After being mostly banished back to the darkest corners of the internet, the Alt-Right has once again reared its ugly head, this time under a new moniker and with a new target in their crosshairs: mainstream conservatives.
The year was 2017. The “Alt-Right,” the far-right, white supremacists who regularly trafficked Nazi memes and co-opted the popular “Pepe the Frog” cartoon as their official mascot, was riding a steady wave of increasing notoriety, mostly due to their heavy online presence and the movement’s most popular members—former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer, the white supremacist who coined the term “Alt-Right,” who were given glossy profiles in major publications such as The Atlantic and Bloomberg—acting as the group’s spokesmen.
The events of the “Unite the Right” rally brought a magnifying glass over the large group of tiki torch-wielding reactionaries shouting “Jews will not replace us!” President Trump’s declaration that there were good and bad people “on both sides”—one side hosting anti-racist protestors, the other waving Sonnenrad flags—was seen as a victory to the Alt-Right, proof in their eyes that Trump was secretly on their side.
A year later, however, the Alt-Right looked to have been systematically kneecapped. Members were arrested, some left the movement and others faded into varying levels of obscurity, most notably the aforementioned Yiannopoulos and Spencer.
Yiannopoulos’ fall from grace came as swiftly as his fame had arrived. The flamboyant provocateur and internet troll who once garnered millions of YouTube hits for his college campus speeches in which he mocked “political correctness” and “social justice warriors,” found his star and finances fading after controversial statements he made on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast led to a cancelled book deal and prominent right-wing figures distancing themselves from him.
Spencer has also seen his stock plummeting steadily since the peak of his notoriety in Nov. 2016, when he gave a speech at a conference in Washington, D.C. held by the Virginia-based white supremacist think tank and lobby group known as the National Policy Institute, of which Spencer has acted as the organization’s president since 2011.
At the end of his speech, which was given days after Trump’s election win, Spencer yelled “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” The cheers and applause generated by his rallying cry were followed by Nazi salutes from several audience members.
Since then, the descendant of wealthy cotton plantation owners who dons a Hitler Youth-inspired haircut seems a far cry of the dapper, self-described “white identitarian” that was given primetime appearances on ABC News and CNN. After spending the last two years being banned by a majority of European countries, getting turned into a meme after being punched in the face on camera and getting divorced in 2018, with his former wife accusing him of spousal abuse, a snippet of audio leaked on Nov. 3, 2019 brought more revulsion and ridicule.
The audio—leaked ironically by none other than Yiannopoulos in what many suspect to be a covert attempt at getting back in the spotlight—appears to be Spencer speaking to a group of followers shortly after the chaotic events at Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the death of counter-protestor Heather Heyer. Spencer can be heard ranting and screaming in anger, vowing to get back at the “kikes” and “octaroons” that dared to oppose the large gathering of neo-Nazis in the small college town.
With Spencer and Yiannopoulos’ moment in the sun coming to an end, a younger, edgier and wittier neo-Nazi has slowly begun to seize the role as the Alt-Right’s top dog in the mold of 22-year-old Nicholas J. Fuentes.
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Fuentes, a white supremacist who in the bio of his verified Twitter account describes himself as an “Afro-Latino” (due to his Mexican last name and on account of him taking a DNA test using 23andMe, which revealed that he was 1.3% Sub-Saharan African), has spent the past couple years building up his online following. Currently, Fuentes’ YouTube channel “America First with Nicholas J Fuentes” has over 65 thousand subscribers.
The result is a man who knows how to dog whistle racist talking points without being too explicit and plays things off as harmless trolling on the occasions that he messes up and lets his proverbial mask slip. With the average episode lasting nearly three hours, he’s similar to conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, ranting nonstop from beginning to end with seemingly endless stamina.
Fuentes is the spearhead of a new far-right uprising that has been engaged in a civil war of sorts with mainstream conservatives over the past month. Eschewing the “Alt-Right” label and instead now referring to themselves as “America First Patriots,” Fuentes’ followers have begun waging an all-out assault on the college campus-touring, billionaire-funded Republicans that they’ve collectively dubbed “Conservative Inc.”
Nicknaming themselves the “Groyper Army,” (borrowing the name “Groyper” from a meme featuring a larger, more smug-looking version of Pepe the Frog), Groypers have begun disrupting the speeches of conservatives such as Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Matt Walsh and Andrew Klavan from the right-wing news site The Daily Wire along with Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative political group Turning Point USA (TPUSA).
The issue that Groypers have with these conservative figures is that, according to Fuentes and his fans known as the “Nicker Nation” (say it three times fast and you’ll get the “joke”), is that people such as Kirk and Crenshaw are not “true” conservatives. In their eyes, conservatism doesn’t just mean low taxes and less business regulations, but a government-enforced suppression of minorities and the maintaining of a white majority in the United States.
The tactic that the Groypers have employed is a simple one: infiltrate conservative speaking events, make a beeline for the microphone during the Q&A sessions and put the “fake” conservatives on the spot with carefully crafted questions.
The questions revolve around common tropes within racist thought circles, such as conservatives who support America’s close relationship with Israel (which alludes to the belief of the “Jewish Conspiracy” among white nationalists), “fake” conservatives’ welcoming of LGBT people into the party (Groypers believe that members of the LGBT community have no place within conservatism) and right-wingers who support the immigration of non-whites into the U.S., as Groypers fear that white Americans will soon become a minority.
Videos of Groypers confronting their less extreme brethren have been widely shared on Twitter and YouTube. On both sites, accounts with Groyper/Pepe avatars have been revelling in the so-called “Groyper War” as their targets stammer and fidget onstage when confronted and say that Groypers are nothing more than racists and antisemites who long to establish a white ethno-state, only to get drowned out by a sea of boos and chants of “America First!”
Even Donald Trump Jr. became a casualty. On Nov. 11, during a speaking event he held with TPUSA alongside Kirk to promote his new book, once it was revealed that there would be no Q&A after Trump and Kirk’s onstage dialogue (no doubt an emergency plan implemented by TPUSA), irate Groypers blasted Trump by chanting “Q&A!”
On Nov. 7, aware that Groypers may attempt to hijack his speech at Stanford University, right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro, arguably the most popular member of “Conservative Inc.,” dedicated his entire monologue that night to distancing rank-and-file conservatives from the Alt-Right.
During his speech, the Daily Wire founder took it upon himself to address the talking points that members of the “America First” movement had pelted his fellow conservatives with prior to his Stanford appearance. Shapiro stated that conservatism is not a political ideology exclusively for whites and that conservatism itself doesn’t ultimately boil down to ensuring white self-preservation.
Afterwards, he took a few questions—none of which were posed by Groypers—and promptly left the venue.
Shapiro, by virtue of being both Jewish and a member of the establishment right, would have been the biggest feather in the Groyper’s caps to date had he not taken precautionary measures. He had been a favorite target of the Alt-Right’s original incarnation and after spending prior time going after Shapiro’s Daily Wire cohorts, they failed to embarrass one of their most hated counterparts.
The “Groyper War” has just begun. Only time will tell how successful the far-right will be in making their viewpoints a part of popular conservative discourse.