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What happened when Jake Paul, YouTube’s most divisive star, decided to rescue Texas from Harvey

(Images from Twitter)

In a video to his 10 million YouTube subscribers Tuesday, Jake Paul laid out his plan: He was going to Houston to save it from Harvey. “I need your guys’ help. I need your power. I need your commitment. We have the chance to save thousands of lives and to show the world the power of social media.” The video was dramatically titled, “This might have to be my last vlog…”

“This is extra special to me,” he said in the video. “Because there could be Jake Paulers that are devastated by this.”

Paul and “Uncle Kade,” a member of his crew of aspiring social media influencers, stood in front of a white pickup truck loaded with gear and supplies for their 22-hour drive to Houston. Paul seemed amped, pacing and shouting interjections (“They’re dying!”) as he and Kade explained to their viewers that they wanted to help. They also wanted to let people know that their trip wasn’t about vlogging (that’s video blogging, for the olds among us), even though Paul is famous for vlogging daily about, essentially, having a massively successful vlog.

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The Houston trip was also about vlogging, however. It can’t be anything else for Paul, who has turned “It’s everyday bro” into his mantra. The “everyday” means that he vlogs every day of his life. If Paul was going to Houston, so were his cameras. As the excitement built, Paul told his fans, “We are gonna get them supplies, we are gonna save their lives, and we’re gonna flippin’ vlog it all at the same time!”

“We’re gonna flippin’ rise, and we’re gonna everyday-bro it, in their face,” Paul said at another point. It wasn’t clear whether he was talking about Harvey or his haters. Maybe it was both.

Paul, 20, became famous on the now-defunct social media platform Vine, and then even more famous on YouTube this year, propelled by the devotion of an army of young teens, the “Jake Paulers.”

Most people over the age of 15 probably had no idea who Paul was until this summer, when a local news station reported on the nightmare he was creating for his neighbors. Hordes of 12-year-olds waited outside his home every day for a glimpse of their favorite star; the stunts and pranks he engineered for his vlog were meant for a movie set, not a residential neighborhood. Paul lost his role on a Disney Channel show during the ensuing fallout — the company’s kid-friendly brand doesn’t like the burning of furniture.

Jake Paul doesn’t need Disney. YouTube already gives him an army.

Over the past few months, Paul has weaponized the drama that surrounds him. He and older brother Logan (also an extremely famous YouTuber) “fight” and reconcile endlessly in vlogs, pranks and dis tracks. Their fans don’t care whether the rivalry has all the authenticity of a reality-show competition. Each of those videos gets millions of views, sometimes tens of millions, on YouTube. The complaints of his neighbors became a major story arc for his vlog, complete with a fake-arrest prank. With Paul, everything becomes content.

Which is perhaps why Paul’s plan to go to Texas and help was met with skepticism by the YouTube community outside of his fan base. They believed that it would be well within Paul’s character to head into a natural disaster just for the vlog. Paul appeared dead-set on personally rescuing people from flooded houses in Houston, something he said he wanted to do, several times over the course of his announcement. Yes, the star had set up a GoFundMe page and was selling a Harvey-themed T-shirt with the intention of donating proceeds to Harvey victims. But literally saving lives, on camera, would make for better footage.

Paul was in Texas by Tuesday night, and he almost immediately made the news for causing chaos. The star planned to bring drinking water to people in Houston and wanted to show the world the power of the Jake Paulers by enlisting local fans to fill up two U-Haul trucks with donations. He gave out the address for a Walmart parking lot and said he personally would be there to help collect any donations his fans could get there. According to at least one local media report, more than a thousand fans — many young teens and their parents — showed up. Police told the San Antonio Express-News that it doesn’t appear that Paul had coordinated his plan with Walmart ahead of time.

In his vlog about the donation drive, Paul shows the view from inside the car the moment he arrives. Gleeful fans with cellphones out charge at his car as he honks and yells, “Stay back!”

“Guys, the meetup is out of control,” Paul said later, into the camera. “We’re trying to get people supplies, but no one is really cooperating.”

Naturally, a bunch of people in the crowd were also vlogging Paul’s arrival in San Antonio, and these videos show more of the chaos than what is visible in Paul’s own account. One dad, there with his kids, filmed a crowd of young teenagers running into a ditch to get closer to Paul’s car, some dropping their water donations as they ran toward the star. Another series of videos shows Paul standing on top of the truck, trying — and mostly failing — to get the screaming crowd of teenagers to calm down. He seems overwhelmed.

“You guys are acting like animals!” Paul shouted from the top of his car, speaking without a microphone or megaphone. “Everyone calm down. We’re not here for a meet-and-greet. We’re here to get supplies to the people in Hurricane Harvey. How are we going to help them if you guys are just bombarding and punching each other? We’re here to get supplies into a U-Haul truck.”

Yet another video from the crowd shows fans climbing on top of the water scooters hooked up to the trailer of Paul’s truck as he drove through the crowd. (The team rented the personal watercraft, Paul had explained in his vlog, to get around in Houston to help with rescue efforts.) The kids, some standing precariously on the trailer rig while the car was moving, posed for selfies.

Paul later described the donation drive as “really chaotic” but “super successful.” He’d accomplished his goal: two fan-filled U-Haul trucks, packed with supplies. They unloaded the water at a food bank, a process Paul documented for his vlog the next day.

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If Paul wants his trip to Houston to be taken as something more than vlog fodder, the obstacles to doing so are partially of his own making. When you live your life for the vlog, separating the vlog from the person becomes almost impossible. And Paul has turned his good deeds into social media weapons before. Earlier this month, he released a song about being the subject of unfavorable media coverage, in which he compares the onslaught of criticism to being lynched and berates the media for not covering the good things he says he has done.

“Where was y’all at when I was on the email, trying to stop depressed fans from killing themselves,” he sings. “Where was y’all at when I was in the kitchen whipping up meals for kids on Thanksgiving?”

“You think you know me,” he said. “But that ain’t on the news.”

By Wednesday, it appeared that Paul had fulfilled his original goal for the trip. Paul tweeted that he had made it to Houston and showed himself in an Instagram Story standing with local firefighters and police officers, whom he said he was working with. On another Instagram post overnight, he said he was involved in rescuing eight people from their homes.

“There are tons of people & tons of families & Jake Paulers who need our help & rescuing,” he wrote. “This makes me want to work all throughout the night to save people.”

His millions of fans will find out more in his next vlog.

Update: Said vlog published a few minutes after we first published our story. It’s embedded below:

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