Before last week, one would have assumed that if Kanye West and Nicholas J. Fuentes became pals, West would be the one to suffer from the association. After all, what could a young, far-right live-streamer offer an uber-wealthy rapper other than a tarnished reputation? But when both West and Fuentes appeared on a recent episode of Alex Jones's InfoWars, West blurted out that he admired Hitler and loved Nazis. Fuentes must have had the grim realization that it was West doing the damage to him.
West and Fuentes have formed one of the most surreal media and political partnerships in our lifetime—one perhaps fostered by the since-exiled Milo Yiannopoulos. While dining at Mar-a-Lago two days before Thanksgiving, West asked Donald Trump to be his running mate in the 2024 presidential race. He had Fuentes, his campaign manager, in tow. This prompted a disgruntled Trump to issue a statement saying he didn’t know and hadn’t invited the young activist.
Awkward as it is to say, Fuentes is one of the most talented speakers on the internet. Performing to an online audience—without a script, in real time—is fantastically difficult. Listen to most people on podcasts, myself included, and you’ll have to sift through a mountain of verbal tics to gather anything of substance. Fuentes, on the other hand, is a lucid and energetic speaker. He is also funny. I remember watching a clip in which one of his fans sent in a clichéd alt-right talking point and he began to thrash about as if his brain was boiling, and cried, “WELCOME TO THE BASED ZONE!”
Thanks to his talent, Fuentes is perhaps the most successful figure to emerge from the alt-right. Listening to Richard Spencer, by contrast, was like listening to an estate agent in a baggy suit trying to sell me a condemned house. Fuentes gained a degree of mainstream prominence when he encouraged his fans—known as “groypers”—to attend talks held by movement conservatives like Charlie Kirk and Ben Shapiro and ask them why, if they were such edgy truth-tellers, they avoided Trumpian issues like migration. You could hate the messenger, but the message struck a chord. Fuentes even convinced Representatives Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene to attend his “America First” conferences. (Taylor Greene later downplayed her attendance, saying she hadn’t known who he was.)
But what matters more than talent is what we do with it, and Fuentes has dedicated himself to reinforcing the worst stereotypes people have about right-wingers. There seems to be no noxious sentiment that he is above expressing.
“The rootless transnational elite knows that a tidal wave of white identity is coming,” Fuentes wrote on Facebook after attending the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally at Charlottesville. “And they know that once the word gets out, they will not be able to stop us.” He has since distanced himself from the alt-right over a concern about “optics.” In retrospect, his cynical about-face at least has the virtue of ensuring the arc of his career is ironic.
This is a man who celebrated the abolition of Roe v. Wade less because it might reduce abortions than because he wants to see America’s women under the thumb of a home-grown Taliban. (Elsewhere, he is reported to have praised the Taliban for being “conservative.”) Some right-wingers think the events of January 6, 2021, have been overblown, and were perhaps even manipulated by the authorities. Fuentes thinks they were “awesome.” Conservatives like Matt Walsh, according to Fuentes, are not just excessively moderate but “shabbos goy race traitors.” Putin, he says, is trying to “liberate” Ukraine and deserves a big old round of applause.
Fuentes claims to be a Catholic—indeed, a Catholic who thinks the United States should have “Catholic media, Catholic Hollywood, Catholic government.” And yet he invokes the name of Mary to justify his desire for a teenage partner with “a fertile womb and an innocent childlike spirit.” “Did a person of the Trinity go around saying, ‘I need a mature woman that is smart’?” Fuentes said on his show. One needn’t be Catholic to note that if Mary navigated eighty miles of Judaean wilderness just prior to birthing the Son of God, avoided the Massacre of the Innocents, and composed the Magnificat, she was certainly both mature and smart.
It’s often impossible to tell whether Fuentes is joking or being serious—even in matters of faith. He is a paragon of internet irony, a herald of a morally ambivalent online culture that is equally capable of churning out harmless Wojak memes and inspiring Christchurch terrorists. I don’t know him and I couldn’t tell you what he “really” thinks. But the extent to which he is merely “performing” is ultimately irrelevant. His parade of perversities marches joyfully away from any conception of the good. Whether its endpoint is atrocity or just offense, it offers nothing of societal or spiritual worth.
The young man who once preached the importance of “optics” has become the sort of alt-media force that leftists bent on demonizing Catholicism and nationalism dream of. And his new associate Kanye West has become a living reductio ad absurdum of the free speech near-absolutism of someone like Elon Musk. West was banned from Twitter again last week after his account was briefly reinstated. His crime? Posting a swastika set within a star of David, the logo of the sex-mad UFO cult “Raëlism.” His other final posts included a defense of Balenciaga—the luxury fashion brand mired in scandal over an ad campaign featuring child sexualization alongside references to Baal, the ancient Canaanite deity who demanded child sacrifice.
Talent, be it musical or rhetorical, is wonderful until it’s directed toward absurd or corrupt ends. The spectacle of West and Fuentes’s partnership could not be more ironic: Fuentes exploited West’s mental health crisis for profit and publicity, only to be dragged from the safety of groyper LARPing into the fires of earnest anti-Semitism that can’t be winked away. Whether their self-immolation is pleasing to Baal is anyone’s guess.
Ben Sixsmith is a contributing editor at The Critic.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.
Image by Kenny Sun licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.