From Charlottesville to Mar-a-Lago: Nick Fuentes’ White Nationalist Journey

Despite his rhetoric growing increasingly vile over the years, the white nationalist has only moved closer to conservative political power.
Nick Fuentes, answers question during an interview with Agence France-Presse in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 9, 2016.
Nick Fuentes, answers question during an interview with Agence France-Presse in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 9, 2016. (Photo by WILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Nick Fuentes’ first brush with infamy took place in his first semester as a freshman at Boston University when he appeared in a school video series, wearing a MAGA hat, to make his case for voting for Donald Trump in the upcoming 2016 election. 

The video went viral, and the comment sections spiraled out of control as roasting him turned into threats of violence. Some students vowed to find Fuentes and “beat him up,” recalled Alec Dakin, who was part of a Libertarian group at Boston University called Young Americans for Liberty. In response, a squadron of “4chan-type people” rallied to Fuentes’ defense and began handing threats back, said Dakin.  


This may well have been Fuentes’ villain origin story. 

Six months later, at just 18, he landed his own show on a burgeoning right-wing media platform and used his time on air to rail against the “barbaric ideology” of Islam and call for the “globalists” at CNN to be “hanged.” 

Everytime he said something offensive or bigoted, there’d be a backlash. But he’d laugh it off, and get even more followers. “He takes mud and just turns it into a bigger mud ball,” one former associate of Fuentes told VICE News (they didn’t want to be named, due to past experiences being targeted by his supporters). 

Today, Fuentes is the pied-piper of a sprawling network of internet neo-Nazis, edgelords, incels, and white nationalists who call themselves “groypers.” He uses his nightly broadcasts on his streaming service to attack Jewish people, the LGBTQ community, and women. 

He’s weathered deplatforming and demonetization from mainstream platforms like YouTube and Facebook and survived infighting among his top recruits at his organization “America First.” He’s retained a loyal following despite some of his more bizarre positions, such as his insistence that “having sex in itself is gay” and that “the only really straight heterosexual position is to be an asexual incel.”  


And yet even as his rhetoric has grown more vile over the years, he’s inched further into the conservative political mainstream. For the last two years, he’s hosted conferences that current members of Congress have spoken at. Part of his success at gaining access to important political figures, experts tell VICE News, may in part be due to the mainstreaming of white nationalist ideology—but also because until recently, he’s been a relatively fringe personality. 

That may have just changed after landing his biggest coup yet: his newfound alliance with disgraced rapper Ye (who changed his name from Kanye West last year). Ye, who brought Fuentes to a dinner with former president Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago last week, catapulted the fringe white nationalist into national headlines. 

Back in 2016, with political tensions running high nationwide, Dakin saw opportunity in the commotion surrounding Fuentes’ video. He organized a debate, that he’d moderate, between Fuentes and another student, Jake Brewer, in early November that year. 

That debate was well attended, drawing a crowd of more than 400 people. One attendee described the event as a “show,” according to an article at the time in The Daily Free Press, an independent student newspaper at Boston University. 


Fuentes, who wore a suit and tie and at one point donned a MAGA hat with a smirk, described himself in his opening statement as a “human face to the last dying breath of conservatism in this country.” 

“Looking back on it, he was particularly articulate, but I don’t think he said anything outside of standard Trump supporter views,” said Dakin. “No outwards white supremacy—definitely far-right views, but it wasn’t anything that Trump hadn’t said himself.” 

During that debate, Brewer pointed to one of Fuentes’ tweets that described multiculturalism as a “cancer.” “I do think you’re engaged with fascist rhetoric,” said Brewer. “So, are you a Nazi? No; crypto-Nazi, maybe.”

“You said, for me to come to this multicultural campus, and exercise my First Amendment and say ‘I think multiculturalism is cancer’—which I do—you're saying it was ignorant for me to not to expect that I would be bullied, harassed, have threats issued against me,” said Fuentes. “I think that’s what the liberals call victim blaming.” His retort was met with audible groans from the crowd. 

A post on the conservative news site Campus Reform bemoaned the treatment of Fuentes by his debate opponent, characterizing him as the latest victim of a hostile and politically intolerant left-leaning student body. This played into a simmering narrative on the Right about liberalism run amok on college campuses.


“I think [liberals] love to hate me,” Fuentes told Campus Reform before the debate. “I think that so long as I’m a conservative in Boston and on a college campus, I think there will be hate and harassment to go around, but, as I said before, everyone is against us.”

Fuentes’ perceived victimhood—and seeming indifference in the face of “hostility”—got the attention of some well-connected right-wing activists outside of Boston University. In particular, Kassy Dillon, who at that time was interning in the office of Massachusetts’ Republican governor. After Dillon watched the debate, she called her friend Will Nardi (also an intern in the governor’s office) and told him that she’d just seen the next rising star of the Republican Party, according to an essay Nardi wrote for VICE in 2018. Dillon and Nardi agreed to invite Fuentes to an upcoming Christmas party for Western Massachusetts Republicans. 

He came to that party wearing a Trump-themed Christmas “ugly sweater.” 

Months later, Nardi and Dillon, who ran a segment at the nascent pro-Trump platform Right Side Broadcasting Network, helped Fuentes get his own show. In his essay, “My Strange College Rivalry with an Alt-Righter,” Nardi said that he and Dillon rarely interacted with the 18-year-old once at RSBN, but the two became increasingly aware from his broadcasts that Fuentes’ Trumpian political outlook was veering into all-out bigotry. 


In early August 2017, a conservative anti-Trump Twitter account called Reagan Battallion published a leaked video of Fuentes that showed him saying that white people who slept with Black people were “degenerates.” “Are you hurt in your daily existence by Jews,” one unidentified woman asks Fuentes. “I told you, yes, absolutely,” he responded. 

The apparent goal of the leaked video was to derail Fuentes’ career. However, it did the exact opposite. According to Nardi, the “backlash was so enormous that it quadrupled his following and solidified his place within the alt-right.” It also set him up with a modest salary of more than $100 a month in donations via Hatreon, Patreon’s far-right alternative. (Dillon, for her part, says she cut off all contact with Fuentes as soon as she realized his views were “problematic and hateful”). 

“Part of this is his brand,” said Caroline Orr , a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland studying misinformation, who has tracked far-right figures and networks such as Fuentes for years. “[Fuentes] is known for being a podcasting version of a shitposter, he likes to provoke people, he likes to cause controversy, he wants people to be talking about him in this way. When he’s involved in these controversies, all it does is basically feed right into the brand he’s building for himself.” 

Later in August 2017, Fuentes attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a brazen display of white supremacy and hate that left counterprotester Heather Heyer dead, dozens injured, and the entire community traumatized. 


Charlottesville caused a schism in the “alt-right” between the hardcore neo-Nazi contingent and the optics-savvy white nationalists who had genuine aspirations to gain a foothold in the mainstream. 

Though he wasn’t particularly well known, Fuentes felt the consequences of Unite the Right. Right Side Broadcasting Network announced that they’d parted ways with him, according to Southern Poverty Law Center, which they described as a mutual decision (Fuentes claimed years later that he was fired). He also dropped out of Boston University because he said he “received threats” over his participation in the rally. 

In the following years, Fuentes remained a minor player on the far-right fringes, seeking collaborations, speaking appearances and podcasts wherever he could get them. At age 19, he became the “youngest person ever” to speak at the annual American Renaissance conference in Tennessee, a multi-day orgy of race pseudoscience and white nationalism, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

By 2019, he had a new strategy and new target: taking white nationalism mainstream by attacking the Republican establishment. He teamed up with Patrick Casey, the former leader of the now-defunct white nationalist group Identity Evropa (whose preppy members marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.”) 


Fuentes wanted to shed the baggage of the increasingly toxic alt-right. That meant no more swastikas, no more Hitler salutes, no more skinheads. “We have to start changing our look and aesthetic to blend in,” he said on an April 2019 webcast, according to reporter Ben Lorber for Political Research Associates. “If enough people get in there, introduce the talking points, infiltrate, start converting people, and build bridges… Bit by bit we start to break down these walls and we start to get in… and then one day we become the mainstream.” He formed “America First,” a more innocuous-sounding name used to sanitize the same noxious ideology. 

In particular, Fuentes went after the conservative network of college students, Turning Point USA (TPUSA), which was in the midst of trying to enforce a new code of conduct banning racist hate speech. In what Fuentes and his ilk affectionately refer to as the “Groyper Wars,” he cast TPUSA as just another RINO (Republican in Name Only) institution that was overly beholden to “cancel culture.” His supporters harassed, trolled and doxed prominent TPUSA members, and tried to lure sympathetic college students into the “groyper” movement. 

The “Stop the Steal” movement following the 2020 election was a key opportunity for fringe extremists, like Fuentes, to build alliances with important Trump-supporting political figures. 


Fuentes, who’d rebranded as a devout Christian nationalist and was generally unknown in mainstream circles, became a vocal proponent of election conspiracies. He showed up to the “Million MAGA March” in Washington D.C. on Nov. 14, 2020, flanked by his supporters in blue “America First” caps. Fuentes urged the crowd to “storm every state capitol until January 20, 2021, until President Trump is inaugurated for four more years,” and called on conservatives to be “more feral” in their efforts to nullify the results of the election. He spoke at another rally in D.C. the following month, and led the crowd in chanting “destroy the GOP” for, he said, failing to do enough to secure a second term for Trump. 

And, according to a pair of subpoenas issued by the Jan. 6 congressional committee, he was present on Capitol grounds on the day of the deadly riot. 

Fuentes discussed the subpoena on his livestream with breathless excitement.

“I’m 23 years old, I'm banned from everything, I’m de-banked, I’m on the no-fly list, the FBI investigating me, they seize my money, I’m banned from Paypal, I’m banned from every payment processors, every social media, and now a subpoena from the U.S. Congress?” he claimed. “I mean, I don’t wanna go to jail but going to jail would almost be… I really don’t want to go to jail, because I have a lot of work to do, so much work to do in radicalizing America’s youth and pursuing this total groyper offensive.” 


He also likened himself to “Julian Assange” or “Edward Snowden.” “This validates me,” he said. “Here I am, a young guy with nothing other than my words and a webcam. And just the order in which I say the words has gotten me all the way. I sped-run to become the number one political dissident in America… who else has the credibility I do? No one.” 

Fuentes’ activism around the Stop the Steal movement clearly paid off in terms of burnishing his credentials in the GOP. In February 2021, Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar was a keynote speaker at the second annual America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC), hosted by Fuentes on the same weekend as CPAC, the influential annual conservative conference. Fuentes posted a photo of himself and Gosar having coffee together at a restaurant with the caption “great meeting!”

The flirtation between the establishment Republican and Fuentes didn’t end there. Through 2021 and early this year, Gosar continued to share Fuentes’ posts on his social media, and even rushed to his defense after he got subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 congressional committee. In a post on the far-right social media site Gab he accused the committee of persecuting “young conservative Christians like Nick Fuentes.” 


While Fuentes continued to build cache on the GOP fringes, his social media presence on sites like Telegram and nightly live streams on remained unhinged, incendiary, and featured racist content. At this year’s AFPAC, Gosar spoke by video conference, as did Idaho’s Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. Fringe-right Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene spoke in person: she took the stage, and hugged Fuentes just after he’d bragged about his leadership in a movement of “young white men.” 

The public backlash following this year’s AFPAC was louder, and resulted in increased scrutiny on Fuentes and the kind of rhetoric he’s best known for. Gosar ultimately disavowed him, saying he “had a problem with his mouth.” Greene claimed she had no idea who he was prior to the event, and only spoke at the conference because she wanted to “address [Fuentes] very large following.” 

This week, Greene said on Twitter “of course I denounce Nick Fuentes and his racists antisemitic ideology.” Fuentes’ supporters appear to have since turned on Greene. “Marjorie Taylor Greene really went full Mike Pence on us,” one of them wrote on Telegram, an apparent reference to what Trump supporters see as Pence’s “betrayal” of the former president for certifying the 2020 election results. 

Orr, who has tracked Fuentes for years, believes that the key to his success lies partly in his “relative irrelevance.” Up until perhaps last week when his newfound alliance with Kanye West catapulted Fuentes’ name to the top of trending topics on Twitter and news outlets around the country, the majority of Americans would have had no idea who he was. 

“I almost think that his irrelevance serves as a protective factor in terms of him being able to weather scandals and controversies,” said Orr. “To get the energy together to cancel someone, they have to be someone who has that energy behind him to begin with, and sometimes I have to question if that exists for him.” 

And on the other side of things, Orr added, it’s often the person who chooses to associate themselves with Fuentes who ends up facing any consequences. 

“It's almost like the toxicity of Nick Fuentes rubs off on the person he associates with, rather than himself,” said Orr. “The person who he's with ends up getting most of the negative energy and attention, and he kind of just waltzes away.” So far, that holds true for Ye, a once-beloved artist who has been exposed as a virulent anti-Semite; his association with Fuentes is being characterized as a new low. As for Trump, who is also running again for president in 2024: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to take aim at the former president’s dinner on Tuesday. He told reporters that anyone meeting with individuals  advocating antisemitism or white supremacy was “highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States. 

And as for Fuentes: searches for his name on Google have soared in the past week. He accompanied Ye on a private jet for an appearance on right-wing podcaster Tim Pool’s show, who has 1.3 million subscribers. 

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Ben Lorber’s name.