This past year has been the most trying of George Takei’s life.
Nine months ago, a former model came forward to accuse the Star Trek actor and cultural icon of drugging and groping him in 1981. Takei, who adamantly refuted the allegation, saw his social-media empire crack under the weight of public backlash as several content publishers, including Mic, Slate, Upworthy, GOOD, and Futurism, broke ties with the Facebook maven. To make matters worse, due to his liberal activism, he became an online target of right-wing trolls—including none other than the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who, despite his father being accused of sexual harassment or assault by over a dozen women (including, at one point, his own mother), took it upon himself to set his Twitter army on Takei:
“It was a horror. A horror. A total nightmare,” Takei recalls to The Daily Beast.
In late May, the Observer of all places, a paper formerly owned by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, published an in-depth investigation into the sexual-assault allegation against Takei, with his accuser not only admitting to fudging several details, but ultimately walking back the drugging and assault claims. Takei shared the piece with his 2.8 million Twitter followers, along with a generous statement that he doesn’t bear his accuser “any ill will, and I wish him peace.”
“It was discredited, and we’re moving on,” he tells me. “Our time is limited.”
The 81-year-old entrepreneur’s latest endeavor is TraceMe, an app that allows celebrities to “have real conversations and share authentic moments with their super-fans.” Takei is one of several celebs to join the emerging social-media platform, which was founded by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Daily Beast spoke to Takei about his activism, social media and much more.
One of the things it says you’ll be offering your fans on TraceMe is “The Resistance.” I’m curious what that will consist of.
As you may or may not know, I’m a political animal. I’ve been active in the political arena, and certainly in this fraught arena we have now. So that will be what we mean by “Resistance”—that fake person that occupies that public housing on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Oh, I’m well aware.
For example, Jeff Sessions announced he’s forming a “Religious Liberty Task Force.” Now, we know his history. When he announced the zero-tolerance immigration policy, he justified it by quoting from the Bible, and now he’s talking about “religious liberty,” and you know who he’s targeting: the LGBT community and women who want to have control over their bodies. We know what he’s up to. He’s the attorney general but he really doesn’t know the Constitution too well, because the First Amendment talks about the separation of church and state, and there’s a clause called the “Establishment Clause” that prohibits the government from establishing religion, and it prohibits government from taking sides on religion, and it prohibits government from engaging in religious activities. He’s violating all of that. He has as his ally the Alliance Defending Freedom—a Christian lobbying group—so he’s favoring a religion, and by forming a “task force” he is establishing government participation in religion.
He likely also has another ally in Vice President Mike Pence, since this all seems eerily reminiscent of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that he signed into law as governor of Indiana.
We dealt with that there in Indiana, and he caved on it. These are issues that are very near and dear to me, so we’ll be engaging in that conversation. However, we want to put it all in perspective too. When you step back and put it in a larger context, this government is laughable, so we can joke about it, satirize it and mock it, and that’s the ha-ha portion of it—to have some fun with this administration.
I was going to ask how you’ve managed to keep your sense of humor intact under President Trump. There are indeed silly things that go on in this administration, but they’re also separating and imprisoning babies at the border.
That you can’t laugh about. That is deadly serious. I grew up incarcerated by this government, too. At five years old, I was categorized as an “enemy alien,” which was absolutely crazy. I was certainly not the enemy—I was a patriotic American, to the extent that a five-year-old could be patriotic—and I was not an “alien,” as I was born right here in Los Angeles. My mother was born in Sacramento, California, and my father was a San Franciscan. The craziness of war hysteria had the U.S. government doing crazy things like that, with no charges, no trial and no due process. I remember that morning when the soldiers came and, with their guns pointed at us, ordered us out of our home. I remember my mother weeping. I remember that. But this administration has reached a new low: they’re tearing children apart from their parents. In our case, our families remained intact.
I can’t even imagine what it must be like.
I have memories of my childhood internment, but as a five-year-old, as strange as it is to say, I had some fun. For a Southern California kid to be in the swamps of Arkansas was an adventure, because I had no understanding of what we were going through—certainly not my parents’ anguish of losing everything that they had built. Their bank accounts were frozen, my father’s business was taken, we lost our home, and then came imprisonment. So I had a different understanding of it, but with these children, it’s a very traumatic experience for them to be torn away. And then to be scattered all over the country? How evil, how cruel can you be? And then they’re so pathetically incompetent that they can’t reunite the children with their families.
Recently, an official at the Department of Health and Human Services testified before Congress that he’d warned members of the Trump administration that their family separation policy could traumatize the affected children and that his words fell on deaf ears.
In our case, the Naval Intelligence Office and other intelligence offices had made a report on the Japanese-American community, and they concluded that “the Japanese-Americans are a loyal community and there’s no possibility of treachery or sabotage,” and yet they went ahead with the internment. So I know what the government is capable of, and what’s happening with the children is not something to laugh at. However, one thing I learned from my father as a teenager is: resilience isn’t just bullet-biting, teeth-gritting strength, it’s also to find beauty in harsh circumstances.
How did your family manage to “find beauty in harsh circumstances?”
We were in the swamps, and these trees had roots that snaked in and out of the muck called cypress knees. My father cut one off and boiled it in an oil drum, and he brought it back to Los Angeles. It was in the living room of the house I grew up in. When he passed and I went to visit my mother, it was not in the living room. I said, “Mama, what happened?” and she said, “Oh, it reminds me too much of the camp,” so she put it in the garage. I said, “Mama, that was daddy’s symbol of resilience and his ability to find beauty under the harshest of circumstances. If you don’t want it, can I have it?” and she gave it to me. And it’s there in my library as a treasured piece. So resilience is also the ability to find beauty and also find joy. So not the tearing away of the children, but you can mock, laugh and satirize elements of this administration. You can have humor at the same time.
Does the youth of America give you hope? They seemed to reject Trump in very large numbers during the 2016 presidential election.
The young people are my inspiration—and particularly those Parkland students. I mean, they are amazing. The amount of eloquence and the initiative-taking to organize that March on Washington was remarkable. I’m sure they had some adult assistance, but they were really, fiercely determined to make their statement and be heard. They’re not our future, they’re our present. They’re already actively engaged in the issues of the time, and they’re the ones who are going to become the leaders of our society. So I’m very heartened by the youth. With TraceMe, we’re going to have vulnerable young people as well, so that’s why I think this format—this conversation sell—is the one that I’m most comfortable with, because horrible things have been inflicted on vulnerable teenagers, and TraceMe provides a place where we can talk about some positive things that will inspire them—like the Parkland youngsters.
You’ve managed to amass an incredible following on Facebook, but the platform had serious problems battling bots and fake news during the election and beyond. And Mark Zuckerberg recently had some troubling things to say about Holocaust deniers. How do you feel about the state of Facebook?
On Facebook that happens. But hopefully, with TraceMe, we can have an agreement as to the kinds of conversations that we’re going to have, and the kind of common subscription to ideals that we share. We don’t all have to be Democrats—I have great respect for a lot of Republicans. We might have nuanced differences, but we all believe in building a country, a nation, a government where we have the best in us become the leaders of our society, and contribute to making an equal and more just society.
Last year you pranked the online world with an April Fool’s Day video where you announced a congressional run against Trump boy Friday Devin Nunes. But would you ever consider running for office and maybe taking on Nunes?
No, I’m going to enjoy the life that I have lived—and still intend to live that life, but without all of the other demands that certain decisions make of you.