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Shawn Vestal: Mar-A-Lago supper, echoes Allsup strategy for infiltrating the GOP

Nick Fuentes answers question during an interview with Agence France-Presse in Boston on May 9, 2016.  (WILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)

It was hard – in the aftermath of the Mar-a-Lago supper between the loathsome Nick Fuentes and the loathsome Donald Trump – not to think about the mostly forgotten (though also loathsome) James Allsup.

Allsup, remember, was our own regional wannabe racist superstar. For a couple of years, after he gained a measure of notoriety for his participation in the Unite the Right tiki-torch sleepover in Charlottesville, Virginia, he gave the local GOP fits by trying to sneak into its tent.

Then something happened here that has not happened much in the Trump era: Official Republicans, including our sheriff, county treasurer and congressional representative, made explicit, unequivocal public disavowals of Allsup. The Whitman County GOP stripped him of a role as precinct committee officer that he had sneaked into.

These steps – like the decision of the state House GOP caucus to expel Matt Shea after an investigation concluded he had engaged in domestic terrorism in the Malhuer standoff – reflected the admirable efforts of conservatives to push back against the hijacking of their party.

If only that had started some kind of national trend.

Allsup was the podcasting partner of Fuentes before the two had a public falling out and their fortunes have since diverged. Fuentes has become the favorite white nationalist and Holocaust denier of elected extremist Republicans – Marjorie Taylor Greene, Steve King, Janice McGeachin and others have all shared the stage with him, without political consequence – while Allsup has fallen off the radar.

In a recent “Where Are They Now?” piece on the figures involved in the Unite the Right Rally by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Allsup was described as a “former white-nationalist influencer whose celebrity has faded into near-obscurity.”

Despite that, on the subject of racist infection in Republican politics, Allsup was an absolute prophet.

During the years of his notoriety, one of Allsup’s key messages to fellow white supremacists was that they should put on the sheep’s clothing of normalcy and infiltrate their local GOP, where he insisted that their beliefs would be accepted and their influence would rise. They could hijack the party and turn it into a white-nationalist boys club.

Five years down the road, with a cable TV program airing Allsup-like racial ideas such as the Great Replacement nightly and Fuentes dining with the former guy and the unapologetically anti-Semitic Kanye West, you’d have to say the only flaw in Allsup’s theory was that he aimed too low – focusing on local politics instead of the White House.

He started small. In 2017, Allsup advised his fellow fascists in a podcast how to take over their college GOP: “If you have three or four fashy goy friends, you can take over your school’s College Republicans group and move it to essentially being an alt-right club.”

Fashy is sneering troll-speak for fascist and you know what goy means. In those days, Allsup was president of the Washington State University College Republicans, staging racial confrontations for online clicks on WSU’s Glenn Terrell Mall and podcasting his white-nationalist ideas with Fuentes and elsewhere.

He attended the Charlottesville rally, where he was initially scheduled to speak. Among the ideas that he expressed publicly: Black people are intellectually inferior, “race-mixing” is degenerate, the immigration system should explicitly favor white Europeans, the Jews have too much control of the media and culture …

Astonishingly, after he developed notoriety for this, he was invited to speak at a gathering of local conservative group Northwest Grassroots in summer 2018, where the chairwoman of the county GOP welcomed him and defended him as a victim of media bias and “label lynching.”

In those comments and Allsup’s remarks at that gathering, you saw all the points of connection that Allsup could try to exploit to hold hands with conservatives: the deep sense of cultural victimhood, the racial grievance, the relentless whining about the media, the trans panic and hostility to public education – all touchstones shared by fashy goy Allsup and the people who applauded him.

The somewhat good news locally was that the official GOP stood up against Allsup. Even that good news came with a measure of bad, though: Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he’d been telling the organizers to avoid Allsup for weeks before his appearance, but they went ahead anyway.

Not long after, Allsup spoke to the college-based neo-Nazi group Identity Evropa, where he told the crowd to get involved with their local GOP at the lowest post-undergraduate level. Just pretend to be nice and normal and they’ll welcome you right in, he said.

“I know,” Allsup said, “I’m a PCO in my county.”

He was quickly stripped of his role as a precinct committee officer by the Whitman County GOP.

Republicans generally take great umbrage – like Claude Rains shocked to find gambling in a casino – at the suggestion that their party is welcoming to racists. But whatever messages our local leaders were sending, Allsup and others of his ilk were quite clear about the signals they received from the Trump wing of the GOP.

“You may not believe it, but the majority of European Americans, and absolutely the vast majority of Donald Trump’s 63 million voters, agree with us implicitly, whether they know it or not,” he said in the Identity Evropa speech.

It is undeniable that Trump has been great for the racist brand. He’s given it a normalizing shelter, propped it up behind a unified defense from right-wing media that signal-boosts coded racism. You see the power of this in the fearful silence of official Republicans in criticizing the former president – and the confident braying of people like Allsup.

They know what’s going on when an elected lawmaker gets on stage with them, or retweets something vile they posted, or shows up for dinner. And they know what’s happening when no one calls it out.

Even if the Trump brand is fading – a wee handful of prominent GOP politicians did manage to denounce the Mar-a-Lago Anti-Semitic Supper – the vermin to whom he’s given license have risen and gained stature. Allsup may have faded away, but Fuentes and others like him are more prominent than ever.

“What happened during the Trump years is that he and his administration opened some space for people to use mainstream politics for extremist purposes,” said Kathleen Belew, a historian and professor at Northwestern University, in an interview with Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent.

“A former president sitting for a dinner meeting with a white power activist is the kind of thing that activists can now use to claim they have become a real political force.”

Which is exactly what James Allsup saw happening back before he fell out of the public eye.

“A great example of this is Donald Trump after Charlottesville,” Allsup said in his 2018 speech to Identity Evropa. “Remember that press conference where he said there were good people on both sides? We were defended by the president of the United States because he knew that our ideas are, in fact, normal.”

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