The Walt Disney Company has severed ties with YouTube's highest-paid star Felix 'PewDiePie' Kjellberg over a series of anti-Semitic videos. The decision came after an investigation into the controversial content by the Wall Street Journal that found nine of Kjellberg's videos posted over the last six months included anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery swastikas, clips of Hitler and a Nazi salute.
The 27-year-old Swede has more than 53 million subscribers on YouTube and earned about $15m (£12m) last year, according to Forbes. Since 2012, Kjellberg had a partnership with online video network Maker Studios, which was bought by Disney in 2014 for $675m.
Last year, Maker Studios and Kjellberg announced a joint venture called Revelmode that produces original shows and videos, mobile apps and merchandise. Disney has now decided to end this joint venture, leaving the YouTube star to produce his videos independently or seek a new partner.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the YouTuber has been making Nazi references in his posts since 7 August last year when he posted a video that featured a swastika and a photo of Hitler.
One video posted on 11 January featured two men holding a banner that read: "Death to all Jews", while another posted on 22 January showed a man dressed as Jesus Christ saying, "Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong."
Following the Journal's inquiries, Kjellberg reportedly took down three of the offending videos.
"Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate," a spokeswoman for Maker Studios told the publication.
On Sunday, Kjellberg said he wanted to "clear some things up" and emphasised that he does not support "any kind of hateful attitudes".
"It came to my attention yesterday that some have been pointing to my videos and saying that I am giving credibility to the anti-Semitic movement, and my fans are part of it as well for watching," Kjellberg wrote in a post on Tumblr. "I was trying to show how crazy the modern world is, specifically some of the services available online. I picked something that seemed absurd to me - that people on Fiverr would say anything for 5 dollars."
The YouTuber said he used the freelance marketplace Fiverr to hire two men in India to make the offensive sign in the video that showed them dancing and laughing while holding the banner.
"I make videos for my audience," he continued. "I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary. I know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel. Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive.
"As laughable as it is to believe that I might actually endorse these people, to anyone unsure on my standpoint regarding hate-based groups: No, I don't support these people in any way."
His comments and videos, however, have made him popular among neo-Nazi websites such as the Daily Stormer, the WSJ reports. The site also has a banner that reads: "The world's #1 PewDiePie fansite", which was added in January after his videos were posted, the WSJ reports.
"He could be doing all this only to cause a stir things up and get free publicity," the Daily Stormer wrote. "Ultimately, it doesn't matter, since the effect is the same; it normalizes Nazism, and marginalises our enemies."