“Arizona Grunge Flag” by Nicolas Raymond (modified) | Flickr/CC BY 2.0. “Groyper cartoon” via Wikimedia Commons, used under fair use doctrine. Photo illustration by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror
The Republican state senator was clear in what she wanted in a recent post on Telegram, the encrypted messaging app that has become a haven for far-right politics and extremists.
“Dear Groyper army, please hit Ron Watkins. Love, Wendy,” she wrote.
State Sen. Wendy Rogers was asking her fans and allies in the “groyper army” to go after the QAnon conspiracy theorist turned Congressional candidate because he had alleged Rogers, who has built her political brand on spreading lies about the 2020 election, was involved in some sort of “backroom deal” that was preventing Splunk logs and routers from being examined for alleged election fraud. There is no evidence of such a backroom deal.
But who or what is the “groyper army” that Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican, was calling to act?
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The self-styled online “army” that Rogers was imploring to rally to her aid is a collection of white nationalists who often use online trolling tactics against people they don’t like. Their goals broadly include normalizing their extreme and racist views by aligning them with Christianity and so-called “traditional” values.
“It’s a pretty unprecedented move,” Devin Burghart, president and executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, said about Rogers’ request. “These are things that help their ability to move from the margins to the mainstream.”
Burghart and the IREHR have been tracking white nationalist extremist groups for decades, and Rogers’ request for groypers to help her startled their researchers. And they fear it could help the group find legitimacy, something that they’ve been attempting for some time now.
The movement was birthed in part over 2,000 miles away and nearly five years ago in the warm glow of tiki torches.
The violent “Unite the Right” rally held in Charlottesville, Va., brought white nationalists together from across the country. It was marred by bloody fistfights between the racists and counter-protesters, and culminated in the death of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer, who was mowed down by a white nationalist who drove into a crowd leaving the rally.
The rally organizers faced a lawsuit for conspiring to commit violence, and a jury found them liable for lawsuits. A number of lawsuits descended upon many who helped organize the rally and a recent ruling hit the organizers with a $25 million judgment.
This is an attempt to mainstream white nationalist ideas. This isn’t just about meme wars, this isn’t just about trolling. This is an effort by Holocaust-deniers and supporters of fascism to move these ideas into mainstream Republican ideas.
– Devin Burghart, Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights
The violence brought national attention to the festering issues of white nationalism driving the “alt-right,” making the moniker toxic. For those working behind the scenes of white nationalist movements, a new approach was needed to court those in power and to distance themselves from what they had seen on television and headlines — something that could be digested by mainstream Republicans.
That thing has been the groyper movement, which is now moving more and more into the mainstream. Their annual conference, the America First Political Action Conference or AFPAC, is set to be the biggest one yet and with a major Arizona presence.
Rogers will be a featured speaker. She’ll be joined by former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and local groyper Anthime Joseph “Tim” Gionet, who goes by the moniker Baked Alaska online. Last year’s conference featured the first ever speech by a sitting politician, Arizona’s own Congressman Paul Gosar, R-Prescott. But AFPAC is just the start of the Arizona push by groypers.
Next month, prominent members will be holding a retreat in the state, and local politicians are doing more than just asking their “army” for support.
Enter the groypers
Groyper started off as a meme, a fatter and more grotesque iteration of Pepe the Frog, the cartoon that became something of a mascot for the alt-right as it began to coalesce into a political movement.
The groyper meme. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
In the past few years, groypers have been increasingly active in internet trolling and “irl,” or “in real life,” trolling. But while many on the right focus their efforts on badgering liberals, groypers have made sport of targeting conservatives they feel have not been extreme enough.
Groypers are also largely followers of white nationalist Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey. Fuentes is a Holocaust-denier who routinely makes antisemitic remarks and has said that Blacks in the South were better off under Jim Crow. Casey is the founder of American Identity Movement, a white nationalist group formerly known as Identity Ervopa.
The two men led the “Groyper Wars” in 2019, an effort to inject their views into mainstream conservatism, pull more young men like themselves into the movement and harass their political opponents. But while most conservative movements focus their energies on liberals, groypers instead took aim at the conservative establishment.
In 2019, they heckled Donald Trump Jr. at an event in California and asked antisemtic and racist questions at other events. They also disrupted multiple Turning Point USA events, and targeting the Arizona-based group was a main priority of Fuentes and Casey for some time.
Researchers said the strategy worked, as evidenced by the more radical positions taken since by Turning Point USA and its founder, Charlie Kirk.
“And now Charlie Kirk’s rhetoric sounds a lot more like Nick Fuentes than it ever has before,” Burghart said.
Kirk has recently defended the white supremacist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory on his YouTube channel. The “Great Replacement” theory, an idea popular among white supremacists that has inspired real world violence, holds that white Americans are being replaced by immigrants and other minority groups. It has been seized upon by extremist groups like the American Identity Movement and Generation Identity.
In 2020, the groypers would start reimagining how their movement would grow — and how to take it into the mainstream.
America First Students was one of the first initiatives bearing the name “America First” to come out of the groypers. Its leader, a former TPUSA leader in Kansas and known groyper, has used homophobic slurs and has links to many prominent white nationalists.
The group was quickly promoted by both Casey and Fuentes, and other “America First” groups have been popping up across the country. America First quickly became the go-to phrase for the groyper movement.
The phrase “America First” has been a centerpiece of former President Donald J. Trump’s appeal to an overwhelmingly white voter base, but it has roots in America’s racist past.
It was used as far back as 1896 by President William McKinley, but became prominent in isolationist and xenophobic circles in the 1920s when the Ku Kluk Klan adopted it. “America First” was later promoted by American Nazi sympathizers. And David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, would use the term in 2016 when describing his foreign policy platform as a U.S. Senate candidate.
In 2020, Arizona saw the launch of its own America First Union chapter. Its Instagram and Twitter pages quickly began spreading hateful content and misinformation.
The AFU Arizona account sharing a Nick Fuentes Tweet.
The account was one of many AFU accounts that adopted similar imagery, a wooly mammoth in front of a state flag with the name of the account. The Arizona account shared antisemitic posts, touted the “great replacement” theory, provided updates on the Arizona 2020 election “audit” and told followers to “fight for your blood and soil,” a slogan associated with Nazi Germany.
At the Jan. 6 riot in Washington D.C., flags bearing Fuentes’ America First logo can be seen throughout the day’s events. Fuentes encouraged violence against lawmakers and police in the days leading up to the failed overthrow of the 2020 election.
“What can you and I do to a state legislator besides kill them?” Fuentes said days before the insurrection. He later couched his comments: “We should not do that. I’m not advising that. But, I mean, what else can you do, right? Nothing.”
The latest stage of the movement’s evolution has seen the groyper moniker take a back seat to “America First” because it appeals so readily to mainstream conservatives and Trump voters.
“You’ll still see them use (the term) groyper, but they have really taken up America First as a tool to enter into recruitment and movement-building with the Trump base, which was initially how they formed to go after TPUSA,” IREHR Research Director Chuck Tanner said. “They’ve really taken up this America First mantle.”
Two leaders in the Arizona groyper movement would emerge In 2021: Kyle Clifton, the man behind the AFU account, and Greyson Arnold. Both gained notoriety on the far right when they confronted a Jan. 6 riot attendee named Ray Epps, furthering a conspiracy theory that Epps was a federal informant.
Arnold, who goes by “American Greyson” online, is behind a popular Telegram account dubbed “Pure Politics.” The channel often shares posts by Fuentes, Rogers and others; comments in the channel’s exclusive chat are often riddled with racist and antisemitic messages.
Greyson and Clifton both have been active in Arizona politics, as well.
Rogers met with both Greyson and Clifton when she did an interview with the groyper-aligned American Populist Union.
Left to Right: Greyson Arnold, Sen. Wendy Rogers, CJ Trapeur and Kyle Clifton.
Greyson has also met a number of other local politicians, including Congressman Paul Gosar, R-Prescott.
He has also shared content from groyper accounts on Gab that have signaled their intentions to bring white nationalism into the mainstream without using violence.
“‘W**nats’ are mad when politicians like Paul Gosar and Wendy Rogers come on Gab,” a post by one popular groyper account shared by Greyson said. “They are success averse, they simply want their little internet ghetto to say racial slurs and talk about how much they dislike jews…as much as you guys hate us, we will drag you to success kicking and screaming!”
The term “w**nats” is used by the alt-right to describe people within the white nationalist movement that generally advocate for violence, antisemitism and accelerationism, the idea that violent acts are required to drive radical changes to lead to a white ethno state. The New Zealand Christchurch shooter was a firm believer in these ideals.
On his Telegram account, Greyson has shown that he is getting closer to politicians and getting the groypers closer to that success, posting a picture with Gosar and claiming he is “interested in 76fest.”
The groypers come to Phoenix
In March, Phoenix will be the site of 76Fest, a three-day groyper conference. Last year’s event was described by one of the event’s headliners as “Hitler Youth, without the Hitler.”
The event is to be a who’s who of the groyper movement and includes workshops like “Aesthetic Warfare” and is organized in part by Clifton.
One confirmed speaker for the event is Lauren Witzke, who formerly was a host of the online show TruNews, which posted antisemitic content and interviewed Rogers twice. Witzke also said in an interview that the groypers were instrumental in her failed U.S. Senate campaign.
“They’re equipping the next generation of Republican leaders,” Burghart said about the groypers. “This is an attempt to mainstream white nationalist ideas. This isn’t just about meme wars, this isn’t just about trolling. This is an effort by Holocaust-deniers and supporters of fascism to move these ideas into mainstream Republican ideas.”
The Arizona Mirror reached out to both Gosar and Rogers about their connections to prominent Arizona groypers, their comments, the history of the movement and asked if they’d be planning to attend any Groyper events such as 76Fest or the Fuentes’ sponsored America First Political Action Conference, also known as AFPAC.
Neither Gosar or Rogers replied to the Mirror’s request for comment.
Gosar attended Fuentes’ AFPAC conference in 2021, the first ever sitting politician to do so.
In recent weeks, both Rogers and Gosar have shared posts on Twitter and Gab by prominent groyper artists and groyper influencers. The Mirror also discovered that Rogers follows Harry Hughes, the National Socialist Movement’s regional director in Arizona, on Twitter.
“They rely on that legitimacy provided by those legislators to further worm their way into every recess of the Republican party,” Burghart said of people like Rogers and Gosar.
“It’s really disturbing. They’ve got allies in positions of power in the government,” Tanner said.
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