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'Dangerous,' 'Unprecedented': Why extremism experts are alarmed by Trump's dinner with Fuentes, Ye

Before last week, most Americans had never heard of Nick Fuentes, the white nationalist Holocaust denier who recently dined with former President Donald Trump and Kanye West, the Grammy-winning rapper-turned-outspoken antisemite, at Trump’s Florida estate.

Since his pre-Thanksgiving meal at Mar-a-Lago, however, the 24-year-old's name and laundry list of bigoted beliefs have been the subject of countless mainstream news articles, cable newssegments and late-nighttalk show monologues.

For extremism experts who study the far right and have been following Fuentes’s activities for years, the news of his meeting with Trump was particularly alarming, even in light of the former president’s own history of emboldening extremists. The meeting seemed to demonstrate the expanding influence of a white supremacist provocateur and his close proximity to people with enormous platforms.

"Fuentes is about as extreme as it gets, said Heidi Beirich, ​​co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. "Can you imagine if Bush had sat down to dinner with a Klansman? It's the same thing."

Beirich and other experts who spoke to Yahoo News described the dinner as “alarming,” “concerning,” “dangerous,” “unprecedented” and “mind-boggling.”

"This isn't just some conservative activist," said Kristen Doerer, managing editor of Right Wing Watch. "No, he's a white nationalist. He's a misogynist. He is pro-authoritarian. He's antisemitic. He's a Christian nationalist. The list goes on."

Who is Nick Fuentes?

Right Wing Watch, a project of the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way, which monitors and reports on the activities of far-right activists and organizations, has been closely following Fuentes's activities since late 2017, after he first emerged on the white nationalist scene at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Fuentes, then a 19-year-old freshman at Boston University, had been hired earlier that year by the pro-Trump Right Side Broadcasting media network to host a nightly political talk show called "America First," but the network cut ties with Fuentes after Unite the Right. That year Fuentes also dropped out of college, citing death threats stemming from his participation in the rally, one that devolved into violence that led to three deaths.

After that, Doerer said, he “became a white nationalist full time.”

After he was fired from Right Side Broadcasting, Fuentes took his "America First" show to YouTube, where it amassed a loyal following, until he was permanently suspended in 2020 for violating the site's hate-speech policy.

"Whereas so many of the other people who marched in Charlottesville completely lost any kind of touch on mainstream or even near mainstream recognition, Fuentes went from obscurity at Charlottesville to gaining a very, very big audience," said Michael Edison Hayden, a senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center who has covered Fuentes's activities.

In an interview with Yahoo News, Hayden described Fuentes's supporters, who call themselves "Groypers," as a collection of predominantly white young men and boys. "And when I say boys, I mean there are some high school students involved here."

"We're talking about people who identify as incels, also college reactionaries who go further and further to the right," he said. Hayden and others who spoke to Yahoo News noted that former associates who've defected from the America First movement in recent years have compared Fuentes's organization to a "cult."

What does he believe?

It is important to note that Fuentes does not describe himself as a white nationalist and has rejected the term in a number of interviews in the past. But experts who spoke to Yahoo News cautioned that he often tones down his rhetoric for more mainstream audiences as a way of appealing to new people.

But Fuentes makes his hateful views explicitly clear on his nightly livestreams, which he now broadcasts from his own independent livestreaming service that he created last year.

There he rails against pretty much every group of people other than heterosexual white men — though even they have been targets of his vitriol.

For example, in the last few months alone, Fuentes has said that "we need to go back to burning women alive more," expressed a desire to "impose Christian laws on everyone in the United States of America" and called for sending the military into Black neighborhoods because "they're never going to vote for us."

Fuentes also frequently invokes antisemitic tropes about supposed Jewish control of the media and government, and has denied that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

In one recent antisemitic rant, he blamed the "Jewish media" for the popularity of things like abortion, feminism and "being gay," and said the results of the midterm elections prove "why we need dictatorship."

“We need to take control of the media, take control of the government and force people to believe what we believe,” Fuentes said. “Or force them to play by our rules and reshape the society.”

He has also said that the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade shows why people "that don't serve Jesus Christ" should not be allowed to serve in government.

"It's overlapping a lot of different ideologies, but at the end of the day, it's a thirst for power and a thirst to see white men return to a level of power that they feel is being taken away from them," Doerer said of the America First world view. She also said that Fuentes has "discussed pretty blatantly his efforts to move the Overton window, the range of acceptable discourse, further to the right in the United States." (The Overton window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time.)

“His entire goal is to make the political discussion more extreme,” she said.

How has he influenced the Republican Party?

Even before his dinner with the de facto leader of the GOP, there was already some evidence to suggest that Fuentes has had an influence on the Republican Party.

For example, in the summer of 2019, Fuentes and his so-called groyper army began going after prominent conservatives who they deemed too mainstream, disrupting a number of campus events organized by the conservative student group Turning Point USA, including one featuring a speech by Donald Trump Jr. at UCLA.

Hayden pointed to this campaign as the moment when Fuentes and the America First movement really “emerges as a cultural force” and “something that you sort of have to pay attention to,” arguing that it effectively pressured people like Turning Point USA leader Charlie Kirk further to the right.

After that, Fuentes became a key player in the Stop the Steal movement, drawing increased law enforcement scrutiny — and suspensions from most mainstream social media platforms — for his activities on Jan. 6, 2021, where he helped rally pro-Trump crowds outside the U.S. Capitol.

At the same time, Fuentes and his movement continued to be embraced by prominent conservatives, including elected officials at the state and federal levels, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Az., both of whom spoke at Fuentes' America First Political Action Conference earlier this year.

Morgan Moon, an investigative researcher with Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said the fact that “elected officials at the highest levels of our government” would be associated with someone like Fuentes is indicative of a “shift in what's considered normal or acceptable in American society.”

Amid renewed scrutiny over her own relationship with Fuentes in the wake of the Trump dinner, Greene denounced the white supremacist last week while defending her participation in his conference.

Moon, who said she’s been tracking Fuentes’s activities at the Anti-Defamation League for the last three years, said that even in light of Fuentes’s ties to people like Greene and Gosar, she was still “shocked” to learn that he was at Mar-a-Lago last week.

"This is a well-known white supremacist. People who've been studying extremism for years know who Nicholas Fuentes is," she said. "To see him being friends or at least professional acquaintances with someone as influential as Kanye West, and then also sitting down with a former U.S. president. That is mind-boggling to me."

“In terms of the audience that has been [following] Fuentes for years or his fans, it gives his ideas and his beliefs legitimacy,” she said.

Moon and others also warned that beyond emboldening those who already share his views, Fuentes’s alliance with West — who’s now known as Ye — in particular allows him to spread his message even further and potentially draw new followers who might not have otherwise been familiar with him.

West “has a very devoted fan base, very devoted and, in no uncertain terms, he was at one point arguably the most famous musician in the United States,” said Hayden, calling West’s elevation of figures like Fuentes “extraordinarily dangerous.”

“It has the potential to radicalize a lot of people,” he said.

What have Trump and other Republican leaders said about the dinner?

Trump has since tried to distance himself from the controversial dinner by insisting that he had no idea who Fuentes was when he showed up uninvited to what Trump had expected to be a private dinner with West, whose own recent antisemitic statements had cost him several business deals in the weeks prior to the meeting.

“This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about,” Trump wrote in a statement posted to his social media platform, Truth Social, last week. He described the dinner as “quick and uneventful.”

Fuentes, who is reportedly advising West's 2024 presidential campaign, reportedly confirmed this account in an interview with NBC News. However, in posts to his Telegram channel, Fuentes has denied the claim — put forth by Milo Yiannopoulos, another far-right activist whom West has reportedly plucked from the fringes to advise his 2024 campaign — that the dinner was a setup designed to make Trump look bad.

“My intention was not to hurt Trump by attending the dinner, that is fake news,” Fuentes wrote in a post on Telegram Sunday. “I love Donald Trump.”

Trump may not have invited Fuentes to dinner, but more than a week later, the former president has made no effort to apologize for the meeting or disavow his hateful views. Trump has also been noticeably silent about recent statements made by West, who continued his antisemitic tirade last week with an hours-long appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones's show "InfoWars," where he praised Hitler and the Nazis, followed by a series of tweets from his recently instated Twitter account, including a Photoshopped image of a swastika inside a Star of David which ultimately got him temporarily suspended from the site.

Many Republican lawmakers were also initially hesitant to speak out against the dinner, though in recent days a growing number have issued statements condemning the views espoused by Trump's dinner guests.

"I think [this] shows how much our country has changed because of Trump," Beirich said. "This would be a career-ending move until Trump ran for office. He completely busted down what used to be a line in the sand on racism, antisemitism and hate in the mainstream."

Whether the dinner, or its fallout, will ultimately hurt Trump’s chances of another presidential term remains to be seen. But in the meantime, his silence on Fuentes already seems to be reverberating loudly among those who share his views.

Earlier this week, Right Wing Watch reported that another white nationalist member of the America First movement celebrated Trump's refusal to denounce Fuentes on his own livestream, declaring: "We have, in fact, infiltrated the mainstream flank of the GOP."