In the days since Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, brought a Nazi sympathizer to dinner with former President Donald Trump, the GOP has once again been forced to reckon with an ultra-right-wing faction emboldened by the party's ascendant MAGA nationalist movement. At the center of this latest reckoning is Nick Fuentes, a 24-year-old livestreamer, white nationalist, and self-proclaimed admirer of Adolf Hitler, whose mere presence at Mar-a-Lago alongside Ye and Trump has become a litmus test of sorts for what Republicans will or won't stomach ahead of the 2024 presidential elections.
So who is Fuentes, and how did he become one of the most prominent bigots in the country today?
How did Fuentes first enter the spotlight?
Fuentes began his streaming career as an undergraduate at Boston University, before eventually being tapped to host America First on the Trump-aligned "Right Side Broadcasting" media network. There, his extended rant encouraging the violent murder of "globalists" and CNN employees in 2017 prompted an apology by the network (which was later reportedly contradicted by a show producer who lauded Fuentes on Twitter). As documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Fuentes was fired from RSB later that same year, after attending the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which he called the precursor to a "tidal wave of white identity."
Fuentes dropped out of college shortly after attending the rally, telling the Boston Globe that "Massachusetts, and Boston in particular, are among the most left-wing states and cities. Probably anywhere I would go would be safer than Boston." He also defended his attendance at the rally, saying it was merely a protest against "immigration, multiculturalism, and post-modernism" and was "about not replacing white people."
In segments from his ongoing streaming show collected by the extremism research group Right Wing Watch, Fuentes has since called for a "white uprising" to install Trump as a dictator in the United States and demanded Jews "get the f--k out of America." He has also said he doesn't believe women should have the right to vote, railed against fellow right-wing broadcasters for being "race traitors" and for promising to "flood the zone with n----- votes."
Fuentes has also aligned himself with the "involuntary celibate" (incel) movement that has motivated multiple mass shooters, claiming at one point that "having sex with women is gay." He has rejected being labeled a "white nationalist" on purely rhetorical grounds, claiming it's "not because I don't see the necessity for white people to have a homeland and for white people to have a country. It's because that kind of terminology is used almost exclusively by the left to defame" during an interview with Nazi enthusiast Richard Spencer.
How did Fuentes get in with members of Congress?
Even before dining with the de facto leader of the GOP, Fuentes had long enjoyed access to the uppermost echelons of conservative politics both on and offline. In 2020 Fuentes founded the America First Political Action Conference, an inheritor of his previous "Groyper Leadership Summit" intended to antagonize other conservative groups for being insufficiently far-right. The first conference, held that February, featured ultra-right wing conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, onetime white nationalist hate group Identity Evropa leader Patrick Casey, and other far-right figures.
It wasn't until the conference's second iteration that Fuentes' growing political reach came into sharper focus. In addition to hosting recently-ousted Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, described at one point by The Washington Post as the "U.S. congressman most openly affiliated with white nationalism," sitting Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) delivered the event's keynote address. By 2022, AFPAC's third gathering had garnered four sitting lawmakers including Gosar again, as well as rising MAGA star Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). In his introduction for Greene, Fuentes led the audience in chants of "Putin!" and derided efforts to compare the Russian leader with Hitler, saying sarcastically "they say that's not a good thing."
Facing criticism for attending the event, Greene defended her speech there in a statement claiming "It doesn't matter if I'm speaking to Democrat union members or 1,200 young conservatives who feel cast aside and marginalized by society. The Pharisees in the Republican Party may attack me for being willing to break barriers and speak to a lost generation of young people who are desperate for love and leadership." She also denied knowing Fuentes, telling CBS News that "I've never heard him speak. I've never seen a video. I don't know what his views are, so I'm not aligned with anything that may be controversial."
Notably, Fuentes claimed he'd been introduced to Greene by longtime right-wing propagandist and commentator Milo Yiannopolis, who previously served as an intern in Greene's congressional office.
How did Fuentes end up at the Mar-a-Lago dinner?
During a brief interview with right-wing YouTuber Tim Pool after news of the meeting with Trump became public, Yiannopolis claimed he was the person who arranged for Ye to bring Fuentes to dinner with the former president. While the exact content of their mealtime discussion remains unclear, both Ye and Fuentes have said that although Trump didn't know who Fuentes was, he was nevertheless impressed by the streamer's flattery and ability to rattle off political commentary. According to Yiannopolis, Fuentes was brought to the pre-scheduled Trump-Ye meeting in order to "give Trump an unvarnished view of how a portion of his base views his candidacy." Speaking with NBC, Fuentes seemed to agree, describing the ensuing controversy over his presence as "the chickens are coming home to roost."
"You know," he added, "this is the frustration with his base and with his true loyalists."
Have politicians faced repercussions for associating with Fuentes?
While a handful of Republican officials have, to varying degrees, been willing to criticize Fuentes — if not necessarily Trump himself for dining with him — it remains to be seen whether there will be any lasting consequences for the former president and his bid to return to the White House in 2024. This is not the first time the GOP has found itself caught between condemning overt bigotry and risking the ire of its rightmost base: after Reps. Gosar and Greene addressed Fuentes' AFPAC conference this past spring, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made sure to reassure the public that he took the issue seriously, telling reporters during a press conference that "I talked to them." He has since promised to restore both Greene and Gosar to their congressional committees in the coming legislative term.