"Groyper" guru Nick Fuentes returns to Twitter (briefly): Hateful content keeps flowing

White nationalist celebrity is reinstated by Elon — for about 24 hours. But social media can't stop the hate

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published January 28, 2023 6:00AM (EST)

Nick Fuentes, the leader of a Christian based extremist white nationalist group speaks to his followers, 'the Groypers.' in Washington D.C. on November 14, 2020 (Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Nick Fuentes, the leader of a Christian based extremist white nationalist group speaks to his followers, 'the Groypers.' in Washington D.C. on November 14, 2020 (Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Nick Fuentes, the white nationalist youth activist and founder of the far-right "groyper" movement — who shared an infamous dinner with Ye and Donald Trump in November — had his verified Twitter account reinstated last Tuesday, only to be suspended again a day later. Fuentes was first suspended from the platform in July 2021 "for repeated violations of the Twitter Rules." 

Fuentes' brief return to the platform, thanks to Twitter CEO Elon Musk's purported commitment to unfettered "free speech," didn't last long. It can hardly have been a surprise that he began posting overtly antisemitic content almost immediately, as Hannah Gais of the Southern Poverty Law Center told Reuters.

Fuentes' reinstatement, followed by his almost immediate suspension, "kind of shows that Musk does not know what he's doing with content moderation," said Kayla Gogarty, deputy research director at Media Matters. "It's something that we have tried to warn about: I think advertisers need to start considering their brand safety. As Musk is removing those guardrails, we are seeing consequences, like increases in hate, increases in misinformation."

Social media platforms are not government entities and are not subject to the First Amendment's free speech guarantees. Nearly all of them have carefully worked-out policies against hate speech, disinformation, harassment or violent conduct, aimed at creating a non-threatening environment for civil discourse and communication, said Yosef Getachew, a media and democracy program director at Common Cause. Allowing a blatantly bigoted and disruptive user like Fuentes back on Twitter sends a clear signal that the platform is failing to enforce its own policies, he added.

"You're creating an environment where users may feel threatened, harassed or attacked, or you could be inciting others to engage in offline violence," Getachew said. "That's essentially how the [Jan. 6] insurrection started, given that millions of users were exposed to harmful content and were asked to organize and mobilize offline to try and overthrow our government. It's the same type of pattern."

Dozens of Fuentes' followers have been promoting white Christian nationalist ideology on Instagram, according to Media Matters, although that appears to be a clear violation of the platform's policies.

Fuentes' self-styled "Groyper Army," which has no official organizational structure, is a loosely allied group of white nationalist and far-right activists, predominantly young and male, who are trying to introduce far-right politics into mainstream conservatism. 

The groyper memes are a derivative of the "Pepe the Frog" meme co-opted by the alt-right several years ago to communicate racist, homophobic and antisemitic tropes.

Originally, groyper-affiliated accounts were primarily found on 4chan and Gab — the "free speech" alternative platforms favored by right-wing activists – when the movement began. Now, their memes and content have spread all over mainstream social media platforms. 

At least 18 identified Instagram accounts have been associated with Fuentes or the groypers, and another 29 have been promoting the America First groyper movement by sharing memes, clips and links, Media Matters found. 

In many cases, those accounts even rely on Instagram's link sticker feature, directing users to Cozy.TV – a streaming platform that Fuentes launched in 2021, which he has described as "anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Black, antisemitic." 

Fuentes hosts nightly broadcasts on Cozy.TV, fueled by supposedly humorous attacks on Jewish people, the LGBTQ+ community, feminism and various other minority communities.

Even after being de-platformed from YouTube and Facebook, Fuentes has retained a loyal following that has kept growing, either in spite of or because of his increased notoriety and increasingly offensive opinions. He has at least partly succeeded in getting ever closer to the conservative political mainstream, with the explicit goal of pushing the Republican Party toward the extreme right.

Accounts on Instagram that share Fuentes-related content consistently direct users to more fringe platforms, where they will find the most incendiary and hateful content, said Gogarty. Even when Facebook bans a specific Groyper Army link, "it often slips through the cracks" since platforms haven't outright banned entire domains from being shared, she added. 

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Fuentes first rose to prominence as a Trump superfan during the 2016 campaign and went on to found the America First Political Action Conference — a white nationalist-focused gathering meant as a right-wing alternative to the American Conservative Union's influential CPAC events.

He attended the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and made headlines last year for his dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Trump and the rapper Ye, formerly Kanye West.

Fuentes has repeatedly recited antisemitic tropes about alleged Jewish control of the media, and has called for embracing Christian nationalism as official policy in the United States.

Many Instagram accounts share groyper content — but avoid the worst of it, consistently directing users to fringe platforms where they can find the most overtly hateful and incendiary material.

"If we're going to make America great again, we've gotta talk about this anti-white thing that's going on," he said during a broadcast of his "America First" show in February 2022. "We've got to make America a Christian nation again. And you can understand why influential Jewish people in conservative media are not really gung-ho about that. They're not promoting white identity. They're not promoting this." 

Fuentes and his groypers have strategically used different social media platforms and internet spaces to spread their messages and coordinate harassment campaigns. For example, during a 2019 Turning Point USA event featuring Donald Trump Jr. at UCLA, groypers showed up in large numbers, demanding that Trump Jr. answer their questions. 

At another event that same weekend featuring Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, the groyper army tried to monopolize the Q&A session with questions about Israel, Vox reported. Their apparent goal with such disruptions is to record video clips that have the potential to go viral on social media. 

"There are reports out there that these groups are organizing, that they're harassing individuals, that they're building momentum," Getachew said. "A lot of times, those kinds of things are not taken into account. Platforms are just looking to see what's going on in this particular moment, rather than the bigger picture."

Kai Schwemmer, a groyper influencer who shares memes and other content aimed at younger audiences, has more than 12,000 followers on Instagram to date. On his website, Schwemmer describes himself as a "Gen Z conservative from Utah," writing that he "stands for freedom, for traditional values and he promotes an energetic, youthful conservatism; he stands against mass immigration and cultural decay."

While Schwemmer's content on Instagram isn't overtly racist or antisemitic to attract new supporters, his presence on fringe platforms has a much different flavor. On Telegram and Gab, for example, he reposts homophobic memes and cartoons making "jokes" about Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, Vice News reports

"We've seen this strategy really blossom by extremists, where they use these mainstream platforms to garner that audience, but then send them to more harmful content on other platforms," Gogarty said.

Another groyper influencer, Paul Escandon, uses his Instagram to promote Fuentes and America First content, including a film about Fuentes he recently also produced.

Instagram and Facebook's parent company, Meta, explicitly prohibits "praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism" on both of those platforms. Fuentes has been suspended from Instagram since 2019, but supporters continue to spread his video clips and posts on different fringe platforms, and then rely on Instagram to direct curious users to more extreme spaces. 

Numerous users who have been banned from YouTube for posting extremist content have moved it to Rumble, a site that brands itself as a "free speech" alternative for video. "A lot of the QAnon figures are on Rumble," Gogarty said. "They stream on Rumble and then on Facebook pages that all link back to these Rumble videos." That doesn't technically violate Facebook policies, she noted, "because they're not specifically putting that content on the platform organically, but they're linking to that content."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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