The House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, Capitol takeover have subpoenaed a wide variety of people, from Trump officials to grassroots activists. And on January 19, 2022, two more were called: Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, the leaders of the “Groyper” movement, a white supremacist outgrowth of the “alt-right.” Fuentes believes that “genocide” is being committed against white people, and rails against immigration, the “LGBTQ agenda” and feminism. While relatively minor characters on the national stage, Fuentes and Casey are important to know about for three reasons.
The first is that the Groypers are one of the more successful groups among the openly white supremacist wing of the alt-right, and they have been able to attract mainstream support. The second is if Fuentes and Casey “were involved in the planning and coordination of the January 6 attack … it would show tight collaboration between true white supremacists and the former administration,” according to Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. Third, the committee specifically pointed out that Fuentes and Casey had “received tens of thousands of dollars in Bitcoin from a French computer programmer.” Calling for — and then cheering on — the takeover of the Capitol after receiving foreign funding would put them in a different category than many of the other involved groups which seem to lack foreign financial connections.
From 2017 to 2020, Casey was the leader of white supremacist group Identity Evropa (later rebranded as the American Identity Movement), which window-dressed traditional white supremacist views to give itself a better public image, which the movement called “optics.” Early on, the group was also closely aligned with racist leader Richard Spencer. Meanwhile, Fuentes was one of the most visible young activists who went from more traditional conservatism to overt white supremacy. As the star of the alt-right has fallen, the Groypers represent those who have chosen to infiltrate the ranks of the Trumpists in order to push them even further right.
The alt-right burst onto the scene in 2016 as members hitched their horse to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and he embraced them in turn. This included both wings of the alt-right — one a new generation of open white supremacists like neo-Nazis, the other, the “alt-lite,” more moderate ideologically and which included people of color, Jews and gay men.
For many decades, it was unheard of for a major party’s presidential candidate to openly embrace white supremacists, and the alt-right took this opportunity to expand into a mass movement. The alt-right movement peaked early with the August 2017 “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia. After it ended with the murder of anti-fascist Heather Heyer, their largest public event also became their downfall.
As Trump’s presidency went on, many in the alt-right bailed on him because he wasn’t as overtly racist or antisemitic as they’d hoped he would be. One of the major groups in the movement, Patriot Front, walked away from Trump to organize a more politically radical and independent path. (Patriot Front concentrates on propaganda like stickering, and holds periodic unannounced marches where members appear masked to hide their identities.) Others, like Richard Spencer, withdrew into relative inactivity, in part because of the Sines v. Kessler civil lawsuit over the organizing of the Charlottesville demonstration. Spencer was one of the defendants found guilty and was ordered to pay a hefty sum.
But some did not give up the movement that Trump had summoned, and which the alt-lite remained active in. In fact, many Trumpists — including the Proud Boys, but also regular Republicans — were becoming more aggressive and violent. January 6 made this clear. And the Groypers became the major grouping from the racist alt-right that moved in on these more ideologically moderate political circles.
While not everyone on the alt-right made this switch, it does show that for some, there was a straight line between Charlottesville and the Capitol breach. As a teenager (he is now 23), Fuentes had already been radical — radical enough to go to Charlottesville, even as other groups in Trump’s camp with extreme politics, like the Oath Keepers, stayed away. Identity Evropa, meanwhile, was one of most prominent groups there. (Casey was later deposed in Sines v. Kessler for the group’s role in the rally.).
Casey took over Identity Evropa later in 2017, and in 2019 rebranded it as the American Identity Movement. However, on November 2, 2020 — the day before the presidential election — he announced its dissolution and entrance into the Groyper movement. For Casey and his cadre, this marked an end to their strategy of independent white supremacist organizing, instead turning to entryism — the tactic of joining a larger organization or movement in order to turn it toward one’s politics.
In 2019, Fuentes built his Groyper movement by attacking those on the far right whom he deemed too moderate; this included Turning Point USA President Charles Kirk, right-wing political pundit Ben Shapiro, and even Donald Trump Jr. Using the brand “America First Movement” — whose fundraising vehicle is the America First PAC (AFPAC) — Fuentes organized competing conferences at the same time as more mainstream events like the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
But even though he holds minimally camouflaged white supremacist positions, Fuentes has been able to attract mainstream support. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) was the keynote speaker at an AFPAC conference, while Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) has called for Fuentes to be removed from the federal “no-fly” list. Fuentes has been praised by Ali Alexander, the organizer of the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, while Arizona State Sen. Wendy Rogers bragged that Fuentes called her “based” — an alt-right term denoting that someone’s views are aligned with their movement. And conservative commentator Michelle Malkin has positioned herself close to the Groypers, dubbing herself their “mommy.” While it is certainly unusual that a white supremacist would attract the support of people of color like Malkin and Alexander, Fuentes himself is of Mexican heritage.
Regardless of the actual impact of his words, Fuentes’s statements before the Capitol breach are coming back to haunt him. In November 2020, he called for right-wingers to be “more feral” and to “storm every state capitol until January 20, 2021, until President Trump is inaugurated for four more years.” Two days before the Capitol attack, he said on his livestream, “What can you and I do to a state legislator — besides kill them? We should not do that. I’m not advising that, but I mean, what else can you do, right?”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, on January 6, Fuentes “wore a VIP badge to Trump’s speech.” Fuentes and Casey were later on the Capitol grounds, where Fuentes called on the crowd to “break down the barriers and disregard the police.” Their America First flags were seen at the rally — including at least one inside the Capitol, held by California college student Christian Secor, who was later arrested.
The January 6 committee has ordered Fuentes and Casey to turn over documents by February 2, 2022, and submit to interviews by February 9. But it may be the foreign funding that becomes their biggest problem, especially if — as with the Oath Keepers — they are charged with “seditious conspiracy.” According to the committee, the FBI “is reportedly scrutinizing to assess whether the money was linked to the Capitol attack or otherwise used to fund illegal acts.” (Before committing suicide, a French programmer gave Fuentes $250,000, while Casey received $25,000.)
Casey has put on a brave face, saying he might invoke the Fifth Amendment — unless “they televise my appearance,” in which case “I absolutely will do it.” But it remains to be seen what look he has come February.