On Friday, July 22, Florida State Representative Anthony Sabatini introduced himself as a “Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon conservative” to a boisterous crowd assembled in a conference hall in Tampa for the launch event of American Virtue, the group for Gen Z right-wing nationalists that launched in 2021 as American Populist Union (APU). “I believe in you guys,” Sabatini professed. “This movement is gonna take over [the GOP] and make this country truly great again. It’s the people in this room, the conservative youth…who are truly going to save [the USA] from both parties, from the uniparty. So God bless the nationalist populist movement, God bless the United States, and God bless everybody in this room.”
From its beginnings, American Virtue has strained to distance itself from White nationalist Nick Fuentes and his Gen-Z America First/groyper movement. They have attempted this by toning down overtly racist, male supremacist, and antisemitic rhetoric in a bid for mainstream conservative respectability, even as they mimicked many aspects of groyper ideology and style. At the “State of the Movement” launch, however, multiple speakers and attendees held deep connections to the groypers. The event’s technical lead, Simon Dickerman, was a longtime White nationalist with close ties to alt-right figures such as Richard Spencer, Identity Evropa, and the 2017 Unite the Right rally, as well as to Fuentes and the groypers.
If the lineup at “State of the Movement” is predictive, American Virtue appears to be a venue for young White nationalists to curry favor with a new crop of MAGA-aligned political figures. As Nick Fuentes scrambles to remain relevant in the evolving MAGA landscape, some former groypers see American Virtue as a strategic bridge of sorts, helping them continue to reach for influence in the conservative movement.
“We are the mainstream, and they are the outliers”
“Our ultimate hope,” American Virtue Editor-In-Chief Vince Dao explained in a June 2022 Youtube video, “is that people will take the ideas that we give them and march them into the halls of power. So ultimately, we don’t want people to just sit there and engage in our online content all day, right? We want people to take over their precincts, we want people to run for office, we want people to march through the institutions, carrying our ideas as a torch.”
At the “State of the Movement” conference, American Virtue presented itself, as the groypers once presented themselves, as a more far-right alternative to the campus conservative group Turning Point USA (TPUSA), which held its own Student Action Summit down the street. Speakers channeled Dao’s call to action, and positioned themselves as insurgent, national-populist outsiders taking on those they deem to be Republicans In Name Only, or RINOs, in state, local and national races. Their goal, they explained, was to smash the moribund conservative establishment and return the Right to what they claim are its authentic traditionalist, nationalist principles and its grassroots base.
State Representative Sabatini, who is now running for a U.S. House seat, was joined by former Right Side Broadcasting Network host Mike Crispi, whose failed New Jersey Congressional campaign enlisted Roger Stone as campaign adviser earlier this year; Matt Heilman, a 21-year-old conservative running for a North Dakota House seat who Dao described in June as “one of us,” “part of our online network,” and “a friend”; and former Texas gubernatorial candidate Don Huffines, whose failed campaign drew fire after PRA revealed that a leading groyper activist, Jake Lloyd Colglazier, served on staff. Kathryn Joyce, writing at Salon, identified two additional Huffines staffers in the groyper orbit.
Speakers at “State of the Movement” cycled through a litany of far-right MAGA policy proposals, from an immigration moratorium, end to US military aid to Ukraine and cancellation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday. They deployed red-meat culture war broadsides against feminism and LGBTQ rights, Big Tech, and “woke hegemonic corporations,” and diatribes against RINOs, “communists,” and other named enemies.
“Be an activist,” urged Crispi, “get out there and spread that message…in order to save this country we need to elect—again from the local level all the way to Congress, Senate, President—America First, unapologetic people who are not going to capitulate one inch to the left.” Former Trump administration official Adam Korzeniewski told the crowd not to “sit on Twitter” but to “learn to doorknock…what we need is political soldiers, we need people with political intelligence. And you have to ask yourself: do you have your eyes on the prize?”
Huffines celebrated that “in the last few years, alternatives to establishment politics have become louder and louder,” and encouraged the crowd to accelerate that trend. Explaining that conservatives secured victories like the overturning of Roe v. Wade “primarily because of the grassroots,” Huffines charged the crowd to become “strong people, we need people of courage,” since “politics is a battle of wills…[get] involved in local committees, your local politics. In the Republican Party, be a precinct chairman. Politics is a marathon. It’s not a sprint.”
Multiple special guests at Friday’s summit have already taken that advice, positioned as institution-builders across the nationalist wing of the MAGA movement. These included Gavin Wax, president of New York Young Republicans Club, who remains notorious for platforming far-right figures such as Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes; and Mark Ivanyo and Aidan Kraus, staffers at Republicans for National Renewal and the Bull Moose Project respectively, two organizations formed in recent years, much like APU, to champion hardline America First candidates and values within the GOP.
Research by Arizona Right Wing Watch uncovered that American Virtue’s Chief Operating Officer CJ Trapeur, who delivered the opening prayer at Friday’s conference, has received nearly $2,000 in payment as a staffer and consultant for the far-right Blake Masters for Senate campaign in Arizona, and organizes with Students for Blake Masters. Even the Chief Operating Officer of TPUSA, Tyler Bowyer, was briefly listed as a special guest in early promotional materials for the event, multiple American Virtue figures have spoken at TPUSA events, and American Virtue leader Vince Dao served as a brand ambassador for the organization.
Taken together, many activists in the American Virtue orbit are embedded within institutions and campaigns spanning the rightward flank of the MAGA movement, working to pull the conservative establishment in an even more hardline nationalist direction. From the stage at American Virtue, Mike Crispi charged that “we are the new mainstream, and they [the old guard conservative establishment] are the outliers.” With Marjorie Taylor Greene declaring “we should be Christian nationalists” in an interview at TPUSA’s Student Action Summit down the street, and with American Virtue’s deepening connections across far-right MAGA institutions and electoral campaigns, Crispi’s triumphalism may prove only slightly premature.
“We need to be building bridges to power- not burning them”
The American Virtue summit comes at a low point for another Gen-Z nationalist group, Nick Fuentes’ White nationalist America First/groyper movement. Since its emergence in the latter years of the Trump presidency, the groyper movement aimed, like American Virtue, to “build bridges”, as Fuentes put it in 2019, and influence establishment conservatism, until “one day, we become the mainstream.” In 2021, Fuentes reiterated his goal for the groypers to drag the Republican Party “kicking and screaming into the future, into the right wing, into a truly reactionary party.” Today, however, Fuentes appears to be faltering in his goal to cultivate mainstream conservative acceptance, and multiple groypers are jumping ship, into the arms of American Virtue.
In recent months, Fuentes has faced public rejection from key movement leaders who have accused him, as the Southern Poverty Law Center reported, of fostering a cult-like atmosphere of abuse and control, mismanaging finances, artificially inflating viewership numbers, and more. “Everyone please say a prayer for those who are trapped in cults tonight,” Vince Dao remarked on Telegram on May 7, referencing the groypers. “Pray they will find the wisdom to see the truth and the courage to act on it.” One day earlier, former Fuentes sidekick Jaden McNeil had publicly disavowed Fuentes, explaining that “one of the reasons I left is because he claims it’s not a cult…[but] anyone that has any sort of clout, high profile character within this organization- you can’t really leave, you’re kind of stuck in it”. Congressman Paul Gosar and other standard bearers of the MAGA movement denounced the America First/groyper leader after national media reported that Fuentes praised Hitler and the groyper crowd chanted “Putin! Putin!” at the America First Political Action Conference III in February 2022.
Running tech at the American Virtue Summit was White nationalist Simon Dickerman, a one-time key Fuentes acolyte who publicly disavowed the groyper leader in May 2022. Prior to his role building critical movement infrastructure for the groypers, Dickerman played a number of roles across the alt-right. He worked with Richard Spencer, created promotional materials for the 2017 Unite the Right rally, marched with the White nationalist group Identity Evropa, and promoted the violent neo-Nazi accelerationist tract Siege by James Mason.
The day after “State of the Movement,” Dickerman tweeted that the gathering was the “best right-wing conference all year.” On a July 26 stream, Dickerman described himself as the “producer” and “creative lead” for the event, and claimed he provided much of his personal production equipment to help the American Virtue leaders, who recruited him for the role months earlier.
Carson Wolf, a member of Young Conservatives of Texas at Texas A&M University, was a prominent groyper leader before also distancing himself from Fuentes earlier this summer, and re-emerging as one of American Virtue’s “creators” and a “special guest” at “State of the Movement.” When Wolf was a groyper leader, he called Fuentes a “hero” and an “emperor,” proclaimed his “willing[ness] to die for [the groyper] cause,” railed against “white genocide,” and called on supporters to “make white babies.” These and many other pro-Fuentes posts appear to have been scrubbed from Wolf’s social media accounts. Wolf advertised “State of the Movement” as a “legendary event” held by “the people who will move America into the future,” and posed for a celebratory group photo on the stage.
American Virtue, for its part, likely changed its name (from American Populist Union) two weeks before the event in a bid to obscure its widespread association with the groypers in the media. At APU’s first conference, held outside last July’s TPUSA Student Action Summit, the rowdy Gen Z crowd erupted into chants of “Nick! Nick!” when Dao named Fuentes from the stage as a victim of political persecution. By April 2022, APU drew negative press attention for its plans to hold a rally on the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday on April 20, with national media reporting on APU’s close groyper ties. “Anyone who seriously thinks that the American Populist Union is a White Nationalist organization is entirely unaware of who we are and what we do,” APU insisted on Twitter after news broke of the scheduled April 20 rally. “Our purpose is to proliferate pro-Trump, pro-America First ideas. We are not Groypers, we’re not White Nationalists, and we’re not White Supremacists.” Congressman Paul Gosar, who had just denounced Fuentes, did not appear as scheduled at the April 20 event.
In the aftermath of American Virtue’s “State of the Movement” event on Friday, many groypers heaved bitter insults at the rival movement. “American Virtue is nothing more than Kosher and cucked [America First],” bemoaned one groyper on Telegram who claimed to have attended the event. “These people wouldn’t be here without NICK FUENTES. No exceptions.” Over the weekend, Fuentes called American Virtue a “dog shit, imitation, copycat conference” in a Twitter Spaces conversation. This infighting may help spur continued fragmentation within the Gen-Z nationalist Right, even as its core White Christian nationalist ideology continues to move mainstream in the conservative movement.
In other ways, however, American Virtue remains closely connected to the groypers in the Gen-Z far-right ecosystem. The emcee at “State of the Movement,” James Anderson White, is a lead organizer of 76Fest, a Gen-Z Christian nationalist camping retreat which one attendee last year favorably called “Hitler Youth, without the Hitler.” At White’s 76Fest retreats, groypers and American Virtue followers share common ground—at a September 2021 retreat for example, Dao gave a speech one afternoon, while groypers flew their movement’s blue America First flag from a Delaware highway overpass the next day. White, Wolf, and another “special guest”, Youtube streamer Red Eagle Politics (real name Jack Francis) all attended the America First Political Action Conference III earlier this year, another example of the continued overlap in ideology and membership between the two movements.
In March, prominent far-right Congressional candidate Joe Kent disavowed Fuentes, and faced groyper hecklers at campaign events in response. APU hosted a live Q&A with Kent on Youtube to discuss his disavowal, allowing groypers unprecedented direct access to grill the MAGA frontrunner. While Kent carefully avoided directly endorsing White nationalist views on race and demographics, he ended up agreeing, in the face of pointed questioning, that he doesn’t see “anything wrong with there being a white-people special interest group,” that racial demographics should remain at current levels, and that the policy needs of “legacy Americans whose ancestors fought in the American Revolution” should take precedence over those of “Chinese speaking anchor baby citizens,” as one questioner put it. Any differences between him and the groypers, it seemed, were differences of optics, not of substance.
Regardless, for former groypers like Wolf and Dickerman, American Virtue now seems the best vehicle to pull establishment conservatism closer towards hardline White Christian nationalism. “We need to be building bridges to power,” Dao explained in a June video, “not burning them for the sake of appearing based or contrarian or just wanting to be perpetually online all the time—no, we need to be building bridges to power. This is how you execute the long march.” Fuentes, by contrast, “doesn’t really want a mainstream political movement anymore,” Dickerman explained when he publicly broke with the groypers in May. “He wants a hardcore cult of followers.” With initiatives like American Virtue, the Gen-Z nationalist Right continues to evolve new tactics to take advantage of rightward shifts in the conservative movement, in order to move White Christian nationalism further mainstream.
While Fuentes’ unfiltered antisemitism, White nationalism, and incel-infused male supremacy has made him a liability for many conservative leaders, American Virtue continues to take a more circumspect route, flirting with groyper politics and aesthetics while carefully avoiding crossing red lines like antisemitism, positioning themselves within the bounds of mainstream conservative respectability. “We believe that America is a Christian nation,” proclaimed American Virtue Managing Director David Carlson during Friday’s conference, encapsulating the group’s militant Christian nationalism. “We believe that America has one culture, a shared identity, a shared heritage, and a shared tradition—and that people trying to supplant that tradition, trying to destroy what made us America, are fundamentally opposed to us in every single way, and they must be stopped.”
At times, however, the groyper energy shone through. Chants of “Christ is King!,” popularized by the groypers during Stop the Steal, resounded from the audience, and at one point, an audience member shouted Nick Fuentes’ name. During the evening’s closing keynote speech, American Virtue Editor-In-Chief Vince Dao lamented that hard-right streamer and close Fuentes ally John Doyle was unable to take the stage and joked, referring to himself, that “you got the cheap Vietnamese knockoff instead…this is literally the great replacement, guys, happening right in front of you. It’s so true!”
This isn’t the first time Dao strategically utilized his non-White identity to signal endorsement of the core themes of White nationalism. Last April, when an anonymous poster on Dao’s Telegram chat stated that “as a Hispanic, the left and the globalist[s] want white genocide in this country and in Europe,” Dao responded, “as an Asian, I concur.” David Carlson, too, has embraced White nationalist themes on his personal social media. In 2021 he tweeted “didndu [sic] nuffin,” an alt-right anti-black slur, and responded, “What was that Mr. Feinberg?,” to a Twitter user with the last name Feinberg, mobilizing antisemitism.
At Friday’s American Virtue summit, White drove the message home. “I hope you can learn from tonight, there is a way to channel our youthful energy and our fresh ideas into a serious and coordinated march into political power. So many people just want to pick one or the other, but truly we need both.”
Today, as Fuentes’ star continues to fall and his movement retreats further into insularity, groups like American Virtue hope to fill the void and inherit the momentum of the Gen-Z nationalist Right, which remains determined to shape the future of the conservative movement.