clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Donald Trump’s long history of enabling white supremacy, explained

Trump’s dinner with white supremacist Nick Fuentes was much more than a gaffe.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15 in Palm Beach, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Former President Donald Trump revived his familiar flirtation with white extremism last week after he dined with the rapper Ye, who has recently come under fire for his antisemitic comments, and prominent white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes at his Florida club, Mar-a-Lago.

Over the years, Trump has repeatedly egged on white supremacists — who believe that white people are inherently superior — and white nationalists, who desire a physical or symbolic white nation, with racist dog whistles. At times, he has even overtly defended them. His affiliation has given a bigger platform to hate-based movements broadly, and they, in turn, have become an indispensable part of his base. The groups became emboldened in the Trump era to make their views more explicit: For instance, during the January 6 insurrection, protesters carried a Confederate flag into the US Capitol, erected a gallows and noose on the lawn, and evoked a seminal white nationalist text.

Trump has never said explicitly that he supports white nationalism or white supremacy and, as president, repeatedly denounced antisemitism, though he later criticized American Jews for not showing enough gratitude for his support of Israel. (His daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are Jewish.) On the record, he has disavowed the Ku Klux Klan and its former leader David Duke, who endorsed him for president in 2016, as well as condemned white nationalists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups. Still, he’s continually taken pains not to alienate white extremists, leaving himself room for plausible deniability such that his supporters find no need to question their fealty.

Last week’s dinner, which occurred just a week after Trump announced his 2024 bid for the presidency, should dispel any doubt that Trump had left his alliance with white extremists behind him. His advisers reportedly told him that associating with people like Fuentes is political suicide, and he issued a statement claiming he didn’t invite Fuentes and didn’t know who he was. Notably, Trump’s statement did not denounce Fuentes’s or Ye’s beliefs, but merely noted Ye “expressed no anti-Semitism,” and that “I didn’t know Nick Fuentes.”

Fuentes is both a white supremacist and a white nationalist who has praised fascists and authoritarian leaders, has connections to American neo-Nazism, and believes that the US should have a white Christian majority. He attended the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and was present at the Capitol insurrection. Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, has publicly embraced antisemitism in recent months, losing his contract with Adidas over comments such as his statement that he would “go death con 3 [sic] on JEWISH PEOPLE,” seemingly referencing the “defcon” military alert. And after wearing a T-shirt that read “white lives matter,” he was accused of abusing the language of Black power to promote white supremacy.

Ye posted, then deleted, a video on Twitter Thursday claiming that Trump was “really impressed with Fuentes,” whom he described as “actually a loyalist.” CNN’s Maeve Reston and Kristen Holmes reported that Trump found Fuentes’s “abilities to rattle off statistics and data, and his familiarity with Trump world,” particularly interesting, and that he said he “liked” Fuentes. But the former president has since tried to distance himself from both Ye and Fuentes. He called Ye a “seriously troubled man” and claimed that Fuentes “unexpectedly showed up” as Ye’s guest to dinner, which he described as “quick and uneventful.”

Critically, Trump stopped short of denouncing Fuentes, apparently out of fear that he would alienate potential voters. And that’s a reminder of just how closely Trump is tied to Fuentes’s cause, and the extent to which he has been willing to cater to the white extremist agenda for his own political gain.

Trump has a longstanding relationship with white extremism

Trump has made himself an icon of white extremists by time and time again surrounding himself with advisers sympathetic to their views. His disavowals of them, usually offered only when he was pressed by reporters, haven’t been overly forceful, and he’s made racist statements of his own, further normalizing their views.

His former White House adviser Stephen Miller, a proponent of the “Great Replacement theory,” described by the Anti-Defamation League as a philosophy of “fear that whites will become a powerless minority in the face of changing demographics,” was found to have recommended white nationalist websites and literature in private emails uncovered by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Miller remains in Trump’s orbit; he attended the former president’s 2024 announcement speech.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House chief strategist and campaign head, tried to distance himself from white nationalists in the wake of the Charlottesville rally, but told a French far-right crowd in 2018 that they should wear the “racist” label proudly. During his time in the White House, he also pushed an agenda of “economic nationalism,” which, as my colleague Sean Collins noted, has been “criticized as rebranded white nationalism.”

As president, Trump praised prominent white extremist figures or at least declined to condemn them. In 2017, after a driver ran over counterprotesters at the Unite the Right rally and killed Heather Heyer, Trump said that there were “some very fine people on both sides.” He claimed that there were many people who attended the rally who were not white nationalists or neo-Nazis and that they had been treated “absolutely unfairly.” (He later clarified that neo-Nazis and white nationalists “should be condemned totally” and signed a joint congressional resolution that did so, but his remarks were seen as too tepid a condemnation and overly generous to the rally-goers.) President Joe Biden claimed those remarks were part of the reason he decided to run for president.

Later in his tenure, Trump defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who killed two people and injured another amid Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020. Rittenhouse — who was seen fraternizing with members of the far-right group the Proud Boys, and flashing a white power symbol — was acquitted of the murder charges against him after he argued that the killings were in self-defense. The far right rejoiced at the verdict, and Trump invited Rittenhouse to Mar-a-Lago, calling him “really a nice young man.” Trump refused to denounce the Proud Boys when prompted to do so at a 2020 presidential debate, telling them to “stand back and stand by.”

The January 6 insurrection was seen as, in part, a manifestation of white racial resentment that Trump attempted to harness to overturn the 2020 election, refusing for hours to call off his supporters as they stormed the Capitol. When he finally did tell them to go home, he said, “we love you, you’re very special.”

Trump’s history of racism — which is a belief separate from but foundational to white nationalism and white supremacy — is well documented. It spans decades, from the US government suing him after finding evidence he refused to rent to Black people in the 1970s, to his first address as a presidential candidate in 2016, when he said that Mexico was “not sending their best. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Notably, in 2018, he reportedly referred to Haiti and countries in Africa as “shithole countries” and called for more immigrants from places like Norway, which has a majority-white population. He’s used and continues to use racist nicknames for Covid-19, and has suggested Vice President Kamala Harris “doesn’t meet the requirements” to hold her office.

In his post-presidency, Trump has leaned even more heavily into white grievance politics. At a rally in Arizona earlier this year, he said that “white people” were being “denigrated” and “discriminated against.” And in reference to Covid-19 prevention and treatment, he falsely said that “if you’re white, you don’t get the vaccine, or if you’re white, you don’t get lifesaving therapeutics.”

What Trump has not done is make overt calls for a white nation. But his associations and statements align with white extremists and their goals. They have for some time, and his meeting with Ye and Fuentes only represents a continuation of that trend.