On January 6, 2021, White nationalist Nick Fuentes stood outside of the U.S. Capitol, addressing a crowd of thousands, as rioters streamed into the building. Hailing the “American people rising up and taking our country back,” Fuentes urged the crowd to “not leave this capitol until Donald Trump is inaugurated President.” They were there, he reminded them, to “put Donald Trump back in office…so that he can take every last illegal alien and throw them back over the border,” and so “we can finally free ourselves from the parasitic global special interests.” While Fuentes agitated outside, his movement’s blue “America First” flag was among those carried by insurrectionists into the Capitol, and one groyper sat in Vice President Mike Pence’s chair in the Senate chamber.
One year later, Fuentes may remain under federal scrutiny in ongoing Capitol insurrection investigations. However, while other far-right formations present that day, such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, have seen their national momentum falter, Fuentes’ America First/groyper movement—a largely online and anonymous network of Gen Z White nationalists and hard-right paleoconservatives that inherited the legacy of the 2016-17 Alt Right—has seen its profile continue to rise.
Fuentes and America First have attracted the support of national and local Republican officials, become a countercultural force among Gen Z conservative activists, and cast a long shadow over the MAGA Right, all while fortifying and expanding their organizational infrastructure. As a bevy of nationalist and populist figures jostle to claim the mantle of Trumpism, Fuentes seeks to secure a place for White nationalist concerns within the shifting consensus that defines movement conservatism. His momentum both accelerates and reflects the mainstreaming of White nationalism in U.S. politics, and highlights the challenges posed to existing “counter-extremism” strategies in the face of an increasingly normalized Far Right.
One month after the Capitol insurrection, U.S. Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) made a surprise appearance as the headline speaker at the groypers’ second annual America First Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida (AFPAC II). In a move that would become an opening salvo for the post-Trump era, Gosar addressed the crowd of White nationalists as “American patriots,” and repeated the groyper mantra, “America First is inevitable,” to raucous applause. In his own speech that evening, Fuentes laid out the movement’s guiding White nationalist principles around demographics and identity, warning against America losing its “White demographic core” and insisting that, “White people founded this country, this country wouldn’t exist without White people, and White people are done being bullied.”
Despite attempts to distance himself from the more explicitly racist comments made by Fuentes, Gosar was the only sitting elected official to accept the invitation to speak at AFPAC II. The next day, Gosar’s defense of attending the conference suggested that he considered the groypers a worthwhile constituency within a big-tent conservative coalition. “We thought: There is a group of young people that are becoming part of the election process, and becoming a bigger force,” Gosar told The Washington Post. “So why not take that energy and listen to what they’ve got to say?”
That summer, the Gosar campaign seemingly planned a campaign fundraiser alongside Fuentes, leading to significant national outcry, including from some conservatives. “America First does not mean Sieg Heil,” tweeted one evangelical radio host, “but Gosar is willfully aligning with those who act like they think it does.” Ultimately the event was not held, but Gosar dismissed calls to denounce the groyper leader, making a case for inclusion that would soon be echoed elsewhere on the post-Trump Right. “Not sure why anyone is freaking out,” he tweeted on June 28. “I’ll say this: there are millions of Gen Z, Y and X conservatives. They believe in America First. They will not agree 100% on every issue. No group does. We will not let the left dictate our strategy, alliances and efforts. Ignore the left.”
As the year progressed, Gosar doubled down. His social media accounts became enmeshed with the groyper ecosystem, adopting the aesthetics and buzzwords of the movement, and the broader online Far Right, in a steady stream of “edgy” memes and video montages (most notoriously an anime-style video in which an avatar of Gosar appeared to kill his House colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). He regularly retweeted Fuentes and other groyper leaders such as longtime White nationalist Vincent James Foxx, veteran of the Rise Above Movement, and when scores of groyper accounts were banned from Twitter in December 2021, Gosar took to Gab to personally welcome them to the platform.
But even more significant than Gosar’s embrace of Fuentes was the consistent lack of meaningful pushback from most other conservative leaders, signaling their tacit acceptance and normalization of White nationalists as an acceptable part of the conservative coalition. Gosar’s own reputation as a stalwart firebrand on the America First wing of the GOP lends his continued flanking of Fuentes further weight in a moment when his faction is setting the agenda of the post-Trump Right.
“Kicking and Streaming”
The GOP’s silence on Gosar’s increasingly public alliance with Fuentes and other members of the Far Right stands in sharp contrast to how the party handled leaders’ flirtation with White nationalism during much of the Trump presidency. In early 2019, for example, former Iowa Congressman Steve King (who also spoke at AFPAC II) was stripped of his committee assignments by fellow House Republicans after asking, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” But such tacit endorsements no longer appear as taboo.
The groyper movement has clear, long-term aspirations to influence, antagonize, and ultimately reshape the rightward flank of U.S. conservatism in its image, as Fuentes explained in a May 28, 2021 episode of his “America First” show:
My job, and the job of the groypers and America First, is to keep pushing further. We—because nobody else will—have to push the envelope. And we’re gonna get called names. We’re gonna get called racist, sexist, antisemitic, bigoted, whatever…and when the party is where we are two years later, we’re not gonna get the credit for the ideas that become popular…but that’s ok. That’s our job. We are the right-wing flank of the Republican Party, and if we didn’t exist, the Republican Party would be falling backwards all the time, constantly falling backwards, receding into the Center and the Left. So we have got to be on the Right, dragging these people kicking and stream—kicking and screaming into the future, into the right wing, into a truly reactionary party. And it’s incremental—we’re not gonna drag them all the way over—but if we can drag over the furthest part of the Right further to the Right, and we can drag the Center further to the Right, and we can drag the Left further to the Right, then we’re winning.
While many other White nationalists, in the final years of the Trump presidency, roundly rejected any strategy to intervene in mainstream politics, the groypers took the opposite tack. They wrapped their fixation on White demographics and identity in the flag and the cross, and pledged to wrest control of the MAGA movement away from establishment conservatives who, in their inflexible devotion to the nominally race-blind neoliberal consensus, had buried White identity politics and betrayed the true promise of Trump’s agenda.
The groypers struck their first blow against the conservative establishment in late 2019, when the movement made headlines with a series of provocative interventions at campus events sponsored by Turning Point USA, driving leaders like Charlie Kirk and Ben Shapiro to debate White nationalist views on immigration, demographics, White identity, opposition to U.S. support for Israel, and more. But even as this groyper rebellion made waves—drawing both media attention and condemnation from mainstream conservatives—it underscored a deeper obstacle: that in the lingering shadow of White nationalist violence at events like the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, anyone associated with the movement remained anathema to the establishment Right, and its ideas were denied a hearing in the conservative conversation.
The groypers found their opportunity to shift this dynamic in the waning days of the Trump presidency, and their actions set the stage for Gosar’s AFPAC II endorsement the following winter. After November 3, 2020, when Trump insisted the election had been stolen, Fuentes and the groypers quickly became front-line players in the emerging Stop the Steal coalition, taking to the streets at the Million MAGA March in Washington, D.C., and organizing protests at state capitols in Michigan, Georgia, and elsewhere alongside other leaders such as Alex Jones and Ali Alexander.
At a moment when some of the conservative establishment lent tepid support to Stop the Steal, Fuentes and the groypers were all in, presenting an energetic and youthful face at the protests, and bolstering their image as Trump’s loyal vanguard along the way. Highly publicized groyper chants such as “Destroy the GOP!,” designed to inflect Stop the Steal with an insurgent, anti-establishment tone for a conservative movement at a crossroads, made national headlines.
Their energy caught the attention of Gosar, too. The Congressman had been one of the earliest backers of Stop the Steal—at one rally, organizer Ali Alexander called Gosar the “spirit animal of this movement.” On December 9, Gosar tweeted, “Let’s keep our momentum” alongside a meme from a groyper account that photoshopped Fuentes, Gosar, and Trump into seeming battle formation, with a military helicopter overhead and a caption praising Fuentes for “mobiliz[ing] the country in the streets.”
In 2021, following Gosar’s appearance at AFPAC II, Fuentes continued to exploit opportunities to edge the groyper brand further into the conservative big tent. He rallied the America First banner under popular causes such as “Big Tech censorship” and opposition to COVID-19 public safety measures, and deepened relationships with prominent right-wing personalities like Alex Jones, gaining access to new audiences and influential networks across the far-right ecosystem. Fervent appeals to populist patriotism, hard-edged Christian nationalism, virulent anti-LGBTQ traditionalism, and conspiratorial anti-elitism all helped the groypers modulate their message in the register of the broader MAGA movement, without diluting their movement’s explicit White nationalist and antisemitic core.
In late April, Fuentes tweeted that he had been barred from boarding an aircraft on the way to headlining a Florida rally against “Big Tech Censorship” and placed on a federal no-fly list in retaliation for his participation in the January 6 Capitol insurrection—an assertion that remains unconfirmed. Over the next week, a bevy of MAGA media figures, including Mike Cernovich, Dinesh D’Souza, Daily Wire hosts Matt Walsh and Andrew Klavan, Lauren Chen, Michael Knowles, and others, along with contrarian journalist Glenn Greenwald, boosted the narrative on their shows and social media accounts, framing Fuentes as a victim of political persecution. “Maybe there is more common ground than previously thought possible,” Fuentes offered in a May 3 tweet thanking several figures for what would have once seemed their unlikely support. “We have to be imaginative in order to defeat powerful forces.”
Even while many of these figures stressed various disclaimers about how they disagreed with a number of Fuentes’ views, their sympathetic coverage was nonetheless a coup of its own. In a conservative discourse saturated with competing postures of martyrdom at the hands of Big Tech, the Biden administration, and other “regime” overlords, Fuentes eagerly branded himself as “the most censored man in the world” and the premier “civil rights icon” of the victimized Right. In the months that followed, leaders such as U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) continued to circulate calls to take Fuentes off the no-fly list. Fuentes’ Twitter ban in July elicited another chorus of conservative condemnation, with Dinesh D’Souza bemoaning that Fuentes “is now the Rosa Parks of the civil liberties struggle in America.”
This image continues to score Fuentes more political capital and publicity as the face of White nationalism in the post-Trump area. His first major interview on the MAGA punditry circuit in years, conducted by popular BlazeTV host Elijah Schaffer in early December 2021, hyped Fuentes as “the most banned person on the Internet…targeted not only by the tech companies but also by the federal justice system for no other reason than thought crimes.” The interview, in turn, was lauded by the groypers as a new milestone in their long march towards overtaking the mainstream. While notoriety eventually caught up with Richard Spencer, today this infamy may be Fuentes’ smoothest path in.
In December, hard-right Arizona state senator Wendy Rogers walked through the door Gosar had opened. “Thank you, Nick Fuentes. We love you,” Rogers tweeted after Fuentes called her “based.” She continued, “Because Nick Fuentes said I am BASED, I am now truly BASED. It is official.” Rogers had previously called for Fuentes’ removal from the no-fly list, given interviews to close Fuentes ally Lauren Witzke on the antisemitic outlet TruNews, and, one week before praising Fuentes online, sat down for an in-person interview with local groyper activists.
Celebrating the endorsement, Gosar remarked on Gab that Rogers is “certainly very based—some might say she’s even catching up to me! Keep up the great work, Wendy!” This call-and-response between Fuentes and the GOP’s hard-right flank, like so many others, shows his incrementalist strategy paying off in real time.
Changing the Culture
Meanwhile, Fuentes and the groypers continue to hold significant sway among Gen Z conservative leaders. On college campuses, multiple groups within state and national organizations like California College Republicans and Republicans United have close ties to the groyper movement (even self-identifying as groypers) and have hosted events featuring movement leaders. Other new far-right Gen-Z groups angling for conservative influence, like the American Populist Union, have consciously adopted Fuentes’ talking points and style, while shying away from hardline White nationalism and antisemitism, in a bid to ride the movement’s wave.
Departing from other White nationalist formations, the groypers eagerly highlight support from conservative leaders of color, such as former host of BlazeTV’s “The White House Brief” Jon Miller and MAGA rapper Bryson Gray (whose anti-Biden “Let’s Go Brandon” song went viral in late October), and welcome activists of color into the movement base, hoping to blunt charges of White nationalism. While much of the movement base remains anonymous, 2021 saw many groypers network publicly at conservative conferences, work within youth institutions like the Leadership Institute, organize America First camping retreats and “White Boy Summer” meetups, and circulate elsewhere as Fuentes’ ambassadors across Gen-Z conservative institutional and cultural life, lending the blue America First hat brand recognizability among many activists on the young Right.
In one notable example, at least two major influencers featured on Republican Hype House—a large political account on TikTok that commanded over 1.2 million followers and 51 million likes before it was banned in October 2021—were enthusiastic groypers who incorporated White nationalist themes into their video content, and promoted Fuentes and the movement regularly on their own accounts. In these ways and others, the groypers have become a countercultural presence, especially on the nationalist flank of the broader Gen Z Right, leaving their imprint on the culture—and with it, the politics—of a rising generation of conservative leaders.
While its internal growth and digital reach has been hobbled by steady deplatforming from most social media sites, payment processors, and streaming services, America First has built a team of staff and interns, professionalized its design and video production capacity, and acquired its own streaming platform, which now hosts almost two dozen other far-right streamers in addition to Fuentes. At a time when the rest of the White nationalist movement has mostly avoided large offline mobilizations (aside from tightly-scripted flash demonstrations and the occasional closed-door conference), Fuentes has repeatedly taken the groyper movement to the streets throughout 2021, holding public meetups and sometimes confrontational rallies across the country.
Groypers vs. Populism, Inc.
As conservatives deliberate their future in the post-Trump era, Fuentes aims to bring White nationalist ideas on immigration, demographics, and White identity further into the conversation. Circumventing his Twitter ban, Fuentes engaged in a rare public debate on December 5, 2021 with several young conservative leaders in a Twitter Spaces voice chat room. “You agree with me on certain things,” he told the group, “but you can’t say it.”
Among the group of leaders in the Twitter Space that night were National Review fellow Nate Hochman and American Moment President Saurabh Sharma, who were recently profiled in The New Republic as part of a wave of radical young intellectuals who want to take over the American Right; “populist culture warriors” who want “to see Republicans abandon their fealty to free-market dogmas, embrace traditional Christianity, and use the levers of state power to wage the culture war for keeps.” The chat room featured young people with connections to the Trump White House, the Claremont Institute, National Review magazine, the America First Policy Institute, American Moment, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and other outfits, who cast themselves as the true inheritors of the spirit of Trump’s “America First” revolution. Self-styled radical dissidents and hard-edged traditionalists, they also, like the groypers, admire paleoconservative forerunners like Pat Buchanan, and see themselves fighting a two-front war against a society ruled by degenerate elite liberal institutions on the one hand, and an out-of-touch, Reaganite conservative establishment on the other. But unlike Fuentes, they eschew explicit racial nationalism in favor of a broader nationalist and populist agenda.
The coalition they represent—which groypers derisively call “Populism, Inc.”— seeks to orient the post-Trump Right around some variant of economic and cultural nationalism. Admirers of firebrands like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, they often champion defense of “Western civilization” as an ostensibly non-racial set of transmissible cultural values and political traditions, and emphasize multiracial populism and the importance of base-building among conservative minority groups. “You’ve gotten a lot of kids based and we respect that for sure,” admitted one among the assembled group, speculating that Fuentes is “probably a better influence than Ben Shapiro on young men who might otherwise be [mainstream] conservatives.” Speakers criticized attempts to expel Fuentes from the bounds of conservative acceptability and concurred with his assessment that “there’s gonna be a decisive shift in right-wing politics, [and] the old guard is gonna have less and less power.”
Yet Fuentes insisted that his national-populist interlocutors suffered, much like the establishment, from “a limited…imagination of what’s gonna become possible in the next couple decades.” Prophesying “the ascendancy of real American reaction,” he insisted that, as Whites become a demographic minority in the U.S., “politics is becoming more racialized… not less,” and explicit White identitarianism will become more salient to conservative Whites, who form the bulk and natural base of the conservative movement. “Implicitly, MAGA was an expression of White identity,” Fuentes acknowledged. “Liberals got that right…it’s gradually becoming more and more explicit that conservatism is [about] conserving the texture and the character of White American society. That’s where the opposition to [critical race theory] comes from”—although CRT, Fuentes continued, was a deceptive acronym, “one of these weasel words to obfuscate” the root phenomenon of anti-White animus. (Another such acronym, he told the group in one of several antisemitic asides, was “‘Cultural Marxism’—try ‘Jewish intellectuals!’”)
Fuentes insisted that, in the ideological ferment of the post-Trump Right, conservatives seeking to ground their vision in a restorative ideal of tradition and heritage cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand with fantasies of what one interlocutor called “an encompassing American identity,” “transmissible Anglo-American culture,” or some other ostensibly race-neutral category, but must ultimately acknowledge the real elephant in the room: White identity politics. Attempting to redpill his interlocutors on the central tenets of White nationalism, Fuentes argued that “the White race is real,” and that race more broadly is an “essential part of a person”, a “biological fact…like a taxonomy.” Consequently, he continued, the Right must recognize the ongoing race war on traditional White America, and help Whites band together to advocate for their interests. Only by orienting itself explicitly (though not exclusively) as the party of disaffected White Americans, Fuentes insisted, could the GOP fortify its power base against the Left for decades to come.
Some responded by allowing that “maybe it would be ideal” if White identity politics was a viable central organizing principle on the Right, but that “even if we wanted to reverse the last 100 years of immigration…it’s just not plausible.” By the end of the call, however, others had conceded that Fuentes was “influential and…a lot of what he says is good,” dialing back their disagreement to one largely of style, not substance.
“It’s Time to Shift The Center Again”
The debate illustrated just how radically the playing field has shifted for the movement in the last two years. During the latter half of the Trump presidency, the task at hand for the groypers, as Fuentes explained to followers on an April 2019 members-only broadcast, had been to “break away” from the toxic Alt Right and “form a new periphery…get in there, introduce the talking points, infiltrate, start converting people, and build bridges… Bit by bit we start to break down these walls and we start to get back in…and then one day, we become the mainstream.”
Nearly three years later, White nationalism continues to move mainstream. On September 22, 2021, as the Biden administration began to forcibly deport thousands of Haitian immigrants at the Texas border—a choice widely condemned by progressives as a continuation of Trump-era immigration restrictions—Tucker Carlson introduced his audience of millions to the core terminology and principles of White nationalism, claiming that Biden was promoting “an unrelenting stream of immigration” to “change the racial mix of the country…in political terms, this policy is called the ‘Great Replacement’: the replacement of legacy Americans…to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly-arrived from the Third World.” It was far from the first time Carlson had used replacement rhetoric, but his deployment of the terms “Great Replacement” and “legacy Americans”—language lifted directly from the White nationalist canon—marked a new milestone.
The next day, groypers had even more reason to celebrate when Charlie Kirk, leader of the campus-based organization Turning Point USA and longtime groyper foe, said the quiet part even louder, calling on Texas to “deputize a citizen force [and] put them on the border,” and arguing that the arrival of Haitian immigrants was “about diminishing and decreasing White demographics in America.” This was a radical departure from the days of the late 2019 Groyper Wars, when Kirk responded to a groyper’s question about non-White immigration, changing demographics, and maintaining “our White European ideals” by calling “arguments like ‘how are we going to maintain our white status’” a “racist idea.”
Meanwhile, a broader politics of White reaction and rage continues to take root across conservatism. This takes form in deepening policies of minority voter suppression, pervasive moral panic over “critical race theory”—which commentators like Carlson and The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh increasingly call “anti-White” (to the delight of White nationalists)— revisionist histories of the Capitol insurrection (as well as the insurrection itself), the glorification of Kyle Rittenhouse, and more.
In this climate, Fuentes is strategically positioned on the cutting edge of the growing illiberal, ultranationalist currents that continue to shape the U.S. Right. His position as a confirmed outsider is more than ever a strategic asset in a broader conservative movement awash with self-styled outsiders, affording the groypers an unprecedented degree of call-and-response interaction with the MAGA Right.
As the conservative movement lurches further right, the ideas he represents dwell in proximate and dynamic tension with other, less explicitly racialist strands of populist nationalism also in ascendance. If the America First wing of the GOP continues to gain influence through the 2022 midterms, Fuentes’ early maneuvering could edge the groyper brand even further into the conservative big tent.
In an age where losing one’s Twitter account is seen on the Right as a badge of honor, and leaders like Fuentes are embracing ideologically-aligned alternative sites like Gab—where Fuentes has amassed nearly as many followers as he once had on Twitter—standard interventions like deplatforming, long effective at limiting the reach of radical Right movements, face fresh challenges. Similarly, the strategy of “naming and shaming” White nationalists within conservative institutions may offer diminishing returns, as the once-pervasive pressure to expel and quarantine White nationalist ideology gradually softens within a conservative movement that’s increasingly adding that ideology to its toolkit and opting not to purge, but to protect and expand, its ranks.
With the 2022 midterms on the horizon, the America First movement has launched a 501c4 political action nonprofit, and has pledged to endorse and run its own candidates for office. At least three groyper candidates—Maryland House of Delegates candidate Shekinah Hollingsworth, West Virginia Congressional candidate Michael Sisco, and California Congressional candidate Nick Taurus—have already launched electoral campaigns. Whether or not Fuentes and his followers are able to deepen their inroads into the big-tent GOP coalition, the ideas they carry with them have already arrived.
Conservatives “need to take the Trump legacy and build on top of it,” Fuentes told followers on the May 2021 episode of America First quoted above, adding that “2020 showed us that 2016 was not nearly enough.” The conservative attitude going forward, he continued, should be that:
We have to go further, we have to go harder, we have to be more radical, more revolutionary…at an accelerating pace, never stopping, never relenting, never moderating…Donald Trump was the beginning, was a starting point, and the real way to carry on his legacy….[is] to take the baton and carry it through to its logical conclusions…We love Trump, but he was a first step. We’re the next step….For a long time, people were afraid of going further to the Right, they didn’t wanna be thought of as the furthest to the Right. I wanna be the furthest to the Right! I wanna be the furthest Right reactionary and drag everybody over.
Donald Trump had shifted the Center before, Fuentes continued, but this was a new era. “So it’s time to shift the Center again.”