A good thing happened this month. Young America’s Foundation, the almost 60-year-old group for young conservative activists that sponsors campus events around the country, dropped columnist and author Michelle Malkin from its speakers’ bureau after she defended alt-right figure Nick Fuentes, an outspoken racist and anti-Semite. YAF issued a blunt statement saying that “mainstream conservatism” has no room for bigots or “street brawlers” (presumably a reference to the Proud Boys, the brawl-loving group Malkin has also defended).
(Disclosure: I have spoken at two chapters of Young Americans for Freedom, a Young America’s Foundation affiliate. Also, I had lunch with Malkin on a trip to Seattle in 1999, when she was a seemingly sane libertarian/conservative.)
Am I advocating “deplatforming” and reneging on my oft-stated commitment to freedom of speech? Not at all. If Malkin is invited to speak on a college campus or anywhere else, her event should not be “shut down” with violent or even noisy disruption. However, I don’t believe that any organization has an obligation to maintain ties with a person with odious views, and I think some people are so odious that decent people have a moral obligation to disavow them.
Malkin, I believe, crossed that line at least 15 years ago, when she wrote a book called In Defense of Internment: The Case for “Racial Profiling” in World War II and the War on Terror.
Malkin’s argument, in the post-9/11 environment, was that ethnic and religious profiling was a legitimate anti-terror measure and that such sensible measures were being avoided because of “profiling alarmism” caused by a guilt complex about the Japanese-American internment during World War II. For the record, the actual measures Malkin was advocating— selective monitoring of aliens and visitors from countries with a serious terrorism problem — were not particularly radical or draconian. She could have defended them by arguing that it was absurd to compare such programs to internment camps. Instead, she decided to defend the internment of some 120,000 ethnic Japanese residents of the United States, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens. (It should be noted that at the time, Asian-American immigrants could not be naturalized under explicitly racist immigration laws, so the only Japanese-Americans who were U.S. citizens were ones who were born here.)
Malkin’s argument boiled down to this: Some Japanese aliens and even some U.S.-born Japanese-Americans had pro-Japan sympathies and the U.S. had evidence that the Japanese military was working to recruit them; since there was no way to assess individual risk, mass detention was entirely justifiable as a wartime security measure — and besides, the camps weren’t really all that bad, anyway.
Critiquing the book shortly after its publication, I wrote in Reason:
Of the anti-Japanese bigotry that was pervasive in America and especially on the West Coast even before Pearl Harbor, and was whipped up into virulent hate by a propaganda campaign after the start of the war, Malkin says nary a word.
Responding to critics on her blog, she suggests she didn’t need to address the issue of racism because her whole point was to disprove the “myth” that it was a dominant factor in the internment. (In other words, if you decide to write a book debunking the notion that obesity causes heart disease, you can omit any mention of obesity in your examination of risk factors. Makes sense.)
In the same vein, Malkin gives only passing mention to such unpleasantness as shootings of internees by camp guards but discusses at length the amenities offered in the camps and the petty complaints of some internees.
Malkin also tried to rebut the common view that the Japanese-American internment was rooted in racism by pointing out that some German and Italian ethnics were also interned or relocated from high-risk areas during the war. It was a deeply dishonest comparison: All the internees of European descent were aliens, not U.S. citizens, and most of them were suspected of actual subversive activities, not targeted solely for their origin.
As I pointed out at the time, Malkin’s repulsive defense of internment put her at odds with Ronald Reagan, who called the policy “a grave wrong” in 1988 as he signed a bill apologizing for the internment and authorizing payments to survivors. (Reagan had initially opposed the bipartisan legislation, both because he believed other measures had already provided necessary redress and because he saw the bill as bowing to pressure from Japan. However, he eventually came around — thanks in part to the efforts of Grant Ujifusa, a Japanese-American Republican whom I later had the honor to know — and gave a heartfelt and moving speech at the bill signing.) It also puts her at odds with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who once invoked Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 Supreme Court ruling upholding the internment, in one of his scathing dissents as an example of a shamefully wrong decision.
I also warned that Malkin’s book, a featured selection of the Conservative Book Club, was likely to play into some disturbing tendencies among the conservative faithful: “anti-immigrant bias, contempt for civil liberties, and the attitude that acknowledging the racism of our past is for namby-pamby liberals or America-hating lefties.” I wish I’d been wrong.
In the years since, Malkin relentlessly flogged hysteria about the immigrant “invasion” and the Muslim menace. In a particularly disgraceful episode in 2005, she was among several bloggers on the right who pushed the idea that Joel Hinrichs, a University of Oklahoma student who committed suicide by the admittedly unusual method of blowing himself up with a homemade bomb while sitting on a bench not far from the campus football stadium, was a Muslim convert and would-be jihadist suicide bomber.
What apparently made Hinrichs a suspect was that he had had a Pakistani roommate, had lived a block away from a mosque (once attended by 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, before Hinrichs’ time on campus), and had grown a beard. Rumors that Hinrichs had been a regular at the mosque and that Islamist literature and a one-way plane ticket to Algeria had been found in his apartment were quickly shot down; rumors that he had tried to enter the crowded stadium but had run away when a guard wanted to search his backpack were disproved by security footage. Still, the speculation continued, undeterred by the fact that it was causing considerable anguish to Hinrichs’ family. Both on her blog and in her syndicated column, Malkin snarked about the “peaceful religion” of Islam and accused not only the mainstream media but the FBI of a cover-up motivated by “political correctness.”
Malkin’s other greatest hits from the last decade included printing the phone numbers of students who had organized a protest against military recruiting at the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2006 (and refusing to remove them despite death threats to the students). There was also the freakout over a 2008 Dunkin’ Donuts ad featuring celebrity chef Rachel Ray in a black-and-white fringed scarf that supposedly bore a resemblance to the Arabic keffiyeh and that simply screamed “jihadi chic” to Malkin’s keen eyes. (Dunkin’ Donuts denied any such intent but pulled the ad.)
More recently, Malkin became a contributor to the rabidly nativist, frequently racist and anti-Semitic website VDARE. She also actively backed Paul Nehlen, the far-right GOP primary challenger in Wisconsin, not only in 2016 but in 2017, shortly before he came out of the closet as an open white supremacist and anti-Semite. Even so, she continued to appear in National Review and was a speaker at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference, where she assailed the “ghost of John McCain” as an open-borders betrayer of America and described current immigrants as “militantly unassimilable and hostile generations of … future Democrat voters” with “tribal allegiance to the left.”
Malkin’s latest kerfuffle has to do with a new war inside campus conservatism. Turning Point USA, the pro-Trump, populist organization that represents the current GOP mainstream, has been under attack from a de facto white nationalist group called America First, a.k.a. “groypers” (so named for the meme of a fatter version of alt-right icon Pepe the Frog). The America Firsters have been harassing and heckling TPUSA speakers — TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk, Ben Shapiro, Rep. Daniel Crenshaw (R-Texas), Donald Trump Jr., and Trump campaign advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle — with confrontational questions about demographic change, Israel, and other incendiary topics. The basic point is “America should be a nation for white people” and “Israel is not our friend.”
The groypers’ leader, 22-year-old Nick Fuentes, who hosts a YouTube show called “America First,” claims to be an “American nationalist.” But, as he openly said in a 2018 podcast interview, he’s basically a white nationalist who avoids the term because it’s bad public relations; besides, he thinks white nationalism is “implicit” in American nationalism anyway, since “America does have a heritage of being a European country.” If you have the stomach for this sort of thing, Fuentes can be seen in a series of nauseating videos smirking, giggling, and cackling his way through monologues about how the Holocaust is vastly exaggerated, Hitler is misunderstood, and segregation in the Jim Crow South was just fine (“They had to drink out of a different water fountain, big fucking deal”).
On November 7, Malkin wandered into this quarrel on the side of “America First” — or, as she put it, the “young nationalists” — on a radio show and on Twitter.
Then, on November 14, Malkin really threw down the gauntlet in a speech at the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at UCLA. She ripped into Shapiro for “denigrating an entire movement of young men who watch a YouTuber named Nick Fuentes and are seeking answers to tough questions about where America is headed.” She told the “America Firsters”: “If I was your mom, I’d be proud as hell” (referring to Guilfoyle’s admonishment to the hecklers that they were an embarrassment to their parents). She denounced legal immigration as “demographic reconquista” and told her audience that trying to win over immigrants or minorities to the conservative message was pointless. She proudly stood by the bigots and thugs that she said “Conservatism Inc.” would have her repudiate, while offering the standard “I don’t agree with everything they say” disclaimer:
They want me to disavow Nick Fuentes and VDARE and Peter Brimelow and Faith Goldy and Gavin McInnes and the Proud Boys and Steve King and Laura Loomer and on and on. They want to do to me what they’ve done to brilliant academics who’ve told the truth — Amy Wax at the University of Pennsylvania and Darren Beattie and Jason Richwine and Steve Sailer.
Three days later, YAF dropped the hammer. Malkin responded by swearing allegiance to the “patriotic young nationalists/groypers and demographic truth-tellers.” (Folks: If you find yourself unironically praising “patriotic groypers,” it’s a sign that your life took a seriously wrong turn somewhere along the way.)
Writing in National Review, Jim Geraghty surveyed Fuentes’ odious views and concluded:
The fact that someone like Michelle Malkin — a figure once widely respected, even beloved amongst conservatives — insists upon seeing Nick Fuentes as simply an activist against open borders, and does not see any of Fuentes’ above remarks as sufficient reason to no longer see him as an ally, is deeply troubling.
But maybe what’s really troubling is that someone like Malkin remained a widely respected and “beloved” figure long after she jumped shark after shark.
Her odiousness has been on full display for years. It wouldn’t even be accurate to say that Malkin has taken off the mask; it’s more that she has removed the last shred of plausible deniability.
Will conservatives learn the lesson?