When Donald Trump Jr launched his book Triggered at UCLA last week, he probably expected some hecklers.
At an event for a volume subtitled “How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us”, you’d hope for sufficient shouty liberals to justify your “So Much for the Tolerant Left” gags. But you wouldn’t necessarily want the crowd packed with preppy right-wingers ridiculing you so systematically as to shut down your entire event. But that’s exactly what happened.
Trump Jr’s cancelled gig became — sad! — collateral damage in a vicious and utterly insane conflict currently raging between two factions of the American far right. Naturally, the attention-starved Milo Yiannopoulos has inserted his snout in this new, and potentially lucrative, trough, becoming the self-made champion of one of these factions. Where once Milo presented himself as a champion of male gamers, he now addresses religious conservatives as their brethren in Christ, explaining to young believers that the film Joker depicts their struggle against a depraved modernity.
In a sense, the alt-right’s current internal conflict dates back to Charlottesville and the Unite the Right rally that brought together the various strands of American fascism in the heady early days of the Trump regime. The backlash after the murder of anti-racist Heather Heyer fragmented the entire movement. On campuses, in particular, the collapse of the alt-right created space for a slightly more respectable orientation, led by YouTube king Ben Shapiro and students groups like Turning Point USA and Young Americans for Freedom.
Recently, though, a tendency describing themselves as “Groypers” has begun challenging for prominence — the group to which Milo is now attached like a political barnacle. The Groypers — the name comes from another frog meme — can be understood as the alt-right of 2016 but re-imagined within the political context of 2019. Back then, Breitbart recruited heavily from gamers politicised by Gamergate. Today, the Groypers orient to young religious conservatives who latched onto Trump’s “Build the Wall”/MAGA rhetoric and thus consider his efforts in office so far unacceptably milquetoast.
They take their lead from, in particular, the youthful broadcaster Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist who marched in the tiki torch parade at Charlottesville. Fuentes has since fallen out with his old buddies — the recent audio of Richard Spencer raging psychotically at Unite the Right was leaked by Milo Yiannopoulos in support of Fuente — but remains a more or less overtly fascist. But, instead of fashy rallies, he now champions the edgelord tactics the alt-right pioneered in its early days, albeit in the service of an unabashedly anti-Semitic agenda.
The Groypers target those they regard as the conservative establishment: people like Shapiro, Charlie Kirk from Turning Point USA and the anti-Trump conservative Jonah Goldberg, especially those who are either Jewish or have disavowed race politics. Fuentes uses his Telegram account to equip his followers with memified talking points, which they then deliver at the Q&A sessions of their opponents. The transcript of a Fuentes supporter intervening at a Kirk event illustrates their approach.
“I have a quick and fun, lighthearted question for you, Charlie,” asks the Groyper. “So, you gave a speech in Jerusalem earlier this year? Were there any awesome fun dancing parties that you guys hit afterwards? Cause I heard that Israelis are some of the best dancers in the world. I mean, if you don’t believe me, google “dancing Israelis” — it is insane how good their dancing is. Would you agree or disagree with that?”
“Israel is a beautiful country,” replies the hapless Kirk. “A great country, too.”
“It is our greatest ally.”
“Correct,” says Kirk.
The phrase “Dancing Israelis” refers to an anti-Semitic meme alleging Jewish involvement in 9/11, as the suggested Google search will reveal.
But even if listeners don’t go immediately down the rabbit hole of racist conspiracies, the intervention associates Kirk with a fuddy-duddy “Conservative Inc” incapable of understanding, let alone responding to, the ironic memes of a younger, more radical generation. The Groypers’ strength comes, in other words, from their ability to turn the methodology of conservative grifters like Kirk or Shapiro back on them: Trump Jr says he supports free speech? Why, then, won’t he answer a host of anti-Semitic questions from youthful racists? It’s almost as if he’s … triggered!
Obviously, this is, in itself, another grift, an attempt to expose supposed conservative outsiders as themselves part of the swamp, so that a new generation of edgier outsiders might take their place. But the innate preposterousness of Yiannopoulos, whose whole persona rests on performative campness, leading a movement of religious homophobes illustrates a basic problem for the Groypers: namely, they’re pushing a much narrower program than the one advocated by the alt-right in 2016.
There’s always been a market for anti-Semitism and white nationalism but Handmaid-style Christianity might be a harder sell to horny campus youth, no matter how clever the memes. Then again, Trump’s ridiculous book currently sits at the top of the New York Times’ bestseller list — so who knows with Americans?