For years, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was a thorn in the side of the GOP, lodging extreme remarks on race and immigration that often flew beneath the radar because of his status as a backbencher, but put his party in an uncomfortable spot. Then he crossed the line with his party when he was quoted by the New York Times saying, “White nationalist, White supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Republican leaders who had glossed over King’s past controversies stripped him of his committee assignments, and he soon lost a primary.
Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) apparently didn’t get the memo that this was a red line. And just as with King, Gosar suddenly appears to be a problem his party can no longer ignore.
The question increasingly for Republicans is how much its tolerance for this kind of thing has changed in the past two years.
Images cropped up on social media Monday night advertising a Gosar fundraiser with America First PAC, a group run by young far-right operative Nick Fuentes, who has promoted white-nationalist ideas and whom the Justice Department has labeled a “white supremacist.” Below is a tweet from former GOP congressman Denver Riggleman (Va.).
A sitting member of Congress fundraising with AFPAC. That’s where we are. And he sits on committees.— Denver Riggleman (@RepRiggleman) June 29, 2021
This is from a Telegram channel linked to Nick Fuentes. Telegram is a conspiracy & white nationalist fantasy land—that’s where Gosar hangs evidently.
A dangerous time. pic.twitter.com/KNFe8otj31
Fuentes has defended segregation and bemoaned the United States losing its “white demographic core.” He has cast doubt on the millions of deaths in the Holocaust and engaged in a lengthy metaphor likening the deaths to cookies baking in an oven. He labeled the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol “awesome” and the racist rally in Charlottesville that resulted in the death of a counterprotester “incredible.”
There was some question Monday night as to whether the joint event between Gosar and Fuentes was legitimate, and Gosar’s office and campaign haven’t responded to requests for comment. But the congressman appeared to defend it late Monday night.
“Not sure why anyone is freaking out. I’ll say this: there are millions of Gen Z, Y and X conservatives. They believe in America First,” Gosar said in an apparent reference to the America First PAC, which caters to young members of the far right. “They will not agree 100% on every issue. No group does. We will not let the left dictate our strategy, alliances and efforts. Ignore the left.”
Crucially, the fundraiser would represent a doubling down for Gosar. Back in February, Gosar was criticized for serving as a keynote speaker at an America First PAC event in Orlando in which Fuentes delivered a white-nationalist speech.
A day later, Gosar defended reaching out to new audiences but said in a speech to another conservative audience, “I want to tell you, I denounce … white racism. That’s not appropriate.” He later told The Washington Post’s David Weigel that the comment specifically referenced Fuentes’s speech. In the speech, Fuentes made the remarks about the Capitol riot being “awesome” and the country losing its “White demographic core.” Fuentes also claimed Black Lives Matter wanted to create “a new racial caste system in this country, with Whites at the bottom.”
Gosar’s extremism, of course, is hardly limited to his ties to the America First PAC. He has lodged conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and claimed protester Ashli Babbitt was “executed” by police. He has done the same with Charlottesville, suggesting it was a false flag by the left. Gosar’s office even confirmed this week that the congressman was in regular contact with “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander ahead of the Jan. 6 riot.
It’s in some ways a wonder that Gosar’s situation hasn’t blown up in the way, say, as has that of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Part of that is that Gosar hasn’t really built anything amounting to a movement within the GOP. Part of it is also undoubtedly that his speech to the America First PAC crowd in February overlapped with another, more well-attended event: the Conservative Political Action Conference, at which former president Donald Trump spoke.
But the doubling down on allying with Fuentes would certainly seem to force the issue. Republicans put up with plenty from King before deciding his comment about white supremacy and white nationalism went too far. King, for his part, claimed he was only talking about “Western Civilization” when he said, “How did that language become offensive?” Here we have a Republican congressman not just toying with defending white nationalism, but actually aligning with its adherents — and apparently repeatedly so, after he suggested he was somewhat chastened by the first instance.
At the same time, we’ve increasingly seen the kind of “replacement theory” that self-proclaimed white nationalists espouse seeping into the mainstream. King used to be in a small minority of his party in talking about such things; now it’s featured in prime time on Fox News.
Earlier this year, Gosar was reported to be involved along with Greene in the formation of an “America First Caucus,” which hailed “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and warned that mass immigration would negatively impact the “unique identity” of the country. At the time, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) obliquely denounced such “nativist dog whistles.”
Message not received, it would seem. McCarthy’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Gosar on Tuesday morning.
Update: The No. 2-ranking House Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), told CNN late Tuesday morning that he hadn’t seen the news of Gosar’s fundraiser. McCarthy’s office still hasn’t responded to the request for comment.