A loosely organized coalition of extremist social media influencers, including at least two people who were present at the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, are scheduled to host their first major offline event since the attempted insurrection. The event, scheduled for February 26, 2021, marks the latest instance of online extremism inspiring real-world activity.
The far-right subgroup behind the conference calls itself the “America First” movement, deriving its namesake from the title of the broadcasts of extremist live-streamer Nicholas Fuentes, its most prominent figure. America First exists most notably as a fringe movement among conservative social media communities, home to its own micro-industry of influencers, vendors, and broadcasters. Its followers have repeatedly antagonized competing Republican causes — sometimes in person — to boost the movement’s visibility on the national political stage and siphon younger activists into extremist projects.
Two speakers at the conference, Fuentes and video producer Vincent James Foxx, were present on the east side of the U.S. Capitol building during the January 6 attack. According to Southern Poverty Law Center, Fuentes told his supporters during the attack, “Keep moving towards the Capitol — it appears we are taking the Capitol back!” He later added, “Break down the barriers and disregard the police. The Capitol belongs to us.”
This year’s America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) is also set to feature speeches from other far-right figures who have peddled lies about the integrity of the 2020 election prior to the attack, including former U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), political columnist Michelle Malkin, and former BlazeTV host Jon Miller. King promoted his upcoming appearance at the conference on Twitter, writing that it was time “to cancel ‘cancel culture’ and refurbish the Pillars of American Exceptionalism.”
A small handful of anonymous social media accounts have distributed stylized propaganda for the event on mainstream platforms like Twitter, as well as messaging platforms like Telegram. The material has been distributed by two anonymously operated Twitter accounts called “AFFilms” (America First Films) and “Agent G,” created in January and February 2021, respectively.
Digital high-production-value propaganda is a hallmark of the America First movement. Supporters’ obsession with “optics,” or the projection of broad respectability and appeal, has earned it positive attention from a broader swath of the transatlantic far-right movement — often to great profit. In late 2020, several figures associated with the movement received a six-figure cryptocurrency infusion from a French programmer before he died by suicide.
Utilizing this propaganda and the reach of several attending figures’ social media followings, organizers advertised and sold tickets to the gathering, which ranged between $100 to $10,000 for the one-night event. Although the event recently spurred in-fighting between far-right activists, in which one former ally of Fuentes accused him of knowingly inviting his followers at an event that could attract federal surveillance, all general admission tickets were reserved and organizers began directing would-be attendees to a waitlist.
America First activists hosted an identical event in 2020 in the Washington, DC, area. Like last year’s event, the conference shares a date and location with the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Organizers have sought to juxtapose CPAC with their own event, hoping to project that their gathering is a truer representation of the conservative zeitgeist than the movement’s largest annual gathering of speakers and activists.
The America First extremist movement and its leading figures gained increased national attention for the role they played in the fomentation and organization of the national Stop the Steal protest movement, which united Trump supporters and extremist groups around disinformation about the integrity of the 2020 election. That movement ultimately led to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Congress during the certification of electoral college making official President Joe Biden’s election victory. A handful of America First followers have been arrested for their participation in the riot.