KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The white nationalist movement, tarnished in the aftermath of Charlottesville, is repackaging its bigotry through a new mainstreaming strategy that focuses on college campuses and Trump supporters, according to a report released Tuesday by a national watchdog organization.
Its first test case: a new group at Kansas State University launched by a student whose former organization was the subject of protests on campus.
Known as “Groyper,” the new marketing effort is an attempt by white nationalists to rebrand under a banner that will unite what it describes as “America First conservatives, Christians, anti-globalists and nationalists,” says the report, published by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
Leading the effort, the report says, are two activists who promoted and participated in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. The gathering ended with a white nationalist plowing his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one.
“This is an attempt to replace the old label of alt-right, which got pretty toxic after Charlottesville, and try to create new coalitions on university campuses and in and around the Trump orbit,” said Devin Burghart, executive director of the institute and co-author of the 64-page report, From Alt-Right to Groyper: White Nationalists Rebrand for 2020 and Beyond.
“Those are the two main targets of recruitment for them right now.”
The strategy will have its trial run, Burghart said, at K-State, where the formation of a new organization, America First Students, was announced last month. The first meeting was Jan. 28, according to its Twitter account.
America First Students is led by Jaden McNeil, a current student and former president of the K-State chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative youth activist network. That organization was the subject of protests on campus last year by the KSU Young Democrats, which said Turning Point USA was associated with hateful rhetoric and called for the group to be removed from campus.
K-State spokeswoman Michelle Geering said in an email that America First Students “is an independent student organization registered with K-State’s Center for Student Involvement.”
“Independent student organizations are not operated or controlled by the university,” she said.
McNeil did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. At the time of last year’s protest, he said he wished the two sides could come to an understanding.
“Instead of having a protest I wish they could come and discuss our differences because we have a lot more in common then they believe,” he said.
McNeil and other TPUSA officers resigned from the K-State chapter in October. McNeil said in an Oct. 31 tweet that he was parting ways with the organization because “TPUSA constantly cedes cultural ground to the Left.”
Now, the report says, McNeil has joined forces with Nick Fuentes and Pat Casey, whom the institute describes as white nationalists. Fuentes is a far-right YouTuber and podcaster, and Casey is head of the American Identity Movement, formerly known as Identity Evropa, a white nationalist organization known for distributing racist propaganda on college campuses in the past few years. Both Fuentes and Casey attended the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Fuentes and Casey announced the formation of America First Students at a “Groyper Leadership Summit” in Florida in December, praising McNeil’s efforts.
“Groyper” is the name of a far-right meme based on a cartoon toad — the latest mutation of the Pepe the Frog meme, a symbol used by Trump supporters and co-opted by white nationalists.
“From day one, the ‘Groypers’ have been as slippery as the toad for which they are named — an ever-changing effort to obfuscate their ideology and keep white nationalism germane inside MAGA world and the GOP,” said IREHR research director, Charles Tanner.
As part of their strategy to become more mainstream, the report says, the “Groypers” are holding an “America First Political Action Conference” in Washington, D.C., at the end of the month to coincide with the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Last month, Fuentes congratulated McNeil on the launch of America First Students at Kansas State.
“This project has amazing potential to rally American Nationalists and real conservatives on campus…,” Fuentes said in a tweet. “I am very excited to see what comes next for AFS this year!”
Fuentes and Casey could not be reached for comment Tuesday but have denied being white nationalists. The IREHR says evidence shows otherwise.
“They’ll say this is just liberals trying to taint them, that they’re just traditionalist conservatives who support Christian values,” Burghart said. “But all of the key leadership, the influencers, hold ideals that any rational person would categorize as white nationalist.
“Fuentes and Casey both represent this new generation of white nationalists. It’s a whole new ballgame. These aren’t millennials. This is white nationalism for the Zoomer generation.”
McNeil has described America First Students as “a campus conservative organization defined by our support for closed borders, traditional families, the American worker, and Christian values.”
He added that “Conservatism Inc. has brainwashed many students into believing that globalist policies — particularly free trade and mass immigration — constitute conservatism, when clearly they do not.” He said America First Students would advocate for “the broader goal of defending America against globalism, affirming the vision laid out by President Trump in his inaugural address.”
The organization plans to start chapters at other universities as well, according to its Twitter account.
“We’re going to focus on the Kansas State AFS chapter before branching out to other campuses,” it says.
And on Feb. 5 Fuentes tweeted: “I am exploring the possibility of an America First college tour this Spring. There are several events in the works already…”
Burghart said while it’s too soon to tell whether America First Students is a white nationalist organization, “they’re promoting an agenda aligned with white nationalism.”
“But given that they’re participating in the larger Groyper activity, it’s definitely a sign of concern.”