How Colleges Became Recruitment Hubs for the Gen-Z Right

How Colleges Became Recruitment Hubs for the Gen-Z Right

How Colleges Became Recruitment Hubs for the Gen-Z Right

Right-wing Zoomers are outflanking their MAGA elders in enthusiastic embrace of radically antidemocratic, exclusionary, and bigoted beliefs.


An anonymous post appeared in late September on Reddit’s “QAnonCasualties” forum, an online space designed to support those desperate to extricate loved ones from the all-consuming grip of conspiracy theories. “I think my brother is a white supremacist and I don’t know what to do,” a 17-year-old posted. She went on that she became concerned after her 13-year old brother started saying things like “gay people are disgusting.”

She’d done some digging and discovered her younger brother’s anonymous account on the alternative social media platform Telegram—complete with a username boasting support for white Christian nationalist Nick Fuentes and an avatar featuring the alt-right icon Pepe the Frog framed by an America First flag. Her brother, she soon discovered, had become a devoted follower of Fuentes.

Fuentes—who recently referred to Hitler as “really fucking cool” and announced, “We need to eradicate the Jewish stranglehold over The United States of America”—leads the America First/“Groyper” movement, a network of disaffected, terminally online Gen Z men animated by a toxic brew of misogyny, antisemitism, and white rage. (Groyper is a variation of the Pepe meme in far-right online spaces.) “This [is] really hard,” the sister acknowledged to those offering support. “I love my family so much and [it] hurts to see him turn into this.”

While Fuentes’s unabashed Hitlerism has rendered him untouchable for most conservative leaders, he can hardly be called fringe. Within the past two years, Fuentes has featured leading MAGA Representatives Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) at his Groyper conferences and intimately dined with former president Donald Trump as a surprise guest at Mar-a-Lago. Most of the once-fringe positions Fuentes championed for years—such as the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, Christian nationalism, and hard-line homophobia—are now standard conservative fare. And all that’s by design.

On high school and college campuses across the country, many young right-wingers are outflanking their MAGA elders in enthusiastic embrace of radically antidemocratic, exclusionary, and bigoted politics. To be sure, most of Gen Z leans liberal. But those who buck the trend cling proudly to their “dissident” status, doubling down in uncompromising reassertion of the race, gender, and other hierarchies their peers are set on dismantling.

These young right-wingers are often—as the younger brother above—first radicalized by online influencers like Fuentes or Andrew Tate, an ultra-misogynist livestreamer. In online fan forums and message boards, they find camaraderie and community, circulating a menagerie of racist memes, anti-feminist screeds, bodybuilder videos, Bible verses, and other content steeped in the loneliness of incel culture and the vitriol of white grievance. And as they mature, many transform their politics into real-world activism. While this milieu produces no shortage of mass shooters, many more don suits and ties and find welcome, and livelihoods, in youth-focused MAGA institutions—meme-addled cell phones in pockets, determined to pull the right ever further right.

Turning Point USA (TPUSA), perhaps the largest such institution, has long operated, as founder Charlie Kirk once put it, like a “battle tank” on college campuses, attacking student activists and progressive professors across the country with a barrage of culture war and harassment campaigns tailor-made for social media virality. In recent years, its politics have pushed the outermost edge of mainstream acceptability. TPUSA events now feature Greene proclaiming, “We should be Christian nationalists,” pastors suggesting that political opponents be executed, and alt-right mainstays like Steve Bannon and Alex Jones promoting the “great reset” conspiracy theory positing that “globalist” elites used the Covid-19 pandemic to entrench sinister world domination.

It wasn’t always this extreme. In fall 2019, the Groyper movement first captured the spotlight with a national campaign targeting TPUSA, which they saw as a symbol of the milquetoast conservative establishment that obstructed the white nationalist cause. But today, Fuentes has changed his tune. TPUSA, he said in a 2023 speech, is “coming further and further.… they sound way more like me today than they sound like themselves four years ago” and “we’re fighting a guerrilla war, but in many ways, we’ve already won.”

While Kirk once argued the United States should “staple green cards to diplomas,” today he regularly calls, like much of the right, for an immigration moratorium. He has dipped into unvarnished white nationalism, calling to protect “white demographics in America” and insisting, “Whiteness is great. Be proud of who you are.” Multiple TPUSA chapters have hosted Groyper speakers, and Groypers have been exposed as chapter leaders on high school and college campuses—enacting a longtime white nationalist infiltration strategy to transform conservative institutions from within.

TPUSA is far from the only Gen Z political organization swarming with white nationalists. Chapters of College Republicans United (CRU), a national network closely connected to the Groyper movement, have hosted white nationalist leaders like Jared Taylor and Vincent James Foxx to speak on campuses. “[Fuentes] has a huge following among young conservatives…[and] a message that resonates with a lot of college age students,” CRU posted on X (formerly Twitter) in July, defending its decision to have Fuentes headline its national convention amid national pushback.

Students for Ye was a national network created in 2022 after Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) launched an unhinged antisemitic, pro-Hitler tirade, and a purported presidential campaign, with Fuentes at his side. Students for Ye claimed the support of 1,000 students, and several college and high school campuses were tagged with “Ye is Right” graffiti, amid other harassment stunts by Groyper provocateurs. Students for Ye chairman Daniel Schmidt, a junior at the University of Chicago, railed against “Jewish supremacists” online and continues to appear as a guest on Fox News, where he invokes a central slogan of the white nationalist movement in lambasting “anti-white genocidal rhetoric.” If a TPUSA chapter is “not pro-Ye,” he told a Groyper livestreamer in January, “we’ll send our guys down there and we’ll do whatever it takes” to “put pro-Ye people in.”

Campus conservative groups serve as pipelines for future conservative leadership. “Anyone who spends any time in conservative circles in D.C. knows there is a particularly potent militant mood on the younger end of the conservative spectrum,” explained 25-year-old conservative intellectual Nate Hochman on a panel in February. Five months later, Hochman was fired from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign after incorporating the Sonnenrad (sun wheel), a Nazi symbol, into a campaign video.

Across the ecosystem of Young Republican Clubs, GOP precinct committees and MAGA advocacy organizations, it’s also easy to find acolytes of the fascist influencer Bronze Age Pervert (BAP) and self-proclaimed “neoreactionary” thinkers like Curtis Yarvin—ideologues committed to the liquidation of democracy and its replacement by neo-feudal monarchism, authoritarianism, or fascism.

“We want total war,” exclaimed Gavin Wax, leader of the New York Young Republican Club at the group’s 2022 gala, epitomizing this gloves-off approach. ​“This is the only language the left understands. The language of pure and unadulterated power.

From campuses to communities, for every Gen Z conservative activist revealed as a devoted Groyper or BAPist, there are many others whose ideological affiliations and anonymous accounts never see the light of day. An August poll by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that 69 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds with a high degree of social media use agreed with four or more conspiracy statements, with over 50 percent agreeing with antisemitic and Great Replacement conspiracy theories in particular. A 2022 study published by Political Research Quarterly, based on a survey of 3,500 US adults, found “the epicenter of antisemitic attitudes is young adults on the far Right.”

These are the rising leaders of the right. And regardless of the results of the 2024 presidential election, the exclusionary, antidemocratic politics sharpened and amplified by Trumpism aren’t going away anytime soon.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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