Or: How the North American Groyper Movement Successfully Campaigned to Place White Nationalism at the Front-and-Center of Center-Right Politics
In 2017, the year after the election of President Donald J. Trump, an emerging voice of the American far-right began to court a new generation of white supremacists through his episodic livestream America First with Nicolas J. Fuentes. This eponymous host, then a freshman at Boston University, frequently used jokes and irony to spread far-right extremist views such as questioning the death toll of the Holocaust and advising a listener to slap his wife across the face for stepping out of line. It continues to be a hallmark of his (and his followers) far-right activist efforts to this day.
Followers of Fuentes’ livestream called themselves “Groypers.” (A “Groyper” is a meme of a toad that resembles the 4-chan frog meme Pepe. Over the past few years, Pepe has been co-opted by the white nationalists and reactionaries of the so-called “alt-right.”) In late 2019, Fuentes and Patrick Casey of the American Identity Movement (formerly Identity Evropa) organized these followers to launch the so-called “Groyper Wars.” Their ultimate goal was to force Trump supporters and/or conservatives to embrace white nationalism, beginning with causing conflict between reactionary conservative groups (e.g., Turning Point USA) and the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement. They seek to achieve this goal through “entryism”, or moderating one’s appearance and expressed values to gain acceptance in a more mainstream organization, and continue to make misogynistic, racist, and homophobic “jokes” to mask their true intentions.
Currently, the Groyper movement has come closer than ever to widespread acceptance among members of the United States (U.S.) conservative political establishment. Fuentes had been involved in organizing the January 6th Insurrection. In the weeks leading up to this incident, he encouraged his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol, spreading the Big Lie that Trump was the real “winner” of the 2020 election. Although he did not enter the building himself, he wore a VIP badge to Trump’s speech that day and conversed with Groypers outside of the Capitol. In November of last year, he gained notoriety for his dinner with former U.S. President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago residence. (Trump has formally declared his intention to run for president in 2024 and, as of March 2023, is the presumptive Republican nominee.)
Outside the U.S., the Groyper Army’s Canadian Chapter, Canada First, emerged. This foreign branch of the movement mirrored the goals and tactics of its American counterpart, but this chapter has since been disbanded. Its leader, Tyler Russell, had, like Nick Fuentes, begun live-streaming far-right extremist ideas (his show was entitled the “Russell Report”) as a prelude to his formation of an official group. On Canada Day, he announced his formal plans on Parliament Hill in Ottawa at the 2020 “Freedom Rally” (a gathering of hundreds of far-right activists to denounce perceived threats such as Marxism and globalism. Clad in a blue cap with the inscription “Make Canada Great Again”, Russell claimed that Canadian white nationalist Faith Goldy and Nick Fuentes were his inspirations for this new movement and spent the following months mirroring the latter’s actions.
Like Fuentes, Russell and his supporters frequently used “ironic” humor to spread his white nationalist ideas among his audience and “entryism” to build power within the political center-right in his home country. For example, in April 2021, Russell named his hockey fantasy league team “Minneapolis Fentanyl Addicts”, just as he displayed George Floyd’s (an African American man who died by a police officer in May 2020 inspired widespread U.S. protests against police brutality) likeness as the team icon on the Canada First Discord server. These posts coincided with the trial of Derek Chauvin, one of the officers on trial for killing Floyd. Such “jokes” are one of many instances of cloaking racist conspiracy theories (in this case, claiming that a Black man’s cause of death was a drug overdose despite video evidence suggesting that a lack of oxygen to the brain was a much more likely candidate) in supposedly harmless memes.
Russell’s branch of America First aimed to make inroads with his country’s main center-right party, the Conservatives, instructing Discord users to refrain from publicly posting sonnenrads (an ancient European symbol that Nazis have appropriated to evoke “Nordic” and/or “Aryan” heritage) and swastikas to downplay their white supremacist ideology. They had, however, forged connections with political officials and prominent members of the Canadian far-right People’s Party. He appeared on Chad Lattanzio’s, a People’s Party supporter and Instagram influencer, podcast and has been pictured with Maxime Bernier, the Party leader. Moreover, Russell has explicitly praised Daniel Tyrie, the People’s Party’s executive director, who has in turn shared content from Canada First on his Twitter page. These minor successes demonstrate that some Canadian political officials (albeit those on the far-right fringes with no seats in Parliament) are receptive to some of this group’s beliefs.
Although Russell has presently failed to launch an enduring Canada First movement and has, as of June 2022, relocated to the U.S., other developing right-wing extremist groups can potentially mimic his and Fuentes’ politics to become influential members of the Conservative Party. Moreover, since the election of Pierre Poilievre as Party leader in September 2022, the Canadian center-right may be more receptive to such groups’ overtures. Back in 2018, Poilievre’s YouTube videos contained the tag “men going their own way” (“MGTOW”). This phrase is linked to the misogynistic, far-right extremist men’s rights movement. In late February, Conservative members of parliament Dean Allison, Colin Carrie, and Leslyn Lewis were all photographed dining with Christine Anderson during a tour organized by Freedom Convoy supporters. Anderson represents the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is a virulently anti-immigrant social movement. In 2021, Germany’s intelligence agency placed parts of this political party under surveillance as a suspected extremist group. (Poilievre has since condemned Anderson’s views, claiming that “they are not welcome here” and the MPs who “regret meeting” with her “were not aware of this visiting member of European Parliament’s opinions.” For new and existing fringe groups, this new leader and his fellow party members’ overtures to them could portend a reciprocal working relationship in the near future.