, referenced more than anything else, and mentioned as early as 2015 and as late as 2020. He reflects humorously over his borderline addiction to the game:
“a few weeks ago I uninstalled StarCraft, and immediately felt the effects … I woulda been president if it weren't for StarCraft … the CIA was watching and they were installing StarCraft on my PC, trying to put the hook back in but I wasn't biting.”
“Smurfing” is also a well-known term within competitive gaming used to describe the sock account of a high-ranked player used to compete against lower-ranked players. Smurfing has been an issue in StarCraft over the past few years and is a frequent topic of discussion in the StarCraft community, even mentioned in relation to the Smurfs cartoon.
Although Gargamel may be a character fraught with painful historical tropes, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of antisemitic intentionality behind Solano’s pseudonym choice. It seems far more likely that the provided StarCraft-related explanation is the truth and that he found it to be a humorous confluence of his interest in the cartoon and his “premature balding.”
Lastly, my research hasn’t turned up any indications that “Gargamel” is a “common term” used on 4Chan as code for Jews or to discuss Jews. There are threads discussing the character in aforementioned negative stereotypical light, but I haven’t found evidence of its use as a common “code word” for Jews. It seems unreasonable to claim that such a name is intended to be a Nazi dog whistle when no evidence is presented that affirms its use as a dog whistle within alt-right communities.
To summarize, it would be misleading to state that the Gargamel character “is acknowledged as an antisemitic depiction of a Jewish person” given that there are no academics or organizations that have made this argument (and the sole example offered is explicitly not serious). Aronow’s explanation for Solano’s pseudonym is plausible considering Solano’s extensive history with and the term’s frequent usage in competitive gaming. It’s also not clear that this is a common innuendo for Jews on alt-right forums.
[Correction: Twitter user @FlowTraderTM pointed out that a 2008 Wordpress blog post by a writer named Roi Ben-Yehuda took a similar perspective to Buéno in regards to Gargamel’s character. The overlap is palpable enough that I wonder if Buéno took inspiration from Ben-Yehuda. His blog post was also later rewritten for the Jewish publication The Forward around the same time that Buéno’s work was circulating in news media.
Since Buéno’s text wasn’t translated into English, reading Ben-Yehuda’s column might help readers understand the satirical temperament of their texts:
“The traces of age-old bigotry in the images that Peyo used in his creation are unsavoury but, in the end, don’t make the overriding impression. The shortcomings of the Smurfs’ creator are compensated for by the show’s timeless themes of cooperation, caring and peace: After watching the show we all want to be little blue socialists. And that’s the smurfing truth.”
If you find any other sources prior to or following Buéno’s publication, send them my way and I will add them here.]
“Since I've brought this up, he has gone through the effort to try to hide it. Gargamel's real name is Greg Solano, a writer who wrote his undergraduate thesis on fiction about nazis, and expressed interest in incorporating a character like Hans Reiter (SS officer) into his writing.”
The second aspect of the claim against Solano is that he wrote an undergraduate thesis on fiction about Nazis and expressed interest in writing about an SS officer. This particular claim has been amplified across social media, with some users calling his thesis “nazi fan fiction”:
Since Solano's thesis on 2666 was completed for his undergraduate requirements, it doesn’t appear to be published anywhere that I can locate. He discusses it in an October 2015 blog post, calling it “so embarrassing, I cringe … But it's a complete portal. I've never worked so hard in my life.” He notes the thesis was titled “Surrealismo clandestino: Art and Experience in Roberto Bolano's 2666.” Inferring from the title, it doesn’t seem like the focus is “fiction about nazis” as further described by Ripps in the accusations. Instead, it appears the focus of his undergraduate thesis is about surrealism in one of the most popular novels of the 21st century.
2666 isn’t “a book of Nazi fiction” and it would also be equally incorrect to call it “fiction about Nazis.” Bolaño certainly wasn’t a Nazi supporter and involved himself in leftist causes throughout his life. Nazis feature prominently in his work, but in a manner that refashions history (including Nazi symbolism) to interrogate the aesthetics of power and the phenomenon of evil. It might sound suspicious to the uninitiated, but Bolaño is a massively popular author – if there were compelling arguments to be made that his readers were attracted due to Nazism, they would already exist.
Stated plainly: Bolaño is the polar opposite of a Nazi author. His body of work does not attract extremists or Nazi followers. To suggest otherwise is ignorant to his work and the extensive scholarship and accolades devoted to 2666. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award and Time named it the Best Fiction Book of 2008. It’s been adapted into plays and received critical acclaim from the likes of the New York Times, Oprah Winfrey, the Guardian, the LA Times, Slate, and countless other publications. Being an enthusiast of his work doesn’t indicate interest in Nazis – it indicates interest in one of the most popular and consequential literary texts of the 21st century.
Ripps also argues that Solano “wrote his college thesis on a book of Nazi fiction who's main character is an SS officer and reading [sic?] about his desire to do create something similar” and that therefore establishes appropriate evidence “to assume the 10+ Nazi references in BAYC are not a coincidence.” Ripps states that Solano wants to create a character similar to 2666’s Hans Reiter – this is factually incorrect.
In the blog post, Solano actually wrote:
“Invent a history. Character finds a document, unearths a book, and in it reads a real history alongside a fake one. Real history grounds. Fake history is imagined and wonderful. For the imagined and wonderful history to be believable, it must be set in chaos, disorder, death, war. So like in Murakami (Hard Boiled Wonderland), where the existence of the unicorn is proved but the Russians are all dying in trenches at the same time so who cares. Or like in Bolano. Archimboldi is Hans Reiter.”
He isn’t expressing a desire to write a novel about a Nazi, he’s describing a desire to write a story about a character whose lived reality clashes with an imagined history. In 2666, the character Hans Reiter somewhat ambiguously morphs around another character named Archimboldi. They are different but the same – a pen name providing a playful means for Bolaño to disorient the reader. Solano’s blog post is referencing a literary device deployed in the story – not an affinity for writing about Nazism.
Taking this specific instance (Hans Reiter) out of context is also misleading. There are no patterns of references to Nazi characters on Solano’s blog. He often mentions inspirations for writing ideas, and none of them would be considered Nazi-adjacent. For example, in December 2017, he considers “using the format of Da Vinci's journals as a model for an illustrated novel.” If anything, Solano pines for writing that is mostly free of political confrontation: “Last night I had the idea for a novel -- ‘Love in the Time of Trump.’ A Bildungsroman where the protests and atrocities are just kind of in the background, a set piece for what's really just a love triangle with excellent mood.” There’s no indicator that he’s interested in leaving extremist symbolism in the submerged section of the iceberg because there’s no indicator that he’s interested in extremism, period.
Barring further evidence, it is objectively false to state that Solano “wrote his undergraduate thesis on fiction about nazis.” His undergraduate thesis concerned surrealism in the context of a massively popular literary text. It is also false to state that Solano expressed interest in writing a story about an SS officer. He expressed interest in emulating a literary device used by several famous authors.
3. Are there any indicators that Solano is a Nazi dog whistler?
For someone accused of concealing extremist dog whistles in his work, Solano’s blog reveals a fairly quotidian life before BAYC. He describes his relationships, his feelings about work, his travels, his reading, and his diet. He eats a burrito and walks around Barnes & Noble feeling “glum.” He talks about the “drain” of his editing work, tackling his to-do list, getting acupuncture. He eats kale chips on a healing mat. He builds IKEA furniture and listens to podcasts about meditation. He drinks kombucha and gets frustrated with an overgrown planter’s box. He makes lobster ravioli at a cooking class. He expresses pride over making a “whole roast chicken” for the first time. He talks about his friend’s band – they don’t appear to have any Nazi references in their work either. There’s a whole post about getting peanut butter stuck in his mouth.
References in the blog include: John Ashbery, Pablo Neruda, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Robert Creeley, Sylvia Plath, William Blake, Tao Lin, Dean Young, Nick Laird, Henry James, and Haruki Murakami. All of these writers are fairly typical of a graduate literature student. He listens to Conor Oberst, Ty Segall, and the Beach Boys. Victor Jara, the leftist Chilean artist, is mentioned a couple times, including in reference to his tortured imprisonment by Pinochet’s soldiers.
In August of 2015, he wrote: “I'm onto Knausgaard again.” Knausgaard’s book, Min Kamp, encountered some controversy due to the title’s reference to Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf. Depending on who you ask, the title’s provenance can be viewed as a provocative literary trick or a sophisticated commentary on history and human nature. Knausgaard’s sixth book has a dense essay on Hitler called “The Name and the Number” spanning hundreds of pages, but at the time of Solano’s post, that essay hadn’t yet been published in English. Like 2666, Min Kamp is an international bestseller met with wide acclaim. It has some subversive elements, but it would be absurd to claim that interest in Knausgaard’s work indicates Nazi interest.
I also reviewed Solano’s Master’s thesis, published in 2013. It’s a collection of Solano’s poetry. Many names and themes from the blog reappear. Again, I could not discern any sort of referential elements towards Nazism. I can’t identify any hidden or “encrypted” allusions. Most of the poems do not include literary or cultural references and instead focus on Solano’s personal relationships and life experiences. Since I have no instructive purpose for publishing his personal poetry, I’ll just include the table of contents so you can glean an idea of the contents:
The sixth poem included in Solano’s thesis concerns the suicide of Alejandra Pizarnik, a Latin American poet and child of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Her work heavily influenced Bolaño. His poem borrows a quote from her work Extracting the Stone of Madness: “What does it mean to translate oneself into words?” Solano’s poem is pensive and slightly vague, but it certainly feels reverential of Pizarnik. While I suppose a Nazi sympathizer could appreciate Pizarnik’s poetry, writing reverential poems about prominent Jewish authors isn’t generally typical Nazi behavior.
There’s an overwhelming absence of any interest, involvement, leanings, or sympathy for fascist or Nazi causes in Solano’s writing. Not even a reference. Over the course of a decade Solano has left hundreds of references to his literary diet both within his personal blog and his academic work. Conspicuously absent are any artists or writers of alt-right, far-right, fascist, or Neo-Nazi persuasion. It would seem to follow that if a person was intentionally embedding Nazi propoganda into their work, that years of history on social media would indicate some kind of alt-right or Neo-Nazi reference. Even one or two. There’s none that I can identify.
4. Conclusions (TL;DR)
After reviewing nearly a decade of Solano’s academic work and social media presence, I didn’t find any evidence that would suggest Solano consumes or appreciates Neo-Nazi or fascist works. There is no evidence in his master’s thesis or in any of his published poems to indicate that he includes any references to alt-right ideologies – explicitly or implicitly.
There doesn’t appear to be any evidence to suggest that Solano was “writing about Nazis” or that his undergraduate thesis was about “fiction about Nazis.” It would be misleading to state otherwise. His undergraduate thesis appears to concern surrealism in a popular Latin American writer’s work, per his blog postings from 2015. His graduate thesis is a collection of poems which also do not appear to contain any explicit or implicit references to Nazism.
The explanation behind Solano’s chosen pseudonym provided by Aronow appears to be credible considering evidence of Solano’s sustained obsession with StarCraft. There doesn’t seem to be any supporting evidence to suggest that his intentions behind the choice were nefarious or inflammatory.
A review of Solano’s blog (compromising dozens of posts over about 5 years) didn’t produce any evidence to suggest a predilection for any far-right, alt-right, or Neo-Nazi attitudes, ideologies, or references.
Solano did not “[express] interest in incorporating a character like Hans Reiter (SS officer) into his writing.” He expressed an idea for a novel that incorporates an imagined history in the vein of popular writers like Murakami or Bolaño.
Based on the information presented, I would strongly dispute Ryder’s claim that Solano’s chosen pseudonym or writing constitutes evidence of “intentionally [embedded] Nazi dog whistles.”
While I believe this is the most extensive review of Solano’s academic work and social media presence to date, I am not an investigative journalist. This piece is an editorial based on my personal research. I chose to present only publicly available material in the interest of privacy because I did not find these specific allegations credible.
After drafting this piece, I reached out to Solano and BAYC/Yuga representatives to offer an opportunity to comment. A Yuga Labs representative responded by telling me “the claims against the founders and Yuga are false, misleading, and slanderous” and redirected to the statements provided in the first paragraph of this article. They declined to answer questions or offer further comment.
Allegations of antisemitism are very serious. They should not be made flippantly or based on false claims. False allegations are irresponsible and diminish the actual work of fighting real antisemitism. I encourage you to donate to an organization that fights antisemitism. I like to donate to the Simon Wiesenthal Center (no personal affiliation).
In October of 2015, Solano received a book from his cousin called Understanding Cryptography: A Textbook for Students and Beginners:
“Typical of my cousin to give a gift in a way that aligns with the nature of the gift itself. Or to select a book on cryptography as a present, out of the blue, for nothing. I understand, shamefully, very little of what I am reading. I cheated prodigiously since I was sixteen years old on math, and left that part of my brain to deteriorate along with my attention.”