Donald Trump Jr. nurses political ambitions and has been following in his father’s footsteps, stirring up cultural strife to win support on the right. To that end, Trump Jr. has written a book titled Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us. But while promoting this book, Trump Jr. has found that the loudest protests have come from an unexpected source: Trump fans who want the president to adopt more openly racist and homophobic policies.
As The Washington Post reports, Trump Jr. and Trump campaign senior adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle were shell-shocked by the angry reception they met on Sunday at a book event at the University of California at Los Angeles. “When unruly heckling drowned out the couple’s answers, leading the pair to walk offstage, it wasn’t leftists who cut the event short,” the newspaper reports. “Instead, the rebukes came from a crowd of young people who rank among the most ardent and extreme supporters of President Trump.”
The protesters call themselves the “groyper army,” an allusion to the alt-right’s appropriation of the cartoon character Pepe the Frog. They often wear MAGA hats and profess to love Donald Trump but worry that his administration has been watered down by moderates. Like many far-right formations, the groyper army is a decentralized social network. Under the instruction of the far-right anti-Semitic radio host Nick Fuentes, the groyper army has taken to protesting events led by Republican groups like Turning Point USA (TPUSA) and leading right-wing luminaries like Ben Shapiro, Charlie Kirk, Jonah Goldberg, and Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw.
Even as they protest Republican events, the groyper army continues to pledge allegence to Trumpism. Their claim is that they are the true voices of Trumpism, while the official voices of the GOP are sellouts. “Our problem is not with @DonaldJTrumpJr who is a patriot—We are supporters of his father!” Nick Fuentes tweeted. “Our problem is with Charlie Kirk’s TPUSA organization that SHUTS DOWN and SMEARS socially conservative Christians and supporters of President Trump’s agenda. We are AMERICA FIRST!”
At some conservative events, the groyper army can make up as much as a third of the audience. They love badgering Republicans for being insufficiently homophobic, anti-Semitic, or racist. After one Turning Point USA event, a conservative attendee told Vox reporter Jane Coaston, “I did not know there were this many racists out there.”
Coaston sees the groyper army as offering an existential choice for the American right. “Basically, there are two paths,” Coaston argues. She contrasts Dan Crenshaw with Nick Fuentes. Crenshaw stands for a Republican Party that is inclusive, while Fuentes wants a party that is restricted to white Christian heterosexuals.
But to see this as a divide over “two paths” is to vastly overstate the differences between the groyper army and Trumpian Republicans. It’s more accurate to see them as two branches of the same tree, both rooted in racism and authoritarianism.
Or to use a more dramatic metaphor, the Trumpian GOP is enacting the story of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein (1818). Like Victor Frankenstein, the Trumpists have brought to life a monster, the alt-right. Now that monster is turning on its creator.
The overlap between the Trumpian right and the groyper army can be seen in the simple fact that this March a chapter of Turning Points USA invited Nick Fuentes to speak at the University of Iowa. Beyond this incident, Turning Points USA itself has been rife with bigotry. The New Yorker reported in December of 2017 that Crystal Clanton, while working as TPUSA’s national field director, texted a fellow employee saying, “i hate black people. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story.”
Clayton was replaced by Shialee Grooman and Troy Meeker. As HuffPost reported in April 2018, both had a history of making racist comments as well, including use of the n-word. HuffPost also quoted a source as saying that TPUSA Midwest Regional Manager Timon Prax “used the n-word with the hard R nonstop, made fun of black people and referred to them as slaves and made fun of the mentally disabled.”
All told, Turning Points USA has had at least 17 such incidents involving bigoted words and actions from its employees or associates. To its credit, the organization has sometimes disciplined or fired these employees. But the question remains: Why does Turning Points USA keep hiring racists, anti-Semites, and homophobes?
The obvious answer is that the Trumpian right has energized the alt-right and brought it into mainstream politics. Trump ran as a birther and nativist, promising a wall. He has repeatedly retweeted alt-right sources and memes. After the Charlottesville rally, he said there were good people on both sides of a clash between neo-Nazis and antiracists.
Further, in a singular victory for the racist right, Trump has elevated Stephen Miller to a position of prominence in the White House, where he is perhaps the most influential aide in setting immigration policy. As the Southern Poverty Law Center documents in an important report, Miller has extensive ties to white nationalism. A cache of letters Miller wrote to a Breitbart News editor shows that Miller was steeped in racist publications like American Renaissance and VDARE, and often echoed their argument that the white race is threatened by replacement. Miller also had connections with the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer.
Given Trump’s behavior, it’s not surprising that the alt-right feels like it has a home in the Republican Party. This has led to a surge of young racists’ joining groups like Turning Points USA. But these bigots sometimes prove embarrassing, since they go beyond the usual Republican dog whistles into an overt, undeniable racism. In consequence, Talking Points USA ends up periodically purging its employees. These purges produce a backlash among the alt-right, who resent the way the conservative movement is trying to co-opt them while also shunting them aside when necessary.
The struggle between the groyper army and the Republican Party is born out of an understandable feeling of rejection that some racists harbor. These racists can rightly ask, “If Trump and Miller are acceptable, why aren’t we?” Like Frankenstein’s monster, they are enraged by being abandoned by their creator. Trump and the GOP are discovering that it’s easier to create a monster than to tame one.