Amid all the verbose, consternated op-eds in fancy newspapers that certain writers have composed about left-wing cancel culture and nascent Stalinism growing among educated youth, nary a drop of ink has been spilled from their pens about a national constellation of College Republicans who have gone rogue — and fallen fast and hard into the arms of the far right.
Earlier this month, on March 12, the College Republicans chapter at Iowa State University announced it had voted to cut ties with the group’s national committee — citing the College Republican National Committee’s supposed desire to “liberalize and destroy the Republican Party from within” — and join a new group that now has chapters at ISU, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.
Operating under the innocuous-sounding name “College Republicans United,” the group claims endorsements by fringe white nationalist figures like Michelle Malkin and Lauren Witzke. In public newsletters, they fulminate against antifa; support Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged with killing two Black Lives Matter protesters; and rage against RINOs. They use the oft-touted Trumpist slogan “America First” as their own.
And they’re united with a youth movement that has gone to war against elements of the Republican Party that they perceive as being insufficiently bigoted — including haranguing Donald Trump Jr. off the stage during his book launch and incessantly trolling Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk during a campus tour. What’s more, the movement has allies in Congress — a symbol of the vanishing gap between the party’s extremist fringe and its mainstream power brokers.
In late February, members of the national "America First" movement gathered at the Hilton Orlando to jeer at disabled people, seek an end to immigration to the United States in toto and proclaim the necessity for preserving the “white demographic core” of America. The principal organizer was 22-year-old Nicholas Fuentes. Fuentes is an open anti-Semite, Holocaust denier, head of the “Groyper” movement and organizer of the America First Political Action Conference. AFPAC was held in parallel with CPAC, the lodestar conference for conservative organizing in the U.S.
Fuentes had proudly livestreamed outside the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot and lauded the actions of those who had broken into the building and terrorized Congress in his speech, though he denied entering the building himself. But Fuentes was preceded by a newsmaking keynote speaker: Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. Fuentes’ current pinned tweet is a photo of himself standing proudly beside the congressman at the conference.
Gosar indicated that he saw, in the young attendees flocking to Florida to hear the gospel of white paranoia, the future direction of the Republican Party
Gosar shared his words of wisdom touting the “America First” movement on the same stage where Fuentes would soon decry a “racial caste system in this country, with whites at the bottom.” Other speakers that night included former Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who had long held the dubious distinction of being the most openly white nationalist figure in the Republican conference. Gosar, with his choice of company and the legitimacy he lent them, seemed eager to gain the title in an increasingly crowded field.
When asked about his participation at AFPAC later, Gosar indicated that he saw, in the young attendees flocking to Florida to hear the gospel of white paranoia, the future direction of the Republican Party. “We thought about it, and we thought: There is a group of young people that are becoming part of the election process, and becoming a bigger force,” he told the Washington Post. “So why not take that energy and listen to what they’ve got to say?” With his participation, and eager legitimation, there was an element of prophecy in the statement.
Among the "America First" legion’s members, Gosar stands as a prime example of a rabid form of conservatism that seeks to assume both the traditional trappings of power and the gadfly’s power to irritate the system from without. His Twitter feed is emblematic of a certain type of Republican who views their primary business in the nation’s highest legislating body as that of provocation, rather than legislation. His tweets consist of shallow, dunk-tastic ripostes against “illegals” and Democrats; continual flogging of election conspiracy theories and a general retrenched Trumpism that raises the blowsy ex-president to godlike levels of acclaim; and engagement with viral conservative clips and particularly noxious culture warriors with podcasts and YouTube channels.
It’s evident that Gosar gleefully wears the mantle of provocateur, but he has gone further than most: fraternizing with the organizers of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot; denouncing the 2020 election as a “coup d’etat” on a fringe far-right website endorsed by Trump; and persistently promoting white nationalist-friendly figures like Michelle Malkin. A recent meme posted to his feed illustrated both the forced edginess and the crudity of Gosar’s political sentiments: It pictured a short-skirted sex worker leaning toward a man in a car with the window rolled town, saying, “$50 whatever you want baby [sic].” The man responds: “Can you tell everyone America First is inevitable.” Its lack of appropriate punctuation was supplemented by its message: This movement, with its paranoiac retrenchment and the rankest of bigotry, is the only destination for the GOP.
Among the "America First" legion’s members, Gosar stands as a prime example of a rabid form of conservatism that seeks to assume both the traditional trappings of power and the gadfly’s power to irritate the system from without.
It was always a curious, bone-twanging kind of fact that former President Donald Trump had chosen “America First” as one of his slogans, given the weight of the history of the words. The America First Committee, founded in 1940, was the most prominent isolationist pressure group in the United States urging against entry into World War II. Among its ranks were some of the most prominent anti-Semites of the day, including industrialist and virulent anti-Semite Henry Ford and aviator-cum-ideologue Charles Lindbergh, who blamed Jewish groups that “owned the press” for “agitating for war” against Hitler.
At the time, the “America First” sloganeers were condemned for Nazi sympathies. Its contemporary analogue pushes for a different kind of isolationism: a white isolationism, making the American state free of immigrants, minorities and Jews. It’s a message shorn of euphemism that appeals to young people who like their bigotry open, raw and agitating, like sand in the craw of establishment figures who like to gild their bigotry with politesse. Without the bloviating animation of Trump behind the slogan, those who continue to proclaim it shiver with reverberations, echoing history, proclaiming the need for white demographic supremacy.