How the far-right group behind AFPAC is using Twitter to grow its movement
Founder Nicholas Fuentes has been banned from almost all other social platforms.
A group of far-right youth activists looking to capitalize on a recent conference it held in Orlando, Florida, that promoted white nationalistic rhetoric, is recruiting a new round of interns into the movement by turning to one of the last major social media platforms that has yet to ban them: Twitter.
Nicholas Fuentes, a far-right online streamer who founded the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) and the "Groyper" movement -- a loose coalition of mostly young far-right extremists -- has been banned from nearly all major social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, and most recently the new voice chat app Clubhouse, which last weekend suspended Fuentes' account for "hate speech."
But Fuentes and a collection of AFPAC-linked accounts have continued to harness Twitter to promote daily live streams and sell merchandise, and recently promoted and sold tickets to the Orlando event in late February where Fuentes and other speakers pushed white nationalist ideas.
"If [America] loses its white demographic core ... then this is not America anymore," the AFPAC founder told the Orlando crowd in a speech that followed an address by Republican Congressman Paul Gosar, whose appearance at the conference has since sparked some backlash.
The morning after Gosar's speech, Gosar was on stage at the neighboring Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where he appeared to try to distance himself from the white nationalist ideas promoted at the AFPAC conference by telling the crowd he denounces "white racism." But in the following days, Gosar defended his AFPAC appearance and has since shared memes containing slogans popular among Fuentes' Groyper followers.
And in the two weeks since the AFPAC conference, Fuentes and a collection of related accounts on Twitter have shifted their efforts to recruit a new batch of interns for the organization, which they say will be an important step as the group looks to further push its movement into the mainstream.
"The AF Intern program was a central and key component to the success of AFPAC," an account tied to Fuentes' group tweeted on March 2. "The America First Internship Program is now looking to onboard its second wave of interns! Apply here."
Days later, the account tweeted that the program had received "hundreds of applications for the internship program," which Fuentes then re-tweeted to his nearly 125,000 followers.
In a statement to ABC News, a Twitter spokesperson said that Fuentes' account "is not in violation of the Twitter Rules."
"If we identify accounts or content that violate these rules, we'll take enforcement action," the spokesperson added.
"Big tech and the Left Wing media are colluding to smear and silence Nick Fuentes, a proud Latino patriot who strives to always put America First," a representative for Fuentes told ABC News. "This campus conservative is being targeted by the fake news media because he refuses to bow to the socialist cancel culture mob!”
Recruiting interns isn't the only step Fuentes has taken to advance his movement since the AFPAC event. He has spoken repeatedly about recruiting 2022 Congressional candidates that align with his group's far-right views, and earlier this week he formally introduced a new 501(c)(4) organization that will enable him to raise funds while keeping donors' identities secret.
In the wake of the 2020 election, Fuentes mobilized his group to attend "Stop the Steal" rallies around the country leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. While Fuentes was been spotted in videos and photos rallying outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, he has denied involvement in the storming of the Capitol itself.
However, some charged in the attack have shown support for Fuentes' Groyper movement, including Christian Secor, an undergrad student at UCLA, who is the president of the "America First Bruins" group on campus. During the riot Secor was photographed inside the Capitol building holding a flag that bore the logo of Fuentes' "America First" streaming show.
Some experts are baffled that Fuentes -- who rose to prominence after attending the 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally as a student at Boston University and praising it as an "incredible" event -- has been allowed to remain on Twitter after being banned from multiple other major platforms due to hate-speech violations.
"Twitter's much too large of a platform for him to still be using it unfettered," Dr. Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University and a senior fellow at Southern Poverty Law Center, told ABC News. "And worse than that, he's been verified on there. He's got over 120,000 followers -- that is his biggest platform. And it's certainly an outlier, given that he's been banned from literally 20 other platforms."
Squire, who tracks online extremism, says Fuentes' Twitter account is "indispensable" to him as he looks to grow his movement. She said it's specifically helpful at normalizing his goals, something that was also aided by Gosar's recent AFPAC appearance.
"Twitter is the biggest platform he has access to. It's still taken very seriously," Squire said. "I can't stress enough how important [it is to him] and how he's going to leverage that in order to appear normal and to make his movement appear more normal."
"If he's removed from that platform, it's a huge signal that he did something wrong," said Squire. "And right now, he hasn't been labeled in that way. So, he can use that as basically literal verification -- he not only has a blue check mark -- but literally being verified by one of the largest platforms."
Fuentes has at times appeared to be surprised himself that his Twitter account remains active, repeatedly directing his supporters to follow him over on other platforms that have fewer moderation guidelines.
"Follow me on Telegram while you still can. I have a feeling my days are numbered on twitter," he tweeted in January.
Two months later his account remains active.
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