PHOENIX — Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar’s support for extreme ideas and causes isn’t new. His own siblings have denounced him for it.
Now the six-term Republican from Flagstaff is coming under new scrutiny for his role as the headline speaker at the annual gathering of a white nationalist group, the America First Political Action Conference.
Experts on extremism said Gosar, as a sitting congressman, is boosting the group’s credibility in the eyes of supporters.
“It’s a huge deal for (America First),” said Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
“Those who would lend them credibility need to be held accountable for doing just that.”
In just a few years, America First founder Nicholas Fuentes has become a leading white nationalist voice among Republicans with his America First podcast.
During the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, video shows Fuentes and his supporters in the crowd.
“Our Founding Fathers would get in the streets, and they would take this country back by force if necessary. And that is what we must be prepared to do,” Fuentes told them, according to a New Yorker report.
Gosar, who has also come under scrutiny for his alleged role in the runup to the riot, gave an AFPAC speech peppered with the language of border hardliners with some doses of nationalism.
“A country without a border is not a country,” he said. “A nation without a people is not a nation.”
Fuentes followed Gosar and delivered a white nationalist homily.
“White people founded this country,” Fuentes said to applause.
“This country wouldn’t exist without white people, and white people are done being bullied.”
On Saturday, a day after the AFPAC event, Gosar made a brief, stilted remarks at the CPAC conference in an apparent attempt to back away from Fuentes’ white supremacist speech.
“I denounce when we talk about white racism. That’s not appropriate,” Gosar said during a panel discussion Saturday at CPAC.
Fuentes tweeted a picture that day of him and Gosar at a table together.
Gosar’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“Hate doesn’t change. Only the face of hate will change,” said Matt Browning, a retired Mesa police officer who has tracked white supremacist groups for years.
“Nick Fuentes is just another person who’s picking up where someone else dropped off.”
Gosar told one reporter he accepted the America First invitation to “reach young conservatives.”
What makes Fuentes different, Browning and Burghart agreed, is his appeal to younger people.
“America First is a brand that has been used to try to repackage old white nationalist ideas for a new generation… to try to move it from the margins to the mainstream,” Burghart said.
“Fuentes has used online culture - snark and irony - as a way to try to camouflage some of his more extreme ideas.”
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