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GOP congressman headlines conference where organizers push white nationalist rhetoric

WILL STEAKIN
·6-min read
GOP congressman headlines conference where organizers push white nationalist rhetoric

GOP Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona was the surprise keynote speaker at a conference Friday night in Orlando, Florida, where speakers spread white nationalist rhetoric, organizers railed about the U.S. losing its "white demographic core," and some called for further engagement like the ire that drove the Capitol attack on Jan. 6.

Gosar, who skipped Friday's House votes -- including the vote on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package -- spoke Friday night at the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC), where he blamed former President Donald Trump's election loss on "big business, big tech, and the swamp," and pushed anti-immigration arguments to the crowd of "Groypers," a loose coalition of mostly young alt-right extremists led by organizer Nick Fuentes.

In the days leading up to the event and while marketing tickets online in part by using his Twitter account, Fuentes teased that there would be a special guest, which turned out to be Gosar. Other speakers Friday night included former Iowa Representative Steve King, who's known for his long history of racist comments, and conservative commentator Michelle Malkin.

After speaking at the event, less than 12 hours later Gosar was featured on a panel Saturday morning at the ongoing Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) happening concurrently to AFPAC in the Orlando area. Speaking on a panel moderated by CPAC's own Mercedes Schlapp, Gosar criticized the Biden administration's immigration policies.

MORE: 3 key takeaways from Friday's CPAC event: Speakers stand behind Trump

At the start of the panel, Gosar -- unprompted and without mentioning Friday's event or Fuentes by name -- attempted to distance himself from "racism."

"I want to tell you, I denounce when we talk about white racism. That's not appropriate. I believe in a strong immigration system," Gosar said.

PHOTO: Rep. Paul Gosar speaks during a panel discussion about the Devaluing of American Citizenship during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 27, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Rep. Paul Gosar speaks during a panel discussion about the Devaluing of American Citizenship during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 27, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Neither Gosar nor representatives for CPAC responded to ABC News' requests for comment on the congressman's speech at the AFPAC event.

On Friday night, Gosar's keynote was followed by a speech by Fuentes that was filled with white grievance and far-right anti-immigration rhetoric. "If [America] loses its white demographic core … then this is not America anymore," the AFPAC founder told the crowd.

Fuentes went on to praise the Capitol attack, boasting about it leading to a delay in the certification of the election results.

"While I was there in D.C., outside of the building, and I saw hundreds of thousands of patriots surrounding the U.S. Capitol building and I saw the police retreating ... I said to myself: 'This is awesome'," Fuentes said to the applause of the crowd.

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And amid security concerns over threats to disrupt President Joe Biden's expected speech to a joint session of Congress, Fuentes encouraged more of the kind of commitment shown by rioters on Jan. 6.

"To see that Capitol under siege, to see the people of this country rise up and mobilize to D.C. with the pitchforks and the torches -- we need a little bit more of that energy in the future," he said.

Gosar, who was elected to Congress in 2011, has emerged as one of the most far-right Republicans in Washington. In January, The New York Times first reported that a leading member of an Oath Keepers chapter in Arizona, Jim Arroyo, posted a video on YouTube claiming Gosar attended one of their meetings and supported the group's calls for a war in the country.

PHOTO: Attendees listen to speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 26, 2021.  (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via Redux)
PHOTO: Attendees listen to speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 26, 2021. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via Redux)

"We did a meeting a couple of years ago where our elected representative from Washington, Paul Gosar, came out and we asked him flat out at that time, 'Do you think we're heading into a civil war?'" Arroyo said. "And his response was just flat out, 'We're in it. We just haven't started shooting at each other yet.'" Gosar did not respond to the Times' request for comment.

During the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Gosar posted a message on Twitter calling for protesters not to "get carried away." But over on the right-leaning Parler service, he shared a far more sympathetic message, using the same photo of people scaling the walls of the Capitol and writing, "Americans are upset."

Gosar's featured appearance at Friday's event will be another major test for a Republican Party that is being pulled between traditional conservatives and a growing radical extremist element as it searches for a path forward following the pro-Trump Capitol attack.

MORE: Awkward moment as House Republican leaders clash over Trump speaking at CPAC

Earlier this month, the House approved a resolution that removed newly elected Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees due to a long history of pushing QAnon rhetoric and baseless conspiracy theories, including that the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings were staged "false flag" operations. Green apologized to House members for her previous comments prior to the vote.

And former President Trump issued the first blow of his revenge tour on Republicans who voted to impeach him, endorsing Max Miller, a former Trump aide, in his primary challenge against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), who was among 10 House Republicans to vote for impeachment.

Trump's name was a recurring theme at Friday night's event, with Fuentes also promising to target Republicans who were not sufficiently loyal to the former president.

"He is one of us," Fuentes told the crowd.

PHOTO: Nick Fuentes speaks to his followers, the Groypers, while flying a flag reading 'America First', in Washington D.C. on Nov. 14, 2020. (NurPhoto via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: Nick Fuentes speaks to his followers, the Groypers, while flying a flag reading 'America First', in Washington D.C. on Nov. 14, 2020. (NurPhoto via Getty Images, FILE)

Friday night's AFPAC event marked one of the first major gatherings of far-right extremists since the Jan. 6 insurrection. The event featured at least two people, Fuentes and AFPAC speaker Vincent James Foxx, who were present near the building during the siege.

Fuentes, who has denied involvement in the storming of the Capitol itself, has been spotted in videos and photos rallying outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. In one video, Fuentes can be seen on a megaphone telling the crowd not to "leave this Capitol until Donald Trump is inaugurated president." Foxx, who on Friday night said, "We must not be afraid of the idea of secession," was photographed with Fuentes on Jan. 6. Neither man was charged in connection with the riot.

Fuentes, who attended the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally at Charlottesville, has a long history of making racist and anti-Semitic comments. Since the Capitol attack, a handful of America First followers have been arrested for their participation.

After spending parts of his speech Friday night celebrating the Capitol riot, Fuentes at one point attempted to walk back his comments.

"I disavow all violence. I disavow all vandalism. I respect the government is sovereign over us," he said -- then added, "Alright, I think that'll stand up in court."

GOP congressman headlines conference where organizers push white nationalist rhetoric originally appeared on abcnews.go.com