To the extent that the ‘Groyper Wars’ have made any impression on the Australian Left, it’s probably through the viral footage of Donald Trump Jnr being silenced and driven off at the launch of his own book Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us. This occurred after a blast of hate not from the Left but form the Far Right, in the form of a group of angry young men who call themselves Groypers, after an obese toad said to pall around with the more famous Pepe.
To get up to speed on the Groypers, you can listen to a compilation of the greatest hits of their spokesperson, youtuber Nick Fuentes, put together by anti-Groypers from the conservative student movement Turning Point USA. You’ll hear Fuentes praising Jim Crow segregation, denying the Holocaust, denouncing his opponents for ‘working for Jews’, praising Mussolini, Franco and (implicitly) Hitler, and so on.
To understand why what might be called the neo alt-right has returned at a time when the original version seemed dead, we need to go back to Charlottesville and the infamous Unite the Right rally.
In Fascists Among Us, I argue that, in the English-speaking world, the War on Terror played a central role in enabling the fascist Right to break out of the isolation in which it had been stuck since 1945.
After 9/11, a freshly normalised Islamophobia provided a supplement to – and, in some cases, a replacement for – the antisemitism used by the Far Right to hold together its ragtag collection of ideas. Throughout the 2000s, the mainstream media regularly published diatribes attacking Muslims for their clothes, food, ideas, criminality, violence, etc, in precisely the manner fascists had traditionally railed against Jews.
Furthermore, the security scares and border policing characteristic of the period fostered a new nativism manifesting in outbreaks of racial populism.
The new acceptability of anti-immigrant racism – as right-wing populists staged marches, won seats and captured the media – created space for ideas once considered beyond the bounds of polite discourse.
While the real fascists benefitted from the general shift to the Right, they initially built their support more online than on the street. The internet suited them perfectly. It allowed the wide dissemination of fascist tracts that bookstores and libraries would not stock; it brought together potential recruits, overcoming the geography that tended to isolate supporters of the Far Right in country towns and the outskirts of big city; it allowed fascists to build cadre, with the structures of forums like Stormfront acting like the meetings of a traditional political organisation, in that they allowed the old hands to induct the new and the curious into the mysteries of National Socialism.
Besides, younger fascists quickly recognised the synergy between their ideas and the troll culture evolving on 4chan and similar sites. The channers weren’t necessarily political at first but the cruel, bullying humour they developed – with its obsession with transgressions and hierarchies (chads and betas, cucks and incels) – provided an obvious opening for a philosophy based on violently smashing social equality.
The insanity of Gamergate demonstrated the remarkable online reach of fascist ideas, before Breitbart.com showed that the newly christened alt-right could exert a genuine influence in presidential politics, with their memes helping a billionaire real estate developer run as an edgy and dangerous outsider.
Yet after victory, came hubris and then downfall, in the form of the Charlottesville rally.
Emboldened by the Trump presidency, American fascists sought to build a real-world movement, an effort that culminated in the Unite the Right rally.
In retrospect, the complete disaster Charlottesville represented for the Far Right looks clearer than it did at the time. Within a year, almost all the main organisations and individuals associated with the rally were in disarray, with several driven out of politics altogether.
The bitter strategic debate that ensued sent fragments of the Far Right heading in different directions. Some insisted on the need for more public demonstrations, even as the determination of the anti-fascist movement made that more difficult. Others sought to retreat in various ways, either moving back to a purely online orientation or seeking (like the remnants of the United Patriots Front in the Lads Society) their own real-world safe spaces.
As I argue in Fascists Among Us, the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre devised his own solution, a form of individual terrorism designed to appeal to the online milieu but also to inspire young fascists to step out into the real world, guns blazing: not so much to build a movement directly but to delineate genuine fascism – with its cult of redemptive violence – from mainstream racial populism and the parliamentary Right.
In its own, evil way, that approach has so far proved remarkably successful, with Christchurch inspiring attacks in Poway, California, in El Paso, Texas, in Baerum, Norway and in Halle, Germany.
Groyperism represents a quite different strategy, one that harks back to the original breakthrough of the alt-right.
Nick Fuentes attended Unite the Right alongside his then ally Richard Spencer. But afterwards Charlottesville, Fuentes retreated from street fascism to build up online support, as a podcaster, comedian and youtuber.
Under the slogan ‘America First’, he now orients to young conservatives disgruntled at Trump’s failure to fulfil the nativist, racist promises made to them back in 2016.
In a sense, Groyperism represents a revolution within the revolution. Just as the Breitbart version of Trumpism targeted mainstream Republicanism using racial populism, the Groypers now challenge Trumpism by deploying more-or-less overt white nationalism.
Over the last months, Fuentes’ supporters have been targeting conservative campus populists they judge insufficiently willing to adopt racial themes. That’s what has come to be called ‘the Groyper Wars’ – a campaign to disrupt events by Ben Shapiro, Jonah Goldberg, Charlie Kirk from Turning Point USA and others, led by young white nationalists aggrieved at the Trump administration’s devolution into what they call ‘Conservative Inc’.
A description of the Trump book launch by a self-declared Groyper gives a sense of the movement:
We arrived early and rehearsed our questions in case we were lucky enough not to be cucked by plants wearing backpacks to pathetically suggest that they had just sprinted from class (on a Sunday). While walking through the serene campus that was literally and figuratively above the urban squalor caused by its Marxist policies, we came across a lone man walking in the opposite direction. He had “the look”: clean-cut, good posture, and obviously lifts regularly. I wondered if he was just a generic frat bro or a fellow comrade. We asked him if he was a groyper, and got a yes. This was the first of dozens of cases of instantaneous and mutual recognition.
We walked past buildings of thoroughly European architecture in which thoroughly Jewish nonsense is now taught, passed by the Communist petting zoo containing a few lame protestors, and dutifully stood in line. Immediately, we had groyper friends. Time sped past as different bands of friends organically morphed into a single tribe. Anyone who says that America is a “proposition nation” is wrong. When real Americans meet together, they feel it in their blood.
As the passage suggests, Groyperism doesn’t disguise its racism or its old-style antisemitism. In that sense, it’s more overtly fascistic than the first incarnation of the alt-right. If you remember, when Breitbart courted the Gamergaters, it did so by positioning conservatives as openminded and uncensorious, prepared to welcome young men who just wanted to play vidya, whatever their creed or colour.
By contrast, most Groypers are militant Christian social conservatives, a quite different proposition.
The young man writing about the Trump event, for instance, celebrated the intervention as the day ‘the aristocrats of the soul, the natural aristocracy that the Founding Fathers envisioned as the proper leaders of this country, dominated through sheer will-to-power the pseudo-elites who presume to rule.’
At the same time, when the Groypers use that kind of rhetoric, they’re alert to how ridiculous it sounds. In many ways, that’s the point. Even more than the original alt-right, they’re ‘irony bros’: memesters, shitposters and trolls.
To put it another way, the Groypers have overcome the marginalisation that beset the fascist Right after Charlottesville by reinvigorating an internet culture that neither the media nor the more mainstream conservatives understand.
Consider another Groyper owning Charlie Kirk at a different event.
‘I have a a quick and fun, lighthearted question for you, Charlie,’ he starts by saying during question time. ‘So, you gave a speech in Jerusalem earlier this year? Were there any awesome fun dancing parties that you guys hit afterwards? Cause I heard that Israelis are some of the best dancers in the world. I mean, if you don’t believe me, Google ‘dancing Israelis,’ – it is insane how good their dancing is. Would you agree or disagree with that?’
‘Israel is a beautiful country,’ replies Kirk, clearly not understanding what is taking place. ‘A great country too.’
‘It is our greatest ally.’
‘Correct,’ says Kirk.
Anyone who follows the instructions to search on Google for ‘dancing Israelis’ will pull up several pages of anti-Jewish 9/11 memes. The idea is to coat Kirk in antisemitic smears on the basis of his relationship to Israel. Yet form matters as well as content. The confrontation between the Groyper and a so-called legitimate conservative leader reveals Kirk to be hapless and out of touch, a man incapable of even understanding when he’s being baited.
The rhetorical jujitsu works because the likes of Kirk and Shapiro built their own careers on precisely this basis – establishing their personas as young, right-wing firebrands challenging the Republican mainstream from the outside. The Groypers can weaponise question time against Conservative Inc because that’s what Conservative Inc does against the Left.
Trump Jnr called his book Triggered, after all, and so he looks like a hypocritical fool when he’s in turn triggered by conservative zoomers chanting for free speech.
So, as the Groypers systematically take on their conservative opponents across American campuses, they do so using the tools pioneered by those who came before them. Like the original alt-right, they weaponise identity politics back against the Left (by, in particular, asserting the legitimacy of a ‘white’ identity). At the same time, like the original alt-right, they capitalise on the almost universal hatred of leftist IDpol, proclaiming their enthusiasm for free speech and denouncing those attacking Fuentes for embracing ‘cancel culture’.
That’s why what might currently seem like a tempest in a teapot actually matters. The Groyper Wars won’t stop any time soon. Longtime conservative populist Michelle Malkin has now publicly thrown her lot in with the Groypers. Other big names on the right-wing talk circuit will be under pressure to follow, conscious of the radicalisation taking place amongst their base.
In the same way that Gamergate – ostensibly, a debate about ethics in the videogame industry – created some of the most successful propagandists for Trumpism, the Groyper Wars seems likely to spread throughout Republicanism, as more and more prominent figures find themselves confronted by a youthful cadre spouting the rhetoric of fascism.
The problem for the Groypers, however, is that fascism can’t simply remain at the level of rhetoric. It’s a program of action – or, more exactly, a program of violence – which means that its exponents must, eventually, move onto the streets, just as the alt-right did with Charlottesville.
At this stage, it’s hard to see how they could do that. You’d have to think that the most likely scenario is that a Groyper rally would be smashed by anti-fascists just as comprehensively as Unite the Right was.
That’s the most likely scenario – but it’s not the only one.
In any case, for the time being, what matters most is recognising the flux on the Far Right, evidence that the pressures responsible for the emergence of the last batch of fascists have not in any way abated.