A fringe group of far-right activists have been disrupting conservative and pro-Trump events in recent weeks, drawing rebukes from mainstream Republicans who are eager to separate the party from white nationalists and alt-right racists.
A small but vocal group of young men led by 21-year-old broadcaster Nicholas Fuentes received national attention this week after heckling Donald Trump Jr. at an event in California, where he was promoting his new book “Triggered.”
Fuentes and others on the far right have been publishing calendars of events held by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, conservative media stars Ben Shapiro and David Rubin and others, including Trump Jr. and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), in an effort to have their followers infiltrate and disrupt the events.
The alt-right activists view Kirk and Shapiro as insufficiently conservative on issues like immigration and claim to be carrying the mantle for President Trump. Members often show up at the events wearing red Make America Great Again hats and Fuentes’s show is called “America First” in a nod to the president’s popular slogan.
Shapiro, who is Jewish, and others have described the disruptions as an insidious effort to smuggle racist and anti-Semitic ideologies into the conservative mainstream.
At a speech at Stanford University this week, Shapiro lashed out at Fuentes, calling him a “garbage human being” whose views are “obviously white supremacist garbage.”
Shapiro did not call out Fuentes by name, as he and others are worried that fighting back will elevate the fringe group and give them more attention than they deserve.
But it was clear that Shapiro was directing his fire at Fuentes, whom he characterized as the leader of the next wave of the alt-right movement.
“Some call themselves ‘America First’ to hijack President Trump’s slogans to give themselves a patina of credibility … you’re seeing them adopt the beliefs of some of these other movements in order to find cover for their own vile belief system,” Shapiro said.
Fuentes’s followers are called “Groypers” and identify themselves with the image of a fat, green frog, who looks similar to the original alt-right “Pepe” character.
Fuentes’s YouTube show has been a factory for bigoted, anti-Semitic and racist content.
The 21-year old attended the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, and later posted on his Facebook page: “The ruthless transnational elite know a tidal wave of white identity is coming and know that once the word gets out they will not be able to stop us. The fire rises.”
Fuentes has lashed out at Rubin, the conservative YouTube star, who is Jewish and gay.
“You want to talk to Jewy Jewstein?,” Fuentes said. “I’m David Rubin and this is the gay Jewish show. Today we’ve got a Jew.”
And in another anti-Semitic segment, Fuentes questioned whether the Holocaust took place, while likening the burning bodies of Jews to cookies baking in an oven.
“The math doesn’t seem to add up there,” Fuentes said. “I don’t think you’d result in 6 million. Maybe 200 to 300 thousand cookies.”
In an interview with The Hill, Fuentes insisted that he is not racist, anti-Semitic or a white nationalist. Fuentes said he believes that the Holocaust did take place and that the “cookies” bit was said for shock value.
“I’ve never advocated for a white ethno-state,” Fuentes said. “Multiracialism is here and we have to live with it and [the question is] how will we do that?”
Fuentes said that in hindsight, he probably would not have gone to the Charlottesville rally if he had known it would be co-opted by David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and Richard Spencer, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi.
He said that some of his remarks are meant as outrage trolling to draw attention to his show or as over-the-top digs at political rivals aimed at getting under their skin.
“That’s kind of the whole thing,” he said. “We have figured out the game. The algorithm. We’ve hacked the conversation where if you say sensational things like we do, you get attention. I don’t want it to be like that. I wish I could ascend with ideas.”
To the surprise of some longtime conservative media figures, Fuentes’s cause has found an ally in Michelle Malkin, the former Fox News contributor. Malkin did not return a request for comment.
But for the most part, conservative media has been sounding the alarm about the need for the party to banish Fuentes and his followers.
“[Fuentes] and his followers are scum of the earth and their bad faith, anti-Semitic attacks should be shot down by the entire conservative movement,” Republican strategist Caleb Hull said on Twitter.
The Trump Jr. protests received media attention for what many viewed as a delicious irony — the president’s son being shouted down by right-wing protesters, although the story changed once it became clear that these were not mainstream conservatives.
Fuentes said that he has no issues with Trump Jr., but rather that he’s trying to get the president and his family to see Kirk as a conservative fraud.
There is some history here, as Kirk’s group Turning Point USA once fired one of its ambassadors for appearing in a picture with Fuentes. Fuentes himself was once loosely affiliated with the group before they banished him over his views.