A weekend in Florida, a major conservative conference, a white nationalist "groyper" conference, and a doomed quest to determine the difference between the two.
ORLANDO, Fla. — For days, journalists, academics and activists scoured social media for clues to solve a vexing mystery: Where was Nick Fuentes going to hold his white supremacist conference?
Fuentes and his fellow organizers had advertised the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) — which was bound to attract hundreds of young American fascists — for Feb. 25, 2022, in Orlando, but included no other details. They planned to reveal the name of the hotel only on the day of the conference, and just to attendees.
It was a cat and mouse game. If anyone discovered the location, the hosting hotel would likely cancel the shameful shindig immediately. It would be bad press, after all, for a company to profit off providing an organizing space for a group led by a Holocaust-denying insurrectionist.
But some people did have the address — powerful people, who showed up as celebrated guests that night. Among them were two sitting members of Congress, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.), a rising far-right star. They appeared along with an Arizona state senator and the lieutenant governor of Idaho, both of whom have designs on higher office.
And then there was another “mystery” guest who never actually took the stage. HuffPost has learned that Thomas Homan, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under former President Donald Trump, showed up to AFPAC. He claimed to HuffPost that the whole thing was just a mix-up, and that he left the hotel quickly, before the conference began.
The decidedly white nationalist conference happened a short, 8-mile drive away at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the preeminent annual gathering of America’s conservative movement, where former President Donald Trump spoke on Saturday evening. Almost every other plausible 2024 Republican nominee, alongside a wide array of powerful GOP members of Congress, also made speeches.
The two conferences were, in many ways, very different. AFPAC was exponentially smaller, held at a secret location so that its attendees couldn’t be identified or doxxed, and livestreamed only via an obscure tech platform. And CPAC was CPAC, the media circus where rising conservative stars peacocked in the national spotlight.
But when it came to messaging, the conferences’ differences sometimes felt cosmetic, a matter of tone or degree, not substance. Both were animated by the same grievances about race, gender, and the 2020 election.
And both conferences shared some of the same attendees and speakers.
There were more than a few moments over the course of the weekend observing CPAC and AFPAC that it felt possible to confuse which conference had been organized by a shitposting white nationalist, and which one had been sanctioned by the Grand Old Party.
There are a lot of hotels in Orlando — roughly 450. And Fuentes wasn’t giving any clues about which hotel might host his conference, not on his regular livestream, or in his many online posts. His lieutenants didn’t slip up either. While disturbingly young — he is just 23 — Fuentes is a cunning operator. He is the leader of the America First “groyper” movement, who marched in the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
“The rootless transnational elite knows that a tidal wave of white identity is coming,” Fuentes wrote after that rally, where one of his fellow racists drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman. “And they know that once the word gets out, they will not be able to stop us. The fire rises!”
Congress recently subpoenaed Fuentes over his involvement in a different event: the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington, D.C., where he was reportedly spotted encouraging people to storm the Capitol.
It wasn’t until about 7 p.m. on Feb. 25, less than two hours before the American First Political Action Conference was set to kick off, that Fuentes’ supporters got sloppy. Jonathan Lee Riches, a notorious far-right troll, tweeted a selfie. It showed him in a hotel lobby posing with a smiling Michelle Malkin, the anti-immigrant activist.
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