Far-right white nationalists rallying around 21-year-old YouTube personality Nicholas Fuentes are causing an uncomfortably visible rift in President Trump’s conservative base.
In the past several weeks, some of these young conservatives calling themselves “Groypers” have disrupted events such as a public appearance by Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas and a book signing at UCLA by Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. They heckled the president’s son off the stage.
The Groypers also are targeting groups such as Turning Point USA, a conservative youth movement headed by Trump ally Charlie Kirk, and the Young America’s Foundation for purportedly not being true conservatives on issues such as immigration.
Mr. Fuentes, whose “America First” show has about 70,000 subscribers, attended the deadly white nationalist rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has been accused of being a Holocaust denier. He rejects that charge.
“Charlie Kirk does not support a good faith discussion, he has done everything in his power to smear me, Michelle Malkin, and Trump supporters who dared to question his idea of conservatism at his own events,” Mr. Fuentes tweeted. “He embarrasses the MAGA movement, and he has lost the youth.”
Conservative activist Ben Shapiro, another one of the group’s targets, said it consists of anti-Semitic white nationalists who are hiding their motives beneath MAGA hats.
“Donald Trump has nothing to do with the so-called, self-proclaimed ‘America First’ asshats,” Mr. Shapiro said in a recent speech at Stanford University. “The alt-right is looking to disguise themselves specifically for purposes of publicity.”
He said they are lying to “suggest that mainstream conservatives are insufficiently committed to social conservatism.”
On a show in January, Mr. Fuentes compared the Nazis murdering Jewish people in ovens during the Holocaust to a cookie-baking operation led by the Cookie Monster, in which he smirkingly doubted that ovens operating 24 hours a day could bake 6 million cookies over a period of a few years. He later said he was engaging in satire and does not dispute that the Holocaust occurred.
Both Mr. Fuentes and Mr. Kirk declined requests for comment.
But Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union that hosts the annual CPAC conference in Washington, expressed concern about the rift tainting the conservative movement with accusations of intolerance.
“ACU wholeheartedly supports the actions of Young America’s Foundation, Turning Point USA and Ben Shapiro,” Mr. Schlapp said in a statement. “While the CPAC stage is an opportunity to debate the issues, there is no disagreement among conservatives on the vile and disgusting topics of white nationalism and Holocaust denial. There’s no place in our conservative movement for those interested in fomenting hate, mob violence or racist propaganda.”
Conservative podcaster Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire, a colleague of Mr. Shapiro, encountered some of Mr. Fuentes’ devotees when he spoke this month at the University of Kentucky.
“What I object to with that guy in particular is what I think is very clearly racial bigotry,” Mr. Knowles said of Mr. Fuentes. “And I object to racial bigotry because it is an affront against human dignity, and it’s a denial of the image of God.”
An unidentified supporter of Mr. Fuentes challenged Mr. Knowles, saying “Mr. Fuentes disavows racial hatred. He also has a lot of minority supporters, as we’ve seen at recent events. A lot of minority supporters have come out in favor of him. So I don’t think it’s really fair to characterize him as a racial bigot. And he’s also a devout Christian.”
At an event hosted by Turning Point USA earlier this month at Arizona State University in Tempe, Mr. Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, grew combative when a group of Groypers questioned him repeatedly about U.S. support for Israel.
“Do you support the most pro-Israel president we have ever had?” Mr. Crenshaw asked the young men. “It’s the only question you’ve asked here, about Israel. If the one thing you care about is Israel, then how does this make any sense?”
The lawmaker then turned to the rest of the audience to explain why the Groypers were heckling him with questions that suggested anti-Israel leanings.
“This is the alt-right 2.0, you see, because the alt-right was discredited,” Mr. Crenshaw said. “So what they do is, they try to cloak themselves in some sort of logical nationalism, some kind of MAGA-hat wearing ‘America First’-type rhetoric, which a lot of conservatives agree with. And then they use that to cloak their anti-Semitic leanings, and their racist leanings. And it’s pretty gross.”
Mr. Kirk said in a recent online post titled “Clearing the Air on the Right” that the tensions within the conservative base are ultimately good for the movement.
“The most interesting debates happening today in American political discourse are not between the Left and the Right, but rather within the Right,” Mr. Kirk wrote. “We should not shy away from our differences but embrace the dialogue in good faith and with the understanding that the best ideas and the best leaders will win, and the conservative movement will be better off as a result.”
He added, “But we must resist applying fake purity tests and threatening public excommunications of conservatives who differ on significant, but complex issues. Let’s persuade and convince our ideological allies and when we’re wrong, admit it and move on. This is how we conservatives will win together in 2020.”