Editor’s note: The “Groypers” are followers of the youthful controversialist Nicholas Fuentes, host of a popular YouTube show many have accused of endorsing Holocaust denial and other troubling beliefs. The Groypers have positioned themselves against Turning Point, USA, and its leader, Charlie Kirk, the most powerful of the under-30 activists who rose to prominence during the 2016 election, becoming the self-appointed leader of the “America First” movement’s youth wing. Mr. Fuentes, who claims to be grounded in Catholic political thinking and has identified himself with the “Catholic fascism” of Francisco Franco, condemns Mr. Kirk’s social liberalism and accuses TPUSA of abandoning key principles such as American exceptionalism and immigration restrictionism. Having taken to infiltrating TPUSA’s events on college campuses and stacking their Q&A sessions with hostile comments, the Groypers are becoming an increasingly potent force on the American conservative political scene.
As the Alt-Right coalition fractured in the wake of its disastrous protests in Charlottesville, some sort of ideological reformation was an inevitability. Christian members of the alt-right began to point fingers at its de facto leader Richard Spencer’s indifferent (if not outright hostile) attitude towards religion: he repeatedly promoted paganism in his work on the quasi-official alt-right website, which marked Easter by publishing a celebration of the pagan goddess Ēostre, and he largely ignored cultural matters, focusing instead on the supreme primacy of race.
Commentators like the charismatic young YouTuber Nicholas J. Fuentes took the chance to emphasize the importance of the Christian faith and to deride the paganism and moral liberalism of older Alt-Right associates. “Aside from Richard’s stances on racial identity and immigration,” Spencer’s girlfriend had written in an accidentally comical blogpost about their relationship, “the majority of his positions on social politics are decidedly liberal.” On one level, this was like saying that apart from eating steak for supper every day one can be vegan. Still, there was something to it. In his essay “Homosexuality & White Nationalism,” which fancifully claimed that homophobia is a Jewish construct, white nationalist Greg Johnson claims, “White nationalism should be a one-issue political outlook.” Perhaps the dysfunction of the alt-right resulted from a lack of spiritual and moral commitment on the part of its leadership?
Certainly, such young men had no desire to live in a “white” nation with “drag kids” and “drag queen story hour”. The American cultural mainstream’s focus on transgenderism and gender fluidity encouraged young right-wingers who might once have been attracted to the alt-right to accept the premise that religious traditionalism, and not white identitarianism, was the principle around which their movement should cohere.
Of course, this did not mean abandoning the nationalism or the racial animus. Mr. Fuentes’s YouTube show is titled “America First,” a name which hearkens back to the times of Father Charles Coughlin. He and his followers look up to writers like E. Michael Jones, author of The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit, an analysis of conflicts between Catholic and Jewish thought which holds that Jews rejected Christ and thus “the principles of social order.” Dr. Jones can be found maintaining that the real victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shootings were the victims of Jews who “undermined the moral law.”
To pause momentarily, I should be clear that the “groypers” (as Mr. Fuentes’s followers call themselves, for reasons I don’t care to explain and you probably don’t want to know), who have shot to prominence by embarrassing mainstream conservatives like Charlie Kirk with pointed nationalistic and traditionalist questions in their Q & A sessions, are not a coherent group. It is tempting for commentators to impose a rigid order on amorphous tendencies, thus to flaunt their analytical skill. But to do so when the “movement” has no hierarchy, membership list, or manifesto would be disingenuous. Still, its obvious National Catholic elements are interesting and worthy of attention.
Of course, Catholics have been at the center of modern American nationalist movements. Patrick Buchanan, the father of paleoconservatism, is a practicing Catholic. Lawrence Auster, author of The Path to National Suicide, converted on his deathbed. Catholics are also at the heart of national conservative movements across Europe. One thinks of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen of the French National Rally, or of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party. While Pope Francis favors multiculturalism, such leaders have disagreed, often quite stridently. In Europe, this influx of new bodies does not seem to lead to the expansion of the Catholic faith, after all.
The groypers will oppose and be opposed by illiberal Catholics of the “integralist” variety, who have been clear on opposing nationalism not only in its more radical forms but in more moderate varieties such as those on display in First Things magazine. Nationalists are liable to dismiss integralists, like Adrian Vermuele of Harvard, as liberals in traditionalist guise, but this is ahistorical. L. Brent Bozell, Jr—William F. Buckley’s brother-in-law and right-hand man until his disavowal of mainstream conservatism over his disgust with Buckley and his comrades’ alleged softness on matters such as abortion—spent his later years volunteering on behalf of Hispanic migrants, but it would preposterous to claim that the founder of Triumph was a liberal.
Attempts to fuse nationalism—let alone racialism—and Catholicism has more surprising foes. E. Michael Jones might be a fierce critic of the Jewish people, but he also claims that race is an irrelevance and that without the Catholic Church “Europe would be like Africa.” (That, frankly, might be overheated. What about Korea and Japan?) Joe Sobran was another Catholic whose suspicion of the Jewish people came to dominate his worldview, but he was also—until his late conversion to restrictionism after reading Mr. Buchanan’s State of Emergency—heard saying things like, “I can’t imagine Jesus standing on the border to turn them back.” (Catholics can be among the most militant adherents of ethnically exclusive nationalism, but Ljubo Milos, commandant of the Jasenovac concentration camp, on behalf of the Croatian fascist movement, Ustashe, acknowledged an ideological conflict when he said, “I know I will burn in hell for what I have done. But I will burn for Croatia.”)
To be clear, the universalism of the Christian faith does not preclude patriotism or immigration restrictionism, as the conservative Catholic philosopher Edward Feser has written in reference to a book by Pope John Paul II. John Paul was by no means an arch-reactionary, but he wrote that while all human beings are equal in the eyes of God, different societies share the bonds of their common culture. I do not have the slightest wish to smuggle in the proposition that this belief entails rejecting tribal solidarity—only to suggest that attachments should not end there.
Again, perhaps I am getting a little ahead of myself. The “groypers” have an as yet incoherent tendency, defined more by what they dislike than what they actually admire. Yet I wonder about the extent to which they—as a subculture and not as individuals— have embraced Catholicism for functional reasons. Charles Maurras, the leader of Action Française, famously believed the Catholic Church underpinned the social order of French society, but he still dismissed the Gospels as the work of “four obscure Jews”. How many young men have turned to Catholicism in search of an illiberal moral order and how many embrace it as true remains to be seen, but those whose commitment fails to transcend the former urge are unlikely not to eventually turn to some other right-wing trend. Religion subordinated to politics is a musical instrument being employed as a hammer.
As for those who are sincerely Christian—well, I am the last person who should rattle on about the nature of their faith. Given that their little movement runs on energy and conflict, I do not expect them to be introspective. Still, one tactical advantage of Richard Spencer’s areligious ideology was that he could embrace what leaked recordings have exposed as a naked lust for power. Catholicism details a moral order against which adherents must judge their worldly ends and means, and while this need not entail the blanket tolerance and watery compassion of progressive religious ideologues it does entail duties beyond tribes. For, if not, the Samaritan written about by one of those obscure Jews would have kept walking.
Editor’s note: this article has been modified for clarity.
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