YouTuber Jake Paul found himself at the heart of another controversy after several videos showed him in a crowd of people looting the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall in Arizona on Saturday night. The looting came amid a wave of protests across the nation after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
Video posted to the Instagram story of Paul’s videographer Andrew Blue shows the YouTube star wearing a mask and wandering around the mall as rioters smash store windows and, in one instance, strike a car on display. Paul is not shown stealing or breaking anything.
In one video, Paul said he was hit with tear gas by police officers, whom he called “idiots.”
The video prompted waves of criticism on social media from people accusing Paul and his team of taking advantage of the nationwide protests to gain attention, with one user calling him the “epitome of white male privilege” who is “creating chaos just for content.”
One user tweeted that she was so “angry” because the looting “was not part of” the larger Black Lives Matter protest. Instead, she continued, Paul and “his other rich white friends are capitalizing off of this for attention [and] notoriety while doing nothing to support the actual movement.”
Musician Lauren Sanderson wrote: “to the jake paul’s of the world, those embodying white privilege, publicly victimizing themselves for being tear gassed yet showing up with vlog cameras only to loot and trash the city is beyond unacceptable. if you’re not coming to fight for black lives, don’t come at all.”
Paul responded to the criticism Sunday in a statement released on Twitter.
“To be absolutely clear, neither I nor anyone in our group was engaged in any looting or vandalism,” Paul said. “I do not condone violence, looting or breaking the law; however, I understand the anger and frustration that led to the destruction we witnessed and while it’s not the answer, it’s important that people see it and collectively figure out how to move forward in a healthy way.”
Blue released a similar statement on his Instagram story. “My job is to document virtually everything,” he wrote. “We were strictly documenting the situation and doing our part to use our platform to raise awareness about this horrific event and the overall injustice,” adding that no one in his group was involved in vandalism.
Though known mostly for performing stunts online, the YouTuber has a long history of inserting himself into national tragedies, often prompting outrage from those who accuse him of co-opting others’ pain to gain followers.
When Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area in 2017, he and his crew drove to the city to “save thousands of lives.”
“We are gonna get them supplies, we are gonna save their lives, and we’re gonna flippin’ vlog it all at the same time!” he said. The resulting trip was something of a disaster, as he invited his fans to gather in a Walmart parking lot to help him fill two trucks without consulting the store. More than a thousand fans showed up.
A year later, after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, Paul visited the town and came up with a five-point plan to end school shootings.
Paul has not posted a vlog to YouTube about the looting in Scottsdale or the protest that preceded it.