As the name suggests, my primary purpose with Conservative Standards is to hold the Right to the highest standards of integrity, conservatism, competence, and effectiveness. My critiques tend to focus on the assortment of establishmentarians and #NeverTrumpers I’ve dubbed SwampCons because I believe a majority of our current woes can be traced to their decades of stewardship of the movement, and only after breaking their presumed moral and intellectual authority can something better take root.
But that’s not to say the anti-establishmentarians don’t have their own share of sins and fallacies setting us back, of course, which was brought to the fore recently by Michelle Malkin’s intervention in a conflict between college conservative groups and a new breed of young challengers (I’ve already discussed this at length on Twitter, and felt the need to address it more thoroughly here).
It seems that over the past several weeks there’s been a trend of young people calling themselves groypers (don’t ask me why) posing some, shall we say, pointed questions during Turning Point USA events and campus speeches hosted by Young America’s Foundation, in large part as a reaction to remarks by TPUSA head Charlie Kirk at this event (Kirk responded to some of the criticisms here; see also pro-life extraordinaire Jason Jones’ commentary on the subject).
Disclaimer: I don’t follow Kirk all that closely, having basically written him off as a grifter a while ago. And while the views of individual YAF speakers can vary widely, as an organization it obviously has incentives to stay in the good graces of the Right’s biggest names, so it obviously won’t be taking on the task of cleaning out rot within the movement. It is not only legitimate but vital to hold any and all conservative thought leaders’ and institutions’ feet to the fire on their commitment to conservative principles and results (there are certainly questions that need answering).
The problem in this case is that groypers aren’t merely asking serious questions about H-1B visas, challenging libertarian views of the LGBT agenda, etc., but are also using their time at the mic with stuff like anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about “dancing Israelis,” shock-jock straw-manning like “how does anal sex help win the culture war,” and wildly dishonest framing of anti-BDS policies and similar measures. All of this is magnified by one of their leaders being YouTuber Nick Fuentes, who is either a racist cretin or puts a lot of effort into pretending to be one for clicks.
Fuentes told The Hill last week he isn’t a racist or anti-Semite, and has merely “hacked the conversation where if you say sensational things like we do, you get attention. I don’t want it to be like that. I wish I could ascend with ideas.” But he has said elsewhere that optics are the only reason he doesn’t call himself a “white nationalist,” which is okay because “the word ‘nation’ almost implicitly talks about ethnicity and biology,” so the white part is (according to him) implied in the word “nationalist” anyway. Regardless of whether he’s a genuine bigot or just a tasteless self-promoter, he’s obviously someone no sane conservative should want inside the tent.
So a few weeks back, Ben Shapiro devoted most of a speech to condemning these guys. As I said at the time, I thought his remarks about actual alt-righters were fine, but he also lumped in a couple of legitimate grievances as fringe, and I believe indulging the dubious premise that the alt-right is big enough to matter does more harm than good.
Enter Michelle Malkin, who took issue with Shapiro’s speech for very different reasons.
In a clip of a YAF speech that went viral, Malkin described Fuentes as merely a “new Right leader” and faulted Shapiro for the “language” with which he “targeted” him and his followers. “My humble suggestion is that we conservatives, we nationalist conservatives, address the questions that these young people have not by shutting them down on campuses, not by denigrating them, but by actually addressing their questions,” she said.
When I first saw that clip, I gave Malkin the benefit of the doubt, assuming she couldn’t possibly be aware of Fuentes’ greatest hits, and that of course she would amend her statements when the clips finally reached her:
Instead, she doubled down with a follow-up speech, telling the “new generation of America Firsters” that “if I was your mom, I’d be proud as hell,” and repeatedly insisted that talk of bigotry among the groypers were merely “bullshit” smears meant to discredit and distract from their challenge to the open-borders lobby. At no point does she acknowledge any of the specific groyper questions that have provoked the controversy, nor does she answer the obviously sincere questions many of her longtime fans posed to her about defending Fuentes himself; the closest she gets is an incredibly lame “I do not agree with every last thing they’ve said or written or published or tweeted or thought with their inside or outside voices.”
No, not wanting a racist troll who flirts with Holocaust denial recognized as a legitimate conservative leader just means we’re either doing the bidding of “Open Borders Inc.” or are scared of the “the Soros/SPLC left.” Seems legit.
Things escalated from there, with Michelle firing off more belligerent tweets and digging in her heels on Fuentes, even going so far as to promote one of the aforementioned pro-BDS lies:
Amid all of this, YAF removed Malkin from its campus lecture program and put out a statement declaring that while “immigration is a vital issue that deserves robust debate,” there is “no room in mainstream conservatism or at YAF for holocaust deniers, white nationalists, street brawlers, or racists.” The generic condemnation of bigotry is unobjectionable, but the brief statement is pretty lame in its refusal to get into specifics about the disputes and players involved (presumably because YAF wanted to ruffle as few feathers as possible).
But Malkin and her fans took it as a sign that YAF is doing the bidding of Open Borders Inc. and purging immigration hawks…which is kind of hard to square with the fact that YAF’s website still lists Ann Coulter, Tom Tancredo, Bay Buchanan, and Josh Hammer as speakers (Coulter is listed as a “non-YAF speaker,” though they still publish a phone number for booking her); hell, they’re advertising a Dinesh D’Souza event next month!
Then on Nov. 20, Malkin “addressed” the controversy at greater length in her column. Here’s the key passage:
More recently, when I defended conservative nationalist students who confronted establishment GOP representatives at campus events held by Turning Point USA and the Young America’s Foundation with serious questions about the detrimental consequences of mass migration, the Keepers of the Gate called on me to be de-platformed and cast out of the conservative “mainstream” […]
Both the open-borders left and right don’t want to address immigration-induced demographics. They just want to demagogue, while joining together in D.C. right now to push expanded guest-worker pipelines (S.B. 386), agribusiness amnesties (H.R. 4916), and massive DREAMer work permits (H.R. 6). Employing the very witch-hunt tactics of the Left that so many conservative pundits purport to abhor, YAF and others (including Jonah Goldberg, David French, various snot-nosed libertarians from the Washington Examiner, and elsewhere) demand that I disavow the young nationalist disrupters who have captured social media attention over the past three weeks. Don’t rely on slanted summaries of what they’ve said and done. Go to the original sources, as I have done in communicating with many of these earnest students who think for themselves.
Because I named their chief strategist and organizer, 21-year-old YouTube show host Nick Fuentes, I was accused of promoting “Holocaust denialism” and “white nationalism” based on brief clips of Fuentes accumulated by anonymous sources culled from 500 of his hours-long shows. I have done no such thing. The rabid reaction Beltway elites are having to a kid in his basement exposes how desperate they are to protect the America Last racket.
Several of the establishment conservatives now smearing America Firsters have themselves espoused identitarian ideas and ethno-nationalism of one flavor or another. But because they are controlled opposition, they are safe.
Malkin knows full well that the groypers are controversial because “serious questions about the detrimental consequences of mass migration” aren’t the only things they ask, and that vaguely complaining about “brief clips accumulated by anonymous sources” doesn’t even begin to answer serious questions about their conduct or why she went out of her way to endorse Fuentes and his movement as a whole, instead of highlighting and defending individual students who really did just ask legitimate policy questions.
Malkin is also fully capable of understanding that if you bestow blatant recognition to a group that dabbles in anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry as casually as Fuentes and his followers do, the result is to elevate those bigotries into subjects on which reasonable people simply disagree—a point Malkin herself inadvertently demonstrated with her earlier “I do not agree with every last thing they’ve said” formulation.
Now, I don’t doubt there are plenty of legitimate questions about immigration and other issues that have gotten drowned out amid the outrage over Holocaust cookie videos. Nor do I doubt that some confused, well-meaning students have fallen in with the groypers out of a not-unreasonable sense that nobody else is truly challenging the rot within conservative institutions.
But those kids need guidance from conservative leaders, responsible adults showing them how to channel their legitimate grievances in healthy ways and how to separate principled patriots from bigoted clowns exploiting serious issues for their own ends. If a lost, frustrated young conservative is teetering on the precipice between serious reformer and hate-dabbling troll, the last thing he needs is a movement veteran of Malkin’s prestige glossing over his new pals’ worst behavior and signaling that crap like Holocaust cookie videos are a legitimate way to represent the movement and rise through the conservative ranks.
Besides, if you genuinely care about plugging the immigration system’s leaks and holding Conservative Inc. accountable for its failures and betrayals, the absolute last thing you should want is to give the other side any opening to plausibly associate your cause with Nick Fuentes’ greatest hits. This could not possibly be any more obvious, yet for God-only-knows what reason, Malkin just gift-wrapped and hand-delivered to Conservative Inc. and Open-Borders Inc. a perfect pretext for ignoring and smearing the causes she claims to value so dearly.
For this longtime fan of Malkin’s, it’s simply heartbreaking to see her descend to levels of dishonesty and recklessness she used to eviscerate when they came from the Left. She’s too smart and been at this for too long not to know better, so I still can’t for the life of me figure out what she’s thinking with all this (to be clear, I have seen no evidence that Malkin herself is anti-Semitic, and plenty of evidence she isn’t).
But whatever her motives, her actions over the past few weeks have been disgraceful. Conservatives who take character seriously, who want what’s best for the movement and the country, and who want immigration control to actually prevail over Open Borders Inc. deserve better.
EDIT, May 25, 2020: The title of this post was originally “Michelle Malkin Knows Better.” I have tweaked it to more accurately convey that the article is a critique of her, not a defense.