Any political movement must necessarily determine the bounds of what it finds acceptable. This is difficult and, as I’ve written here before, should be forgiving. Generally, political factions survive by being more, not less, inclusive. Movements are rightly wary of turning away voters in a system where the popular will decide who gets elected.
For the uninitiated, Groypers, led by YouTube personality Nicholas Fuentes, are a largely young, proudly nationalistic, culturally conservative wing of the “America First” crowd in the Republican Party.
That’s the mundane part.
Fuentes and the Groypers can reasonably be called “controversial” for many of their views. Their cultural opposition to immigration – especially for black and brown would-be immigrants – is fairly called xenophobic and racist. Their antisemitism – including Holocaust denial – is well documented (Fuentes claims he was making a joke. (Feel free to make up your own mind by watching the video.) Fuentes perverts his Catholic faith in the unsurprising tradition of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, whose “Catholic fascism” Fuentes has identified with. He has also – literally – said that Jim Crow segregation was “better for them…[and] better for us” where the “them”, of course, are African Americans, and the “us” are white folks. Countless well-known Twitter personalities have been bombarded with the Groypers’ effusive invective, often littered with racist, antisemitic, homophobic, and other prejudicial language. He’s also pals with well-known white supremacist Richard Spencer, and has argued that he doesn’t identify as a white supremacist because the term is used primarily by liberals.
Groypers can be seen as a reaction to the what Fuentes and others see as weakness in the right-wing youth movement, particularly Turning Points USA (TPUSA) and their leader, Charlie Kirk. Much of their grievance is focused on “liberal” positions among Turning Points: support for immigration; tolerance for gay marriage; and other, mainstream ideas.
We shouldn’t mince words here. Groypers are the hateful, racist, antisemitic, lunatic fringe of the conservative coalition, who run the gamut of bad ideas from the modern-day Know-Nothing Party to the Cheeto-dusted incel wing of your local parents’ basement. They’re a lazy amalgamation of neofascist ideas served over memes de rigueur.
The problem becomes how to confront them, and how to defend against the rebuttal that such an effort will simply be an attempt to silence them in bad faith from the “Conservative Inc.” mainstream that their movement is set against.
For starters, the adults in the room need to define what can, and cannot, rightly be called conservative. This should be an expansive definition. But it can’t be so expansive that it tolerates the proud prejudices of the Groyper movement.
A simple – and low – bar to entry should be the belief that all people are equally deserving of a place in the conservative movement – regardless of color or creed. By my reading, Fuentes and his followers – who root for an America that reflects a white ethnostate – are unlikely to clear this lowly standard.
Once defined, conservatives need to hold the line. There’s no reason to provide air-time, opinion space, podcast invitations, panel spots, or other avenues to expound on their message of hate.
Our movement has a powerful – if far from perfect – legacy of rejecting the hatred in our midst. In the 1960s, William F. Buckley, then editor of National Review and a conservative intellectual luminary, led an effort to push the John Birch Society out of the conservative movement on similar grounds. He was dismayed at their absurd, conspiratorial accusations about Communist infiltrations that ran up to the president himself. And he said so. Like Buckley did, conservative leaders need to call a spade a spade, and make clear that well-meaning conservatives will not permit the kind of hate Fuentes and his ilk represent.
Groups are often defined by the fringes that they’re willing to tolerate. Conservatives rightly critique the modern Democratic Party for its halting acceptance of socialism – a terrifying, ahistorical development. We must, therefore, disaffiliate with the worst elements among our movement. Fuentes and co. are indisputably among these elements, and should be given no oxygen within the umbrella that is conservatism.
Drew Holden is a public affairs consultant in Washington, D.C. and a former Republican congressional staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives