In late October, Turning Point USA (TPUSA) founder Charlie Kirk took the stage at Ohio State University prepared to “own the libs,” as he and other establishment conservative speakers had been doing profitably on college campuses for the last two years, offering to debate all comers among the university’s typically leftist student population. Sitting in front of a backdrop emblazoned with TPUSA’s marketing phrase for that season, “Culture War: Feat. Charlie Kirk,” Kirk was well-prepared to bat down any of the typical, feeble arguments for socialism, Medicare-for-all, identity politics, or climate change. On stage with him was Rob Smith, the personification of a rebuttal to any leftist identity politics argument: black, a veteran, proudly homosexual, and a recent convert from the left. Checkmate, leftists!
What Kirk and Smith fielded instead was a long line of young, hard-right conservatives who asked difficult questions about TPUSA’s version of conservatism. Here are a few of the best questions they asked:
“In the wake of the student debt crisis, stagnant wage growth across all fields—liberal arts, STEM—how is regurgitating this far-left talking point of stapling green cards to diplomas America First? How is this any different than chain migration funded by taxpayers through the [National Sciences Foundation], [Department of Education], [Department of Defense]?”
“Is there any point where conservatives should take a moral stance on Christian morality, or should we abandon it altogether…if we are conceding to the left transgender, gay rights, gay marriage?”
“How long do we have to wait until child drag shows are pushed as American traditional conservatism?”
“If the president were to enact a policy that would completely benefit the United States and her citizens, but to the detriment of Israel, would you support it, yes or no?”
“According to the U.S. Census Bureau population projections, in 2045 whites will account for less than 50 percent of the population of the United States. Given that the Democratic Party’s policies do not point toward the maintaining of our American ideals and given that most groups other than whites overwhelmingly vote Democrat, how can we be sure that said American ideals will be maintained when millions of immigrants come in with majority Democratic support? Can you prove that our white, European ideals can be maintained if the country’s majority is no longer made up of white, European descendants? If not, should we support mass illegal immigration?”
Kirk and his co-host Smith were flummoxed. Kirk dismissed the questions about immigration and demographics as racist, and he and Smith mocked those with questions about homosexuality and social conservativism, implying that one questioner was a closeted homosexual, and another a person who “doesn’t have a place in the conservative movement” because he was “so behind the times.” These events were broadcast live as they unfolded in Ohio, and then re-broadcast from somewhere in the suburbs of Chicago, where a 21-year-old man named Nicholas Fuentes watched the proceedings with thousands of his online followers, cackling gleefully as Kirk squirmed on stage.
Three years earlier, Fuentes had dropped out of Boston University to devote himself to running a YouTube show called “America First With Nicholas J. Fuentes,” with an audience of the so-called zoomer generation aged 25 years and younger. Fuentes identifies as a paleoconservative, and recommends his followers read his three favorite authors: Pat Buchanan, Paul Gottfried (the editor-in-chief of this magazine), and Sam Francis, especially Francis’s writings on race. Whatever you think of these authors or of Fuentes’ ideas, one must admit he is a natural for the medium of YouTube; he’s in turns charming, intelligent, and humorous, as well as crude, provocative, and irreverent.
In earlier interviews and speeches, Fuentes had described his generation as one that has been lectured constantly in public schools, by the media, and by their elders about ever-present racism, microaggressions, white privilege, and the inherent evil of masculinity. And they are sick of it. Hence, the resentment animating the zoomer phrase, “OK, Boomer.” Hence their packing theatres to see the breakout hit film, Joker, in which a disaffected man lashes out against society and inspires a rebellion against its gatekeepers. Out of this resentment emerged the “Groyper.”
“Groyper” is how the young men who lined up at Kirk’s event in Ohio style themselves, after a green cartoon frog that inhabits the same comic universe as “Pepe the Frog.” Pepe became a symbol for a rebellion against authority used variously by the middle-American rebels that Hillary Clinton disparaged as “deplorables” during the 2016 campaign, by the various forms of dissident right, by the Alt-Right ethno-nationalists who met their Waterloo at Charlottesville in 2017, and in 2019 by the protestors against Chinese authority in Hong Kong. While Pepe is usually depicted with a troubled, ambivalent expression, Groyper is smiling, his hands folded under his chin. His look suggests he’s going to say something that will make you uncomfortable, that will “trigger” you with the most outrageous statement possible. He’s a troll, because he’s sick of being told what is alright to say, and what’s not.
Fuentes and the Groypers see Kirk, TPUSA, and other so-called Conservative, Inc., organizations based out of Washington, D.C., as fake conservatives who have compromised the right by steering the post-Trump conservative movement leftward. They believe these groups have made compromises on a generous legal immigration policy favored by corporations trying to keep their labor costs down, and with Jewish donors who, the Groypers believe, are influencing U.S. foreign policy to support Israel in Middle East conflicts. Both policies make the lives and livelihoods of common Americans a secondary concern. These Beltway conservatives also sideline social issues in order to make more converts from the left.
Over the two weeks following the Ohio event, Fuentes remotely marshalled the Groyper’s campaign of difficult questions that hounded TPUSA’s events. Finally, the Conservative, Inc., smear machine kicked into gear, and establishment Twitter conservatives started sharing clips of Fuentes making impolitic comments, culled from hundreds of hours of video he has recorded since he started his YouTube show in high school. In these clips, Fuentes can be seen, in Groyper fashion, making jokes about the Holocaust and Jews, disparaging the Civil Rights movement, women’s suffrage, and de-segregation, as well as engaging with various Alt-Right ethno-nationalist figures. The ground thus laid, the big gun was deployed: The Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro denounced Fuentes and the Groypers as bigots and anti-Semites in a long speech at Stanford University.
Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin was one of the few who came to Fuentes’ defense after Shapiro’s speech, for which she was fired from her position with the Young America’s Federation (Pedro Gonzalez writes about this in more detail in “The Hijacking of Nationalist Conservativism” on page 18). “I was accused of promoting ‘Holocaust denialism’ and ‘white nationalism’ based on brief clips of Fuentes accumulated by anonymous sources culled from 500 of his hours-long shows,” Malkin said in a statement. “The rabid reaction Beltway elites are having to a kid in his basement exposes how desperate they are to protect the America Last racket.”
Fuentes says he’s not a white nationalist, though I admit it’s hard to tell in his mix of jokes and trolling exactly what he believes about race. I personally think there are more meaningful ways to think about division in the U.S. In my view, there is an American “ethnicity” made up of many races that share a common, truly conservative culture. This group is pitted against a globalist elite who despise America’s past and who want to fill the country with tractable immigrants who will not easily integrate into traditional America.
Still, I’m not childishly threatened by what I could imagine is in Fuentes’ heart about race, as other conservatives seem to be. I take the view expressed by Tom Piatak in his consideration of Sam Francis’s legacy on page 40 (“A Giant Beset by Pygmies”): “[T]he real threat to our country comes from our elites, and not from outsiders who sometimes embrace unpopular ideas."