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The former president of the United States wanted his guests to be seen. His meeting with Ye, a.k.a. Kanye West, had already been postponed since the rapper’s antisemitic outbursts this fall had made him a public pariah. But two days before Thanksgiving, Trump led Ye and his entourage to a public table at his Mar-a-Lago estate. The group included a former Trump adviser as well as a young man named Nick Fuentes, an adviser on Ye’s fledgling 2024 presidential campaign—and one of America’s most virulent white nationalists.

Cue a familiar firestorm: Trump’s Republican allies distanced themselves from his behavior without denouncing the man himself. Trump, fresh from his own campaign announcement, said he did not know who Fuentes was, yet failed to condemn him or his ideologies in multiple statements about the dinner.

But for Fuentes, the meeting was a profound success, and perhaps the greatest example of his years-long effort to bring his extremist ideologies into the mainstream. The 24-year-old hosts a nightly broadcast with a cult-like following among young white men who believe they have lost their rightful place in the United States. For the last five years, Fuentes has pushed a vision for an “America First” movement that fuses white nationalism, antisemitism, and authoritarianism in calling for a nation dominated by white Christian men.

In tying himself most recently to Trump—a man accused of sexual assault by 19 women, and who bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy”—Fuentes is advancing one of his latest strategies for cultivating followers: making overtures to men who feel aggrieved by women.

Over the past year, Fuentes has made a point of speaking directly to these men—many of whom identify as “incels”—in numerous appearances on his nightly livestream, far-right podcasts, and Telegram. Historically, incels defined themselves as “involuntary celibate,” but the term has become inextricably associated with misogynist incels, men who blame women for their problems and believe women owe them sex.

Fuentes claims to understand them because he is one of them. “I’m an incel, I’m a proud incel,” he claimed on his nightly America First podcast in January. He’d never had sex, he explained, because, “I’m choosing instead to lead a historical right-wing movement.”

Since then, Fuentes has done a lot to back that up, painting women as inferior and thus deserving of the violent fantasies that incels harbor against them. Fuentes’ misogyny is now key to his America First movement, braided with his white nationalism and political aspirations to infiltrate the GOP at all levels, pass legislation to roll back the rights of women, LGBTQ people, Jews, and people of color, and see a president impose his authoritarian vision. (Fuentes did not reply to a list of questions sent ahead of this story.)

The crosspollination is already evident. The n-word litters the recent live chats that accompany his broadcasts, as it usually does. But so too does “foid” and “holes,” slang used by incels to dehumanize women. And the more that misogyny has helped grow Fuentes’ influence, the more he has leaned into the strategy: In a recent livestream, Fuentes riffed about how women have created a “fucked up society” ever since people stopped burning them as punishment for crimes.

The solution, he said: “We need to go back to burning women alive more.”

Fuentes’ white nationalist America First movement gained prominence after the 2020 election, when it sent its cast of young white male followers to so-called “Stop the Steal” rallies aimed at spreading Trump’s Big Lie. Fuentes encouraged his followers, who call themselves “Groypers,” to become the foot soldiers in the disinformation campaign to keep Trump in power, at rallies and on social media. At least five members then stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, while Fuentes energized the crowd on the Capitol steps, telling them to “Break down the barriers and disregard the police.”

Following Fuentes’ Big Lie boosting—which also included floating the idea of murdering state legislators who certified the 2020 election results—he was banned from Twitter, reportedly put on a no-fly list, and subpoenaed by the January 6 committee.

Yet it also became a launchpad for his campaign of hate. In January 2022, the de-platformed Fuentes launched his own streaming platform, Cozy.tv, which he promised would be censorship-free—and explicitly bigoted. “We are anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Black, antisemitic,” he said.

Fuentes began live-streaming on the platform every night. Against a greenscreen—the New York skyline capped with shooting stars—and often sporting a suit jacket, tie, and mustache, Fuentes was soon miming a professional TV newscast, except this one spewed hate, punctuated by laughter, often for three hours or more at a time. The livestream became Fuentes’ new avenue for growing his following.

About a month into streaming, Fuentes dangled bait for incel followers. “Women are irrational,” Fuentes said. “They’re more rational than children, but they’re not as rational as men. And irrationality does not listen to rationality.”

He swiftly combined misogyny with racism: “When a bitch going crazy sometimes you got to grab her,” Fuentes continued. “Sometimes you have to control yo’ bitch. Listen, I would defer to Blacks on this. They’ve got it figured out.”

He pointed to former Ravens running back Ray Rice, who in 2014 was caught on tape knocking his fiancée unconscious in an elevator. Fuentes cracked a smile. “Dude, when Ray Rice punched that girl, that was hilarious.”

He held back laughter as he recalled another instance of domestic violence. “Remember when Chris Brown beat up Rihanna?” Fuentes continued. “I supported that.” Because hitting women, he argued, is sometimes necessary.

His statements echoed a central aspect of incel ideology: women can’t be rational and often deserve violence. With beliefs like these, it becomes misogyny, more even than shared celibacy, that fuels this community, and makes them a prime target for Fuentes’ ideology.

He has another advantage. Incel communities are also rife with racism. The invective hurled around on their platforms is stomach-churning. Incel platforms, for instance, frequently debase Black women, referring to them as animals. And they often applaud men hitting or killing women, especially if that violence was committed by a Black man; to them, it both actualizes their brutal fantasies and proves their false and bigoted belief that Black men are prone to aggression. Asian women are often referred to as “noodlewhores” and Black women and men as “chimps” or the N-word, while others blame Jews for porn and advancing “race-mixing”.

These platforms are home to “incredibly racist understandings of the world,” says Megan Kelly, an expert on incel communities. For someone like Fuentes, that suggests a simple pathway from scapegoating women to scapegoating people of color.

Just as Fuentes was wading deeper into the world of incels, he was also hard at work elevating his white nationalist ideology on the national stage. In February, Fuentes held his third annual America First Political Action Conference—a far-right, white-nationalist alternative to the mainstay Conservative Political Action Conference, held down the street. This time, he attracted far-right heavyweights: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), known for her Big Lie advocacy and embrace of QAnon, greeted Fuentes on stage with a handshake and blew a kiss to the thousand Groypers in the audience. Fellow Big Lie proponents Rep. Paul Gosar, Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, and Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin sent video greetings.

The following month, Fuentes spied another chance to court incels in a new Secret Service report on a 2018 attack in which a man with a long history of assaulting women shot six women and killed two at a Tallahassee, Florida, yoga studio before turning the gun on himself. Incel message boards lit up with analysis, and within days, Fuentes took it to his livestream.

The Tallahassee perpetrator was enamored by Adolf Hitler and the Aryan Nation, the report said. His YouTube videos described an intense hatred of women—especially those who date nonwhite men. Fuentes said on his livestream that while he himself wasn’t violent, he identified with the incel shooter’s ideology. This was now a trend: the month before, Fuentes claimed, “I’m just like Hitler!” and later voiced disapproval of interracial relationships, falsely claiming that they led to a higher propensity for mental illness among children born into those relationships.

Adherents of this male supremacist ideology believe “that women hold social, economic, political power over men, and that has been made worse through feminism,” Kelly told Mother Jones. Incels subscribe to this belief, and then some. Incels blame society for their celibacy; the fixes are therefore found in reestablishing patriarchal norms, walking back women’s right to vote or divorce, or the creation of “government-mandated girlfriends.” Others still, call for the murder of women—for denying them sex or for being “sluts”—and celebrate killers of women like Elliot Rodger, who murdered six people while targeting a sorority near the UC-Santa Barbara campus in 2014.

Talking about the report on the Tallahassee incel shooter, Fuentes said the government is right to fear violence by misogynist extremists like him.

“When you get a community of guys with nothing left to lose…if they’re incels, it’s high test[osterone], it’s aggressive,” said Fuentes. “They know what the consequences of that will be.”

 Fuentes’s knowing tone seemed designed to reassure any disaffected men tuning in: Your grievances are legitimate. You can’t be blamed if you seek retribution.

That same month, South Korea elected a new president. Online misogynist communities dubbed Yoon Suk-yeol South Korea’s “incel” president. It didn’t matter that Yoon is married; Yoon, who had called for the abolishment of South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and promised to protect men from the MeToo movement, represented the interests of misogynist young men who felt that feminism had gone too far.

A prominent incel forum gleefully called his election a “welcome and exciting development” and wondered, “Can this be the start of a massive worl[d]wide movement against foids and their rights?”

For Fuentes, Yoon’s win was proof positive that it’s possible to sell “an incel platform and only appeal to men,” and gain a massive mainstream following, he said on his show days later. “The future is to lean in, lean into these primordial cleavages, men versus women, the race stuff,” Fuentes said. “We represent the disaffected male.”

Fuentes launched into what sounded like a political stump speech in which he outlined the world he would create with his followers’ help. “Why don’t we take the message to the men and say, ‘Hey men, hey men, vote for me, I’ll destroy feminism,” he said, vowing to “make it harder for women to become whores,” and “to incentivize women to be in monogamous marriages for the long term and to have and raise kids.”

The dark fantasy he was selling would not only fulfill his Christian nationalist agenda, it would give incels the unfettered access to women that they’ve long sought. That alignment is part of what makes Fuentes’ pro-misogyny marketing strategy so effective, says Right Wing Watch researcher Kyle Mantyla. “If they can impose Christian nationalism on this country, that will also solve their incel problem by making women second-class citizens who have no right to refuse to marry them, have sex with them, and bear their children.”

In his broadcast speech, Fuentes also pointed to another political campaign as inspiration: Donald Trump’s. In 2016, Trump won the Oval office by leaning into a sexist and misogynist message—and targeting men, including incels, for support. The strategy was explicit: A Cambridge Analytica whistleblower hired by ex-Trump campaign head Steve Bannon, said Bannon’s strategy targeted “unmarried straight white dudes who couldn’t get laid,” because Bannon saw them as prone to “conspiratorial thinking” and easier to manipulate. (A request for comment sent to Bannon’s lawyer went unanswered.)

The list of horror examples grows by the week.

This spring, a far-right YouTuber revealed that one of Fuentes’ friends was accused of rape by a woman. Pressed about those allegations on a podcast, Fuentes’ response was simple: “As a rule I believe no women,” he said. “I think everything women say is a lie.”

A couple months later, America First streamer Dalton Clodfelter echoed Fuentes’ calls for violence against women: He said he would like to see a woman burned alive at the stake for wearing a “blasphemous” bikini. (Clodfelter did not directly respond to a question about this statement.)

And earlier this month, neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin joined a Cozy.tv stream where he said that he couldn’t complain if you called him a “rape promoter.” (Anglin did not respond to a request for comment.)

As Fuentes continues his crusade, his image has somewhat fractured among the incel community, mainly on unseemly technicalities: Some have questioned Fuentes’ identification with them because of allegations that he is gay and his admission that he once kissed a girl in high school, suggesting that his celibacy is voluntary. But that occasional skepticism has done little to blunt Fuentes’s campaign: his streaming platform has grown in followers and has added a host of far-right Republican activists and Gen Z male streamers to its lineup. His America First movement is weaponizing the insecurities of young men and, as Amanda Marcotte wrote in Salon, “convincing them that the cure for the entirely normal mix of emotions they’re feeling can be found in embracing a fascist movement.”

Their support has helped Fuentes make his way into the arms of some of the most prominent aggrieved men in America, from Kanye West to Donald Trump—and headway on his stated goal of moving the window of acceptable political discourse further to the right. “We have, in fact, infiltrated the mainstream flank of the GOP,” said Vincent James, the treasurer of America First, days after the Trump dinner.

He boasted about what could come next: A Donald Trump victory in 2024, followed by the appointment of Fuentes as one of his advisers where together they transform the country. “Don’t say it’s far-fetched,” he said. “Because look at what has happened over just the past week.”

Images from left Umberto Deb/Unsplash; Nicole Hester/Ann Arbor News/AP; Bildagentur-online/Getty; Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/Sipa/AP; Andrew Neel/Unsplash; Bettmann/Getty

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Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

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