A white nationalist, antisemitic rapper, and former president walk into a golf resort…
Where have we heard this one before?
Edited by Sam Thielman
FORMER AND ASPIRING president Donald Trump sat for dinner at Mar-a-Lago across the table from an indisputably racist and antisemitic social media personality: Nicholas Fuentes. Axios has published quotes from sources who said Trump was “really taken” with Fuentes, and so Trump has insisted he didn’t know who he was, the same way he didn’t know who David Duke was in 2016. (Trump has still not actually condemned Fuentes.)
Trump’s primary dinner guest was meant to be antisemitic rapper Kanye West, who, according to Trump, had come to solicit business and political advice, which doesn’t seem much better. West brought guests, including Fuentes. It’s not terribly surprising that West has welcomed into his dead-on-arrival presidential campaign a small cast of far-right internet clowns who hope to line their pockets and turn the rapper’s hate toward Jews into controversy (and resulting faux relevance) for themselves; Fuentes is among that bunch.
News of the dinner immediately drew outrage and intrigue from the press. We’ll get to that later.
Eventually, Trump addressed the matter on his Truth Social platform. In a very normal post that was not weird at all, which he shared between “retruthed” QAnon memes about himself, Trump assured his followers that West “expressed no anti-Semitism” at their dinner. He also said he “didn’t know” who Fuentes was.
I actually believe Trump on this one. The former game show host survives on a media diet that is almost exclusively Fox News and perhaps a little Newsmax and OANN, interrupted by whatever else his advisers tell him about. Trump also doesn’t use technology like a normal person does. (And to be fair, if I was worth billions of dollars I wouldn’t either.) He is not aimlessly browsing the web like the rest of us and as such would have very few chances to come across Fuentes, who built his cult following of immature men almost entirely online. Trump also displays a lack of interest in his fans, speaking condescendingly of them and occasionally dispensing rhetorical pats on the head. What matters most to Trump is that his followers are loyal and adoring, and that is often as far as it goes. In his Truth Social post about the dinner, he concedes as much:
“…I appreciated all of the nice things [Kanye West] said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson.’ Why wouldn’t I agree to meet?”
I say this not to apologize for the most openly bigoted president in my lifetime, but to honestly acknowledge that this is one of those rare situations where I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He doesn’t care enough to know who Nick Fuentes is.
What was surely a once-in-a-lifetime dream for Fuentes quickly became an embarrassment to the president he loves. A Trump adviser told NBC News the dinner had produced a “fucking nightmare” for the former president’s team. What should have been a peak moment for Fuentes was instead a humiliation that will follow him forever: The man he worships, whose fans Fuentes claims to better represent than mainstream GOP pundits, was trying to distance himself from him.
By Friday night, Fuentes had returned home to Berwyn, Illinois. He fired up his podcasting equipment and made an announcement: His show was taking an indefinite hiatus. Fuentes expressed some regret that he had caused an issue for Trump and said he didn’t think Trump really knew that he was who he is.
On the same broadcast he teased nonspecific other things his fans might hear about in the coming “days and weeks.” It’s unclear what he meant, but a blog owned by right-wing personality Tim Pool suggested that Fuentes may soon be the communications director for West’s presidential campaign. Though West’s effort is destined to fail, it would be Fuentes’ biggest intrusion into the mainstream so far.
The only reason someone like Fuentes or Fairbanks or Milo Yiannopoulos (remember him?) would attach themselves to West’s campaign is that they see it as a personally profitable way to shift the boundaries on public conversation further to the right. Some call this moving the “Overton window.” I hope reporters realize the mistake it would be to reward them with coverage. Let them thrash in obscurity.
I am so jaded these days that I can’t feign surprise that a hate-movement podcaster dined with and impressed the former president, even if that is, as reporter Will Sommer put it, uniquely bad. The ascent of far-right politics—not just in the US but broadly across the world—is unfortunately extremely important. But the most widely consumed political media coverage hasn’t become much better at handling it than they were six years ago. (Unlike the beat reporters who are still mostly crushing it.)
Fuentes is not someone who has “denounced Jews,” as The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman put it. He is someone who just last month told Jews to “get the fuck out of America” because they “serve Satan.” Fuentes once called far-right pundit Matt Walsh a “race traitor” after Walsh insulted a white supremacist mass shooter, and faulted Walsh for working at The Daily Wire. (Ben Shapiro, who is Jewish, leads The Daily Wire.) He has praised Adolf Hitler. He attended the deadly Unite the Right white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville in 2017. There’a whole SPLC extremist profile of Fuentes, for goodness sake.
The Chicagoland racist and hate movements like the one he leads did not rise in “closed social media groups outside of media glare,” as CBS News’ Robert Costa stated. Though Fuentes and his peers in hate movements have occasionally been de-platformed and broadly stigmatized, they rose to notoriety on mainstream communications platforms (for Fuentes, that was Twitter and YouTube). Even on alternative platforms, many of their posts are available to anyone willing to look. There is a certain amount of churn in hate movements that does, in fact, exist in closed chats, but Fuentes is a poor example of that. An important part of the problem is that people who work for traditional media see traditional media as primary and anyone who attracts a following outside traditional media as marginal, no matter how huge the following happens to be.
Fuentes represents a kind of popular hate that is alarmingly close to mainstream conservatism. He also represents the indifference of Republicans to people involved in hate movements. Party leaders looked away as Fuentes got involved in the 2020 Stop the Steal movement, which resulted in the Capitol riot. Republican leadership accepted “whoopsies” from far-right members of Congress like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green and Paul Gosar, who have spoken at Fuentes’ events and continue to embrace him publicly. In some ways it only makes sense that Fuentes could continue failing upward all the way to the doors of the former president’s home at Mar-a-Lago.
What do these political leaders see in him? Maybe it’s that Fuentes is one of the few young right-wing influencers who can manage not to vomit on themselves when they speak publicly and off-script. Maybe they want a slice of the cult of young boys Fuentes has courted. Maybe they agree with him to varying degrees.
Whatever it is, it’s trouble. Even Trump recognizes that.
Some lists aren’t worth caring about. None are worth turning into content.
If you are on Twitter as much as I am, first off I would urge you not to be. But if you’re there anyway, you may have recently watched accounts you follow react to a list of about 5,000 accounts a Telegram user put together and said they hoped Elon Musk would ban.
I will not be linking to the mentioned list here. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself lucky and feel free to clock out for the rest of the newsletter today. If you do…
I’m on that list. I have been on many lists, including one that encouraged people to murder me. I have reported on such lists before and the dangers of them. This one is not one I remotely worry about and I’m disappointed to see people I otherwise respect turning its existence into self-serving content.
There were a few readily apparent issues.
First, the accounts included are too random to be the genuine “antifa” call-out it purports to be. The format and makeup of the list leads me to think whoever made it identified a Twitter account it considered peak “antifa” and pulled a list of who it follows. It is as sloppy as it is aimless.
Second, there is little evidence that the list was ever in the hands of someone who could be reasonably suspected of having any influence over Twitter’s new owner. The list was not circulating widely before it was shared on Twitter by one of its creators’ enemies. Musk is a moron, but I doubt he’s going to be blindly banning a list of “antifa” that includes Brittney Spears (and LibsofTiktok!).
Third, lists like these are categorically made to intimidate the people included in them. Entertaining it—expressing fear, especially—produces fodder for the nastier parts of the internet that hate anyone who might even be tangentially thought of as an “influencer.” That, unlike a list of 5,000 random accounts floating around small Telegram channels, can produce greater magnitudes of risk in the worst circumstances. These communities love nothing more than to dogpile targets when they think they’re down.
Bjørn Ihler had a good thread about this list that’s worth reading:
The best thing to do in this situation is to inform people who may be affected, privately. It’s not to chase retweets. Risk, real or, in this case, laughable, should not be made into content.