While Ben Shapiro needs no introduction, Nicholas J. Fuentes on the other hand—a 21-year-old far-right political commentator—is one that the general public is far from accustomed to. Only recently popped into the mainstream—thanks to the multiple infiltrations of his devoted followers at conservative events—Fuentes is someone who, among other things, has alluded to Holocaust denial in the past and called Jim Crow laws “no big deal”. But under the slogan of America First and thanks to his show, Fuentes still managed to cultivate and grow a substantial online following, a community mainly composed of young men who like to refer to themselves as ‘Groypers’ (named after Pepe’s fatter, smugger meme frog).
At each conservative event, under his command, the so-called ‘Groypers’ army’ seem to be willing to show up with very short notice and in increasing numbers. One after the other, their line of questioning during Q&As generally consists (at the end really) of strong disapproval towards immigration and a clear distaste for US relationship with Israel. The common goal: declaring war to neo-cons. So far, their favorite targets seem to be the likes of Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire team, but also Republican member Dan Crenshaw, TPUSA’s founder Charlie Kirk, and apparently, even the POTUS’s son, Jr, recently booed off stage during his book promotion tour by a Q&A-demanding set of noisy Groypers. One by one, Crenshaw, Kirk, Shapiro and everyone associated with neoliberalism have been challenged to a debate and accused of being fake conservatives by none other than Nick Fuentes himself. While in the case of Trump Jr, of ‘hurting’ his own father’s plans.
Plans, ironically, are something that Fuentes seems to fundamentally loathe. Schemers, is how he often calls mainstream conservative figures during his live streamings. “Trying to control their little worlds.” Anyone familiar with Christopher Nolan’s version of the Joker doesn’t need him to complete the reference. I just try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are! Behind the jokes and provocative rants, Fuentes’ somewhat sinister, less explicit agenda, like Heath Ledger’s Joker, seems to rest on an underlying hidden desire to disrupt rather than conserve. Aside from clear anti-Semitic and white-identitarian rhetoric, his hardcore conservatism and traditional Christian stance on social issues are fueled more by a desire to stir things up, than to restore America’s more conservative traditional history.
But the same doesn’t necessarily have to be said about all of his followers, nor for those who stand for some of the same things that he does. Yes, it is true that the Groypers’ tactics, at first glance, look a lot more like those of Antifa than the typical college conservative. But the comparison doesn’t withstand when it comes to their motivations. Some, sure, maybe most—but not all. Although it’s tempting to look at any one of them, the Groypers, and see only the desire to riot and cause widespread disruption in their eyes, one can’t help but think that somewhere beneath the surface, in-between chants of ‘America First’ and borderline-acceptable style of questioning; underneath all the hecklings and occasional smearings; lurks, somewhat of a desperate need for belonging.
It’s not a coincidence that memes and images of a depressed and meaning-seeking Joker have been populating the community’s Social Media feeds since the release of the movie (this time the one played by Joaquin Pheonix earlier this year), nor that during most his live-streamings and Q&As the movie’s soundtrack often plays in the background, occasionally combined with a Kanye West’s track from his latest Jesus is King album. Despite conservatives have been trying to interpret movies such as Joker as a warning against Antifa and moral relativism (while the left was going literally insane with ridiculous paranoias of Incel risings and ‘white-male validations’), it isn’t the destructive and nihilistic aspect of the infamous comic-book villain which resonated with young men, women, and many others around the world.
Reviewing Joker for Mediaite, Charlie Nash and Paul R. Ryan write: “it is about what happens when absurdity and suffering combine, and become too much to take… It’s about social alienation and societal abandonment. It is about broken families and a social fabric that’s been shredded beyond repair.” The hardcore conservatism of at least some of these young patriots can no doubt be connected to the decline of yes, national identity, but also religion, and a general sense of community. The need for meaning in a more and more increasingly materialistic world, populated with shallow celebrity gossip, elite’s snubbing, and superficial advertisement, can undoubtedly be seen at the roots at both Phillips’s movie and Kanye West’s recent controversial shift into a Christian direction. It shouldn’t, therefore, come as a surprise then when Fuentes’ fans enjoy seeing him celebrating each of their questions with a Joker dance, nor when he loudly closes its streaming with Kanye’s Follow God playing in the background. It resonates, with many of them.
But when it comes to Fuentes, the Joker‘s and the Dark Knight‘s references don’t end there, and that’s part of the problem. “Look at what I did to this movement with a few MAGA hats and a couple of Groypers. I took your little plan, and I turn into itself” reads one fan’s comment during the podcast, recited out loud in a celebratory tone by Fuentes himself (following Kirk’s long-coming meltdown at his event). “I prefer simple things like dynamite and gasoline”, adds the leader of America First. Again, to see a dangerous parallel between Fuentes’ goals and Heath Ledger’s more psychopathic, chaotic version of Joker (whether conscious or unconscious), one doesn’t have to major in psychoanalysis.
It seems to be, indeed, behind his wit and eloquent satirical tone that Nick Fuentes’ secret yearning resides, one (potentially) of chaos and destruction. The excitement and enthusiasm that builds up in his eyes at each ‘victory‘ by the Groypers hide a thirst for war. Personally, I don’t believe Fuentes is after anything specific. I believe (why not, since we’re at it) that he’s like a dog chasing a car… He just wouldn’t know what to do if he catches it! What would his version of Conservatism be if there wouldn’t be a Ben Shapiro, or a Charlie Kirk out there? It wouldn’t survive. Nick doesn’t want to kill them, he needs them.
Leave him alone in a dark room to be interrogated by Shapiro, and the transcript would probably look like this; Ben: “So why is it that you wanna kill me?” Nick: “Kill you? I don’t know want to kill you! What would I without you? Go back to ripping off lefties? No, no, no! You, complete, me.” (alright alright, enough with the Dark Knight‘s references already). Ben Shapiro might be right to evoke the horseshoe theory of politics when explaining how the alt-right and the far left need each other. But he’s wrong about what Nicholas Fuentes needs. It isn’t Antifa and the identity-politics left that keeps America First alive; it’s him, the Daily Wire, Turning Point USA, Crenshaw, Don Junior… Conservatism, Inc.
But to give the devil its due, and it must be done, Fuentes has a point, just like any villain always does. He and the Groypers, just like the rest of us, have grown accustomed to the absurdity of contemporary politics; used to news of people getting fired from their job for making a gay joke; to indecent public display of sexuality in front of kids; accustomed to see Christianity and traditional values demonized by mainstream culture, by their teachers, their peers, their fellow citizens… And so images such as those of kids being exposed to hyper-sexualized behavior during LGBT marches or Drag Queen story-time are still too fresh, too ‘normal’ to simply digest that an event that is supposed to promote Conservatism, like that hosted by TPUSA last week, is centered around how a gay man can be a conservative.
I urge the reader not to misunderstand my next point. Yes, of course, he can be. I, we, they, (everyone really except for Fuentes) has said it a hundred times: gay people should have all the rights a straight person enjoys, including that of identifying as a conservative. Dave Rubin has said it (could he have otherwise?), Shapiro has, Trump Jr has, and Charlie Kirk has not only said it—but stressed it, and that’s the point. When Rob Smith was introduced on stage—a black, homosexual war veteran recently turned conservative—one could basically hear the Groypers’ thoughts out loud. Oh for Christ’s sake, why can’t he just be an Iraq war veteran? The Groypers know that aren’t Smith’s values and achievements, nor his commitments that put him up there alongside Kirk talking about Conservatism, but the fact that he ticks a couple of ‘convenient’ group characteristics in the identity boxes.
That is how, in 2019, you get a twenty-ish years old man, walk up to the microphone and ask, literally, unapologetically (and quite frankly disrespectfully): “But, how does anal sex help us win the culture war?” Unapologetically, yes. That’s what brings me to my next point. Accustomed to seeing the modern left lie, smear, and expose itself over and over—America First’s young, arrogant self-described patriots, don’t think of progressives (nor liberals for that matter) as a worthy political foe anymore. They are, in their minds, defeated. And that’s why people from all sides of the debate should pay attention. The Overton window is substantially inching right. America First’s new and only-war-worth-fighting-for is not against progressives, but against those who—in their opinion—has allowed to give up territory and push the needle of acceptable discourse further and further left across the years. Unfortunately, this last claim, although somewhat ungrateful, is not completely unreasonable.
I think it is reasonable to say that the likes of Charlie Kirk and Dan Crenshaw have been for far too long preoccupied with posturing to the left, that they seem to have forgotten to fight for the soul of Conservatism, in order to preserve ‘the brand’. It seems to me that the war between the Groypers and figures like Ben Shapiro is also due to the younger generation tired of hearing what Conservatism is not, and wanting to know what it is. Organizations like Turning Point USA and Young America Foundation (who very recently fired Michelle Malkin for her support of Fuentes’ right to speak), contemporary personalities like Charlie Kirk and Dave Rubin, are all guilty of often reducing the philosophy of Conservatism to a set of slogans and talking points, with a sort of commercial low-resolution ideology that stood the test of time not because of its depth, but mainly because of its more extreme and often ridiculous counterparts.
“If cancel culture is real, you can be sure that a culture of the canceled is being created”, once said Jacob Russell, a Canadian friend. My impression, is that the rise of Fuentes and America First is undoubtedly due in part to political correctness and Silicon Valley censorship (as well as identitarianism and identity-politics), but also, to people like Kirk, Crenshaw, and yes, even Ben Shapiro. The Daily Wire might have taken young right-wing support for granted for a bit too long. Maybe facts don’t care about your feelings was enough four years ago, amid the emergence of mainstream left-wing narcissism. But what about now? Now that the censored, the demonized, the blamed, have grown into little adults, what’s their message? Let’s be honest, TPUSA’s events can be useful get-togethers, but not nearly enough to capture the true essence of Conservatism. Shapiro’s masterful habit of debunking left-wing theories can be fun, but it has become uninspiring—just like uninspired looks the audience at Ben’s latest speech at Boston University, in comparison to those for example, of a couple of years ago.
Classic rhetorical shticks of someone like Kirk, the Declaration of Independence, the greatest document ever written, the market place of ideas, are too empty, repetitive, and cold, to capture the attention and dedication of today’s emotional, meaning-hungry youth. And so they—the Groypers—have replaced them. Deemed racists over and over growing up, often for no reason in this beloved universe, too young and naive to draw a proper line and recognize true wisdom, they fell into the arms of someone like Fuentes—and some perhaps even Spencer. Jordan B. Peterson, is someone who spent the last three years filling that gap, providing a deeper, more meaningful philosophical grounding for young adults’ lives, by often addressing his adversaries and occasionally succeeding in turning them away from nihilism and a life dedicated to destructive ideologies.
But you can’t take care of every community, nor certainly reach any generation. The Internet is a big, and some might say infinite place. And so maybe now—now that Dr. Peterson himself seems to be the one in need of help—maybe it’s Ben’s time to do the job. Perhaps Shapiro (instead of ignoring) could address its most vicious critic, engage with him, ‘destroy him’, and expose Nick Fuentes to his whole audience for what he really is: a radical, white-identitarian. But perhaps, he could also abandon his ‘lawyer attitude’ for one day and try to reach America First’s audience. Maybe, he could step up to the mic and say something that finally resonates. Something deeper than facts don’t care about your feelings...—something that can reunite, and potentially, bring some of those young, disillusioned, alienated patriots—back to a reasonable, principled, American Conservatism.
“All the demons, let ‘em know
This a mission, not a show”
Kanye West, God is
by: Mark Granza