Just over a minute into the first speech of the Republican National Convention on Monday night, it became abundantly clear what the party has on offer this election cycle: rage, fear and eternal culture war.
“Trump is the bodyguard of Western civilization,” said Charlie Kirk, the head of right-wing student organization Turning Point USA (TPUSA), using a popular white nationalist euphemism. “Trump was elected to protect our families from the vengeful mob that seeks to destroy our way of life.”
With this vision of an America under siege from violent forces, the 26-year-old Kirk, one of the young stars of the Republican Party, set the tone for the evening, the election and, likely, the future of the GOP. Other convention speakers, such as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Donald Trump Jr., echoed his words.
“They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door,” Gaetz said, suggesting, as President Donald Trump often does, that Democrats want to let criminals and the loosely organized gang formed by Salvadoran immigrants roam the streets unfettered. “The dangerous left need America to be weaker to accomplish their goal of replacing her.”
If the GOP hopes to terrify conservatives into thinking that a mass anti-racism movement to protect Black lives is a communist insurrection, its convention is off to a good start. But such disinformation, especially with the imprimatur of the Republican Party, is a clarion call to far-right extremists, who since 9/11 have killed more Americans than any terrorist threat and carried out almost three times as many attacks in the United States as Islamic terrorists, according to government data.
In previous months, armed Trump supporters have already taken to the streets in some areas, primed to gun down anti-fascists whose arrival by the nonexistent busload the right-wing propaganda machine falsely suggested was imminent. In small towns, Black Lives Matter supporters who organized peaceful protests have been confronted ― and in some cases, set upon ― by motorcycle gangs and large groups of armed right-wingers who poured into town from other places, ostensibly to defend America.
There is likely more of this to come, both around the country and at the RNC. And the Republican Party is encouraging it, including by welcoming speakers with ties to white nationalism.
The idea that the West needs to be protected from violent rabble is one that has long animated the white supremacist movement, for which preserving a racially homogenous Christian country and stopping nonwhite immigration is paramount. Today, these objectives dovetail neatly with the agenda of President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again movement and his takeover of the GOP.
The Trump administration’s demonization of nonwhite immigrants and asylum seekers evokes the white nationalist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which holds that liberal elites are conspiring to eradicate people of European descent by flooding majority-white countries with dark-skinned immigrants. The theory originated in 2012 with the French anti-immigration writer Renaud Camus, who was inspired by a racist novel about refugees called “The Camp of the Saints” ― a favorite of both former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and current Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who pushed the administration’s brutal family separation policy at the border.
The Great Replacement theory has been tied to several deadly white supremacist terrorist attacks, including one last year in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman targeted Hispanic shoppers in a Walmart and murdered 23 people, and another in which a white nationalist massacred 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The conspiracy theory can be heard in the chants of “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us” by white nationalists ― Trump’s “very fine people” ― at the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump himself, who launched his presidential campaign by attacking Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, has sanctioned toxic ideas about nonwhite people invading America. So has the RNC. In 2016, convention organizers put up a tweet from VDARE, a white nationalist organization, about illegal immigration on the digital banner inside the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Four years of Trump later, there is no need for dog whistles, and the language from speakers at the RNC openly fear-mongers about invasion, sometimes while raising the specter of communism. On Monday, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the wealthy St. Louis lawyers who pointed guns, including an assault rifle, at Black Lives Matters protesters outside their home, spoke about “anarchy” and “chaos” and a “mob” led by a “Marxist revolutionary” looking to “abolish the suburbs” and “take over.”
The extremism continued on Tuesday, even as the RNC made attempts to back away from one supporter’s overt shows of hate by taking the rare step of pulling them as a speaker last-minute.
Hours before she was scheduled to speak at the convention about the perils of undocumented immigration, Mary Ann Mendoza, a member of Trump’s campaign advisory board whose son was killed in a collision with an undocumented immigrant, told her more than 40,000 followers on Twitter to read an anti-Semitic and conspiracy-laden thread about a Jewish plot to enslave non-Jews and control the world. In the thread, Mendoza promoted the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a fake anti-Semitic text, and brought up a conspiracy about the Rothschild banking family. This propaganda is a hallmark of neo-Nazism.
Mendoza later apologized on Twitter for “not paying attention to the intent of the whole message.” She said that the thread “does not reflect my feelings or personal thoughts whatsoever.”
But this was not the first time Mendoza had posted anti-Semitic tweets. In 2018, she tweeted that “The Rothschilds have used their globalist media mouthpiece to declare that Donald Trump is threatening to destroy the New World Order!”
On Tuesday, Mendoza also referenced the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy cult, which overlaps with white nationalism and has spawned numerous violent attacks. The FBI considers QAnon a potential domestic terrorism threat. But the cult has now colonized large parts of the Republican base and been embraced by Trump as a way to get out the vote, target his political opponents and entrench the bogus idea that America is under attack by the “radical left.”
To that end, Trump has made QAnon part of the RNC. GOP congressional candidate Lauren Boebert, a QAnon supporter who defeated a Colorado Republican in the primary, said she will attend Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday. Marjorie Taylor Greene, another GOP congressional candidate and QAnon supporter, also said she’d been invited to attend. Trump has praised Greene as a “future Republican star,” and she will likely win election in her heavily Republican district in northwest Georgia. Greene appears to have held extremist views for several years, according to posts for a conspiracy site that she wrote in 2017 and 2018 and that CNN revealed on Tuesday.
In one post, Greene claimed that “Pizzagate,” the near-deadly disinformation campaign about Democratic Party elites being involved in a satanic pedophilia and human trafficking ring, was real. Pizzagate was orchestrated by far-right propagandists and white nationalists. In another post, Greene stated that the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville was an “inside job” to “further the agenda of the elites.”
And people who either have ties to extremism or who have endorsed authoritarianism in America are still being welcomed onto the stage. On Wednesday night, former Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell will speak. Grenell previously served as Trump’s ambassador to Germany, where his affinity for the far-right set off alarms. Earlier this year, he was revealed to be associating with extremist figures in a Twitter DM group run by Michael Coudrey, aka Mike Tokes, a far-right propagandist who pals around with neo-Nazis and whose advocacy for hydroxychloroquine use to treat COVID-19 has been amplified by Trump.
On Thursday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who pushed a bill to limit legal immigration by saying the current system allows people to bring over their “village” or “tribe,” is set to speak. Earlier this year, Cotton wrote an op-ed for the New York Times calling for the military to be deployed in an “overwhelming show of force” against racial justice protesters. To justify the use of military force to “subdue” American citizens, Cotton pointed, without evidence, to what he called “cadres of left-wing radicals like antifa” infiltrating protests.
In actuality, far-right extremists, including members of the “Boogaloo” movement ― who target and kill police officers in a quest to incite a second Civil War ― have infiltrated protests. And other extremists have attacked Black Lives Matter demonstrators. At a protest Tuesday night in Kenosha, Wisconsin, over the police shooting of Jacob Blake Jr., a 17-year-old white gunman who arrived with what appeared to be a right-wing militia allegedly shot and killed two protesters.
But RNC viewers won’t hear about extremism on the right. Instead, they will likely hear more about the destruction being rained down upon the land by the shadowy forces of the radical left. They will not hear about how one speaker, Gaetz, once brought a Holocaust denier to Trump’s State of the Union address. Or that the congressman hired a former White House speechwriter with connections to white nationalists.
Or that Donald Trump Jr. has retweeted the “neo-Nazi movement’s favorite academic” and once followed a prominent white nationalist on Twitter who advocated “global white supremacy.” Or that he has real-world ties to far-right extremists like One America News correspondent and propagandist Jack Posobiec, who has collaborated with neo-Nazis and fascists and, in private text messages, calls Trump Jr. “redpilled [as fuck]” ― an alt-right term to describe a person’s radicalization to white supremacy.
RNC viewers will not hear that Kirk’s group, TPUSA, has historically been lousy with white supremacists and extremists and last year had to part ways with its University of Nevada, Las Vegas chapter leader after he and a woman were caught on video saying “white power” and using racial slurs. Or that Candace Owens, one of the public faces of TPUSA and a Black woman whom congressional Republicans frequently use as a witness to downplay far-right extremist violence, has had to walk back remarks about how Adolf Hitler would have been a “fine” leader if he’d only contained his political ambitions to Germany.
Is it any wonder that Kirk struck such a dark note with his “defend the West” rhetoric at the start of the convention? His short speech echoed a more expansive one by Trump in July 2017, where the president presented himself as the defender of Western civilization and warned about the “threats to our way of life” and the need to “protect our border.”
That speech, written by Miller, was delivered in Warsaw, Poland, in an appeal to European far-right groups. When Trump talked about the “West” and summoning “the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it,” there was no mistaking what ― and who ― he meant.
There is no mistaking it at the RNC.