The Most Under-Covered Story of 2024: Trump and Right-Wing Extremism

And it goes far beyond Project 2025.

Donald Trump shakes hands with Charlie Kirk

Donald Trump shakes hands with Turning Point CEO Charlie Kirk at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit on July 23, 2022, in Tampa, Florida. Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

The below article first appeared in David Corn’s newsletter, Our Land. The newsletter comes out twice a week (most of the time) and provides behind-the-scenes stories and articles about politics, media, and culture. Subscribing costs just $5 a month—but you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Our Land here.

One of the most under-covered stories of the Trump era and the 2024 presidential campaign is Donald Trump’s relationship with far-right extremism. This has been going on for years. During the 2016 race, he hobnobbed with and praised conspiracy-monger Alex Jones and encouraged anti-Muslim hatred. A few months into his presidency, Trump hailed participants in the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville as “very fine people.” The insurrectionists who stormed Capitol Hill on January 6 for Trump included Christian nationalists, members of right-wing militias, white supremacists, Confederate flag wavers, neo-Nazis, and others. In 2022, he supped with antisemite Kanye West and Hitler fanboy Nick Fuentes. He has repeatedly winked and nodded at the unhinged QAnon movement.

These are just a few examples of Trump’s long-running affiliation with radicals of the right—an affinity that has not prevented him from becoming president and, now, the GOP’s banner carrier for a third time. While the instances cited above have been covered by the mainstream press—except perhaps for Trump’s pat on the back for Jones—they haven’t shaped the overall Trump narrative. And Trump’s current ties to fringe and hard-right activists are not at the center stage of the 2024 election. Far more (digital) ink has been spilled on Joe Biden’s age.

Take Project 2025, the operation organized by the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing think tanks to develop a far-reaching agenda for a second Trump term that would grant him expanded powers to run an authoritarian-ish government in which he could order the prosecutions of his foes and critics and demand loyalty oaths from federal workers. This initiative has earned a couple of stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post. But how many voters are aware of this extensive scheme? A recent poll found that 76 percent of voters said they had heard “a little” or “nothing” about Project 2025.

A recent poll found that 76 percent of voters said they had heard “a little” or “nothing” about Project 2025.

On Saturday, the Washington Post ran a piece on Russ Vought, a Christian nationalist who was budget chief when Trump was in the White House and who’s now a major player behind Project 2025. He’s in line to be Trump’s chief of staff, should the convicted felon return to power. And he’s an outright radical right-winger. In a 2022 essay, he claimed, “We are living in a post constitutional moment” because the left over the past century has supposedly hijacked the government. He decried the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve, and the civil service. He denounced the independence of the FBI, the Justice Department, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He grouses that “conservatives find themselves interpreting a revered document [the Constitution] that is no longer in effect, lacking the tools to save their country.”

Vought’s answer is for conservatives to become “radical constitutionalists” and hyper-originalists who “throw off the [constitutional] precedents and legal paradigms that have wrongly developed over the last two hundred years.” He doesn’t spell it out, but his targets could well be civil rights laws and legal cases that protect an assortment of rights. The goal: to destroy “this regime” that is “increasingly arrayed against the American people” and “woke and weaponized.” This includes annihilating the FBI, which, Vought claimed, is “putting political opponents in jail.” (Narrator: The FBI is not putting political opponents in jail.) The hour, he warned, is late.

Vought’s goal is to load up the federal government with people who share his troglodyte views and prosecute culture wars on multiple fronts, including reproductive rights and immigration. He has recently suggested that United States adopt a “Christian immigration ethic,” which, presumably, would limit legal immigration for non-Christians. As the Washington Post reported, he has been named the policy director for the Republican National Committee, and Trump has applauded Vought as someone who “would do a great job.”

Vought’s goal is to load up the federal government with people who share his troglodyte views and prosecute culture wars on multiple fronts, including reproductive rights and immigration.

The Washington Post effectively depicted Vought’s extremism. But I fear this single shot and much of the media coverage does not capture the full depth of Trump’s ongoing alliance with the far right. For instance: Trump is scheduled to appear this week at the so-called “People’s Convention,” a conference organized by Turning Point Action, a political action committee headed by Trump sycophant Charlie Kirk, who has recently come under fire for a series of racist remarks. The usual assortment of Trumpists are on the bill: Donald Trump Jr., South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Vivek Ramaswamy, Lara Trump, Roger Stone, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Steve Bannon (assuming he’s not in prison). Also listed as a speaker is Candace Owens, who left the right-wing Daily Caller after coming under fire for promoting antisemitic notions. She also has denied Covid existed and apparently excused Hitler, saying, “If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well — OK, fine.” She has questioned whether dinosaurs “roamed the earth until a great big meteor hit.” Once upon a time, it would have been notable—and not recommended—for a presidential candidate to be hosted by a racist like Kirk or share the stage with such a fringe player as Owens. Not anymore.

Now let’s dive a little deeper. A month after the “People’s Convention,” Kirk’s Turning Point USA is holding “The Believers Summit” in West Palm Beach, Florida, not far from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. Its aim is to deploy “biblical truths” to “counteract ‘woke’ narratives” and “to facilitate a God-breathed transformation in our nation.” Speakers include David Barton, who, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has “long promoted the idea, now widely popular among the religious right, that the Founding Fathers never intended the separation of church and state but instead sought to construct a Christian nation.” Also on the bill is John Amanchukwu, a North Carolina pastor who preached against the Raleigh school district’s diversity and equality program, claiming it was “grooming children to be the next pervert.” And then there’s Doug Wilson.

Wilson is a leading Christian nationalist on the right. In a 1996 monograph titled “Southern Slavery, As It Was” that he co-wrote, he observed, “Slavery as it existed in the South…was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence.” He added, “There has never been a multiracial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” And there’s more: “Slave life was to [slaves] a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care.” His publishing house published a book in 2023 that, as Reason magazine put it, “advocates an ethnically uniform nation ruled by a ‘Christian prince’ with the power to punish blasphemy and false religion.” The author, not surprising, had a history of associating with white supremacists. Wilson promoted the book on an appearance with Tucker Carlson. He has also called for women to submit to male authority, especially in the bedroom, noting that the lack of such submission can lead to rape.

Trump associates with and legitimizes Kirk, who has recently made racist remarks and who provides a pulpit for Wilson, a Christian supremacist and somewhat of a slavery apologist.

Wilson told Carlson, “As a Christian, I would like that national structure to conform to the thing that God wants, and not the thing that man wants. That’s Christian nationalism.” But it’s the thing that God wants as Wilson interprets it. That’s fundamentalism. In an interview in February with the Religious News Service, he envisioned “a Christian republic” in which people who embrace “loopy-heresy” would be barred from public office. His dream world included a global alliance of Christian states that would exclude any nation that permits same-sex marriage or abortion.

So Trump associates with and legitimizes Kirk, who has recently made racist remarks and who provides a pulpit for Wilson, a Christian supremacist and somewhat of a slavery apologist. For decades, there’s been an ugly swamp of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance on the right. Republicans have often played footsie with its denizens. (See my book American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy, which, alas, remains far too relevant these days.) But Trump has enthusiastically leaped into this muck, bear-hugging and elevating extremists and miscreants. And he seems poised to welcome them into a Trump 2.0 administration. This ain’t a secret. But it practically might as well be, if the media and the Democrats don’t tell the story of this ongoing crusade loudly and often.

David Corn’s American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy, a New York Times bestseller, is available in an expanded paperback edition.

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Our team has been on fire lately—publishing sweeping, one-of-a-kind investigations, ambitious, groundbreaking projects, and even releasing “the holy shit documentary of the year.” And that’s on top of protecting free and fair elections and standing up to bullies and BS when others in the media don’t.

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