Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Michelle Malkin: Mother of Groypers

How did the darling of Conservatism Inc. get caught up with Nick Fuentes, America First, and the groypers?
March 9, 2020
Michelle Malkin: Mother of Groypers
(Digital collage by The Bulwark / photo: Greg Skidmore / Flickr / Shutterstock)

When I first heard that Michelle Malkin was going to speak to a bunch of anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic “groypers,” I thought (1) Oh, that’s where she’s been and (2) What happened to her? So I did some digging and what I found was even more disturbing than you might have guessed.

Those who have followed Malkin over the years know that she has always been—how to put this politely—an immigration restrictionist. Though maybe that’s too polite, since over the years she’s championed not only racial profiling, but roundups of minorities, too. In 2004, she wrote a book titled In Defense of Internment. One of the websites she founded, Hot Air, thrived touting her anti-immigration cause through the mid-2000s and she considers the defeat of the McCain-Kennedy 2006 “amnesty” bill one of her great accomplishments. During those years, Malkin was put on a pedestal by mainstream conservative organizations such as CPAC, Regnery Publishing, and the Young America’s Foundation as a leading voice for the movement. She had a Fox News contract and appeared on the network’s highest-rated shows.

And she now seems to have turned her back on all of that in order to link arms with the most vocal elements of the white nationalist movement. Oh, I’m sorry. They insist on being called “America Firsters.” Same difference.

If the name Nick Fuentes sounds unfamiliar to you, consider yourself lucky. Think of him as a younger, Catholic fundamentalist version of Milo Yiannopoulos. Only more militant and irresponsible. The only reason to mention Fuentes is that he turns out to have been a key figure in Malkin’s spiral into the world of online extremism.

While Yiannopoulos paraded around in flamboyant costumes, Fuentes marched alongside aspiring Nazis in the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville and praised it as a “tidal wave of white identity.” Yiannopoulos mocked the mainstream media. Fuentes has said, “I want the people to run CNN to be arrested and deported or hanged.” Where Milo tried to be droll, Fuentes doesn’t really do “jokes,” aside from making anti-Semitic noises about how long it takes to bake “cookies” in the oven because look how it triggers people who think the Holocaust was a bad thing.

You get the gist, Milo turns out to have just been a gateway drug to Fuentesism because the alt-right’s red pills come in different strengths and flavors.

Fuentes and his followers loathe what they call “Conservative Inc.”—a group of “fake conservative” establishmentarians who are insufficiently observant of “traditional values.” One of those values is severely restrictionist immigration policy, which at some point, began to tickle Malkin’s ears. So, too, has she adopted the anti-“Conservative Inc.” language, even though her entire career had been—if we are being honest—a product of the actual Conservative Inc. Which is to say, CPAC, Regnery, YAF, Fox, and all the rest.

Malkin’s break with this main body of movement conservatism came last fall, amid a series of competing lectures on college campuses delivered by Malkin, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, and the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro. During that time Fuentes and his followers—who see Kirk and Shapiro as avatars for Conservative Inc.—began plotting ways to attend the events and embarrass them.

These followers of Fuentes weren’t students looking for a vigorous policy debate over green cards. Shapiro’s speaking schedule, for example, was posted on the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, and circulated among white nationalists. The motivation was sinister and the goal was disruption.

Strangely, as they started harassing Kirk, Shapiro, and Texas Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw at various events, Malkin began giving cover to Fuentes and his groypers, tracking the drama on her Twitter account and in her syndicated column. She was quick to adopt their lingo, too. Cringe.

Then, on November 7, it was apparent that Shapiro, who happens to be an Orthodox Jew, felt compelled to say something about the anti-Semites who were trying to hijack the conservative mantle.

Hiding behind the lulz, Fuentes had recorded himself playing Grand Theft Auto and chasing down an Orthodox Jewish man wearing a business suit. He laughed about killing “Ben Shapiro.” In other videos criticizing Shapiro, Fuentes fondled a switchblade, opening and closing it dramatically, and flourishing it to emphasize his points. Needless to say, hostile signals were being sent. Only a very unwell person would find them funny.

In a YAF-sponsored speech at Stanford University, Shapiro devoted his remarks to condemning the alt-right, saying its members were playing a “dangerous game.” At one point he was booed. “I have one question,” Shapiro asked. “Are you protesting the part where I’m condemning the Nazis? You hear what I’m doing right now. Do you have ears? I’m literally condemning Nazis and you’re telling me to leave. Do you hear yourselves?”

Which is what finally sent Malkin over the edge. In the days after Shapiro’s speech, Malkin ran to the defense of the groypers. She used a November 14 YAF-sponsored speech of her own at UCLA, which she titled “The Torch Is Being Passed,” to burn every last bridge with her former friends and supporters.

She began by saying that usually her YAF speeches are intended to show how “wrong or evil” Democrats are, but that that evening she would be speaking to “America First conservatives.”

She criticized Shapiro for “denigrating an entire movement of young men who watch a YouTuber named Nick Fuentes” and said, “Here’s my message to the new generation of America Firsters exposing the big lies of the anti-American open borders establishment and its controlled opposition operatives: If I was your mom, I’d be proud as hell.”

Malkin went on to express solidarity with Fuentes, as well as the Proud Boys, Laura Loomer, and Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King (who was stripped of committee assignments by his fellow House Republicans for making racist remarks in January 2019).

This was too much even for YAF. Malkin had used her YAF-sponsored UCLA event to attack YAF’s most in-demand speaker and to stand with bigots. YAF severed ties with her on November 18, issuing a statement that said, “Immigration is a vital issue that deserves robust debate. But there is no room in mainstream conservatism or at YAF for holocaust deniers, white nationalists, street brawlers, or racists.”

Later that week organizers at Bentley University in Massachusetts, who had planned to host an event promoting Malkin’s book Open Borders, Inc., canceled their event. Malkin went apoplectic. She tweeted and tweeted, doubling down on her new alliance. In one radio interview, she called for a “widening of the Overton window” and said that these are “good kids” who didn’t deserve to be spurned.

She wrote a column titled “Cancel Culture Hypocrites on the Left and Right” in which she blasted the “Keepers of the Gate” who “called on me to be de-platformed and cast out of the conservative ‘mainstream.’”

“I cancel you,” she huffed.

All of that transpired during the fall of 2019. Last month, Malkin’s wayward progression continued. For years she had been a star at CPAC. But on February 28, instead of going to CPAC, where she was now banned from the stage, Malkin stood before a crowd at a new event organized by Fuentes. In that speech, she opened her remarks by saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Mommy’s in the house.”

It seemed a little odd that Malkin would again describe herself as a “mom” to these bigots. But it turns out that her imagery was deliberate. This is Malkin’s new identity: Mother of groypers.

In her speech, she addressed accusations of anti-Semitism with the same sort of mocking I talked about it, but didn’t say it tone that is so common on the alt-right:

Already right out of the gate, before I even knew who Nick Fuentes was, before I knew who Groypers were, I was being tarred as an anti-Semite. It’s become a useless, meaningless term and everybody knows it. And that’s why they’re so desperate to tar all of us as that. It’s anti-Semitic to mention George Soros’ billions. It’s anti-Semitic to criticize the Anti-Defamation League. It’s anti-Semitic to question whatever the precise number is of people who perished in World War II. It is anti-Semitic for me, being married to a 100 percent Ashkenazi Jew, to question dual loyalties of people who are working here as agents of a foreign country.

Oh, and it is an unacceptably anti-Semitic to point out the rank hypocrisy of people who are fiercely protective of an ethno-state and an immigration enforcement system that works—who turn around and call those of us who believe, whatever our backgrounds are, who only have one homeland that they’ve ever known, to call us—what is it now?—“white majoritarianism” I believe is the term. That’s me. Thank you.

Moreover, Malkin sees herself following in the footsteps of one of her matriarchal heroines. “There was a time when CPAC did at least give the grassroots nationalists a seat at the table,” Malkin said. “And I’ll never forget this, because this was a very pivotal moment for me in my young career. Seventeen years ago, when I had the privilege of teaming up with the original Godmother of America First, the Catholic author, lawyer, and social conservative, mom of six and grandmother of 16, Phyllis Schlafly.”

Today, Malkin seems to see herself as the figure to bridge the gap between Schlafly and the groypers. She spoke affectionately about the “affinity” she has for “kids who do video from their basement,” given her past experience developing online videos for Hot Air. Then, she turned serious and returned to the “torch” theme of her UCLA speech:

I really do believe that my role as a mother informs the choices that I have made and at some point, there will be a passing of the torch. I will not be doing what I’ve done for 25 plus years. I had always woken up, especially in the last couple of years, thinking before I knew all of you, that I would have to do it until I was 70 or 80 or 90 because there was no one else to take up the legacy. I feel very confident that you, the Light Brigade, the America First Brigade, are well positioned to do what so few other grassroots revolts and rebellions have succeeded in doing. I believe in you. I honor your charge. I honor your mission. You may not have finances, but you have faith in this country and you have many more friends than you know.

The Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin described Malkin’s speech as “beautiful.”

In that same speech Malkin helpfully talked about others she considers part of the “family.” Among them were Fuentes, Yiannopoulos, Identity Evropa director Patrick Casey, VDARE president Peter Brimelow, VDARE writer (and former National Review writer) John Derbyshire, National Review contributing editor Dinesh D’Souza, Ann Coulter, the Canadian white nationalist Faith Goldy, Frank Gaffney, and Pamela Geller. (Not all of them were thrilled by the honor. Geller posted the video of Malkin’s speech, calling it “unconscionable and breathtaking” and linked to an open letter posted on Robert Spencer’s “Jihad Watch” website asking Malkin to “rethink her defense of a Jew-hater and Holocaust-denier.”)

The great irony is that even now, Malkin still has friends in Conservative, Inc.

The Trump administration’s senior official performing the duties of the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, gave Malkin a shoutout from the same CPAC stage she was banned from. Although many outlets, such as National Review and the Daily Wire, stopped carrying her syndicated columns, the Salem Media-owned still does. (When I emailed a executive asking why the site continued to publish her column, I received no reply.)

And Malkin’s columns continue to be carried by Creators Syndicate, which has placed more than 1,500 of her columns over various outlets over the last 20 years—a record Malkin celebrates.

In fairness, it’s difficult to tell which newspapers are actually carrying her Creators column these days. A Lexis-Nexis search of her recent columns turned up only a handful of regional print publications, several of which are based in Louisiana, that run her.

When I reached out to Malkin to ask where her columns are now published she said I should contact Creators Syndicate. She added:

I look forward to your morally courageous call to continue lying, purging, and gatekeeping in the name of responsible conservative journalism. LOL

(After receiving no response from Creators, I circled back to Malkin to ask if she had a specific point of contact she would like me to use. She declined, and then she took to Twitter to say Creators Syndicate has proudly stood by her for 20 years and to tell her followers I was trying to “cancel” her. Rasmussen Reports tweeted it was “proud” to carry her columns every week.)

From the outside, it can certainly look as though Malkin tanked her career and is on the way to days filled with crocheting, hot yoga, and pickleball. But, her fierce commitment to this new crowd seems like something more, though.

So, why does the Joker smile?

Malkin is, if nothing else, a successful businesswoman. In 2006, as the blog revolution was remaking digital journalism, Malkin founded Hot Air. Four years later, she sold the enterprise to Salem Communications, a conservative media company. As the social and mobile revolutions sped up in the early 2010s, Malkin saw another opportunity, and founded the site, which aggregates Tweets on a blog-style platform. A year later she sold this enterprise to Salem as well.

It’s possible, of course, that by embracing the groypers, Malkin is just finally deciding to let her freak flag fly. Or it’s possible that her new views really do differ in kind from her old views—that some precipitating event changed her basic outlook on the world.

But it seems just as possible that Malkin may be positioning to build a new platform. The old trifecta of column writing, dead-tree book publishing, and cable news contracts is a dying model and whatever else you want to say about Malkin, she’s always been entrepreneurial.

Lots of people seem to think that the alt-right is a phenomenon that will disappear when the Trump administration ends. It seems equally likely that the alt-right is waiting to be monetized by someone able to look past the bigotry and see it as an asset ready to be put to work. Why couldn’t Alt-Right, Inc. be the new Conservative, Inc.?

If so, then it makes sense that Malkin is courting Fuentes and his young, loyal audience. Especially if they are all “cancelled” and can’t find any other basement to dwell in. Because it sure seems like Mommy wants to give them a home.

Correction, 3/9/20, 8:01 a.m.: The article originally identified the head of the blog Jihad Watch as “Richard Spencer.” Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch.

Correction, 3/9/20 1:20 p.m.: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Ken Cuccinelli as the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, rather than as the senior official performing the duties of the director.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.