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The Republican Party’s friendships keep getting more dangerous

White supremacists are gaining ground in the right-wing political party, thanks to Donald Trump and Elon Musk

Donald Trump
Steve Bannon, Elon Musk and Donald Trump during a meeting that the former president held with business people at the White House, in 2017.Evan Vucci (AP)
María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo

On the eve of Thanksgiving, Donald Trump hosted a dinner at his Florida estate. Attendees included rapper Kanye West – who had just made several anti-Semitic statements – and Nick Fuentes, a 24-year-old Holocaust denier who is popular among supporters of the alt-right. Even the Republican establishment – with its longstanding complicity for Trump – was rattled when the news came out.

A few days later, on December 8, the Young Republican Club of New York – where the police recently stopped a plot to attack several synagogues – held its annual gala in Manhattan. Speakers included Steve Bannon – a conspiracy theorist and former top Trump adviser – and congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has made countless racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic statements in her short political career. Former New York City mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, fringe white supremacist commentator Jack Posobiec and Austrian politician Gerald Grosz – who is affiliated with the Nazi-linked Austrian Freedom Party – also attended.

Posobiec – a former reservist in the US Navy – trails only Alex Jones in propagating conspiracy theories on the internet. Popular among young right-wing men across the country, he was in good company with Gavin Wax, the president of the Young Republican Club. Wax is a member of the extremist Proud Boys group, which played a key role in storming the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021.

“White supremacists and people associated with neo-Nazis should not be legitimized, period,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “This is a toxic environment that is normalizing anti-Semitism… it’s outrageous that the New York Young Republican Club is fueling this,” the Democratic politician emphasized.

According to the New York City police departments, there were at least 45 anti-Semitic incidents across the city just in November 2022. While authorities report that anti-Semitic attacks in the city have risen 125% in the past year. Police officials made assurances that they would be monitoring the Republican event for hate speech and incitement of violence.

While Republican senior staff and politicians distanced themselves from Trump over his decision to dine with Fuentes and West, hardly any explicitly condemned him. At the moment, Trump is the only declared candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

“Trump was wrong to seat a Holocaust denier at his table,” was the meek response of Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president, who was almost killed by Trump supporters during the January 6 riots. His comments gained little traction among the Republican base.

Online, hate speech against African-Americans, Muslims, Jews, Asians and LGBT+ Americans has surged since Twitter was purchased by Elon Musk. Conservatives have rejoiced at the shift in the social media giant’s standards of enforcement. Kanye West was suspended from Twitter after he aired anti-Semitic views in an interview with Alex Jones – who has been ordered to pay nearly $1 billion to the families who lost children in the Sandy Hook massacre. But Musk was the one who initially reinstated the account at the end of the October, after it was suspended by company officials for hate speech.

Fuentes came to public attention at the age of 19, when he participated in the Unite the Right demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12 of 2017. During the white supremacist gathering, a man ran his car over anti-fascist protestors, killing a young woman and injuring dozens of people. Since then, Fuentes has continued to spread racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

His popularity in online right-wing circles has made him a key figure among a younger generation of Trump supporters, who are in the stark minority within their age demographic.

Posobiec – barely a decade older than Fuentes – is another young Trump supporter. He has almost two million followers on Twitter – which has taken no action to suspend him – and frequently tweets out racially-tinged commentary. Most recently, he criticized the release of Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, in exchange for Britteny Griner, an American basketball player held by Russian authorities.

Several sources – including the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights observatory – link Posobiec to two individuals who, according to the FBI, have ties to the massacre perpetrated in 2018 against the Tree of Life synagogues in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During that hate crime, 11 people were killed, representing the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in US history. Despite all of this, Posobiec has been able to share a stage with elected officials from one of America’s two main political parties.

Kanye West – who announced his own candidacy for president two days after having dinner with Trump – has been embroiled in controversy for weeks over his numerous inflammatory comments. In addition to his Twitter account being suspended again, he has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising contracts with Gap, Adidas and Balenciaga.

In a regular year, the meeting organized by the Young Republicans in New York City would have passed unnoticed. The only reason a minor political gathering has gained such media attention is because – like the Trump dinner in Florida – it represents how racism, anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories are becoming a bigger part of Republican discourse. The closeness of Trump and other right-wing figures to Musk – who now controls one of the largest social media platforms in the world – could have new consequences for minorities across the US, especially as there no longer seems to be any digital control over what is considered to be unacceptable.

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