‘It’s hitting boiling point’: why 2022 was a breakthrough year for Welsh-language music

From Cardiff drill to all-female indie: Wales has come a long way since Stereophonics and the Manics. We meet the artists making Cymru cool again

By Chiara Wilkinson

In the town hall of Portmeirion, Wales, 22-year-old Sage Todz is spitting out bars over reverberating bass – in a mix of English and Welsh. ‘Dani yma yma, on the way to the top of the game, are ffordd i top y byd!’

The song, ‘O Hyd’, samples ‘Yma o Hyd’, a 40-year-old folk song which is played as a patriotic anthem before Welsh sporting events. This updated drill version – which is infectiously catchy, even for non-Welsh speakers – is performed by Todz with fellow rapper Marino, and was released with the Football Association of Wales ahead of the FIFA World Cup, which gets under way this weekend.

Todz is part of a generation of young artists breathing new life into Welsh-language music. It may recall the 1990s ‘Cool Cymru’ era when Super Furry Animals, Catatonia and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci were all the rage, but this time around things feel a whole lot more exciting. ‘It’s heating up,’ says Todz, whose real name is Eretoda Ogunbanwo. ‘It genuinely feels like it’s hitting boiling point. There’s too many of us doing things at a high level to not be seen.’ 

Cerys Hafana playing guitar
Photograph: Dyma Ni!

In recent years, there’s been a noticeable shift in the popularity of Welsh-language music. According to Dilwyn Llwyd, manager at Neuadd Ogwen, a music venue in the northern town of Bethesda, Welsh-language music has historically been ‘quite isolated’. ‘Before [social media], we didn’t really have our own music media or a way of communicating it to the wider world,’ Llwyd says. ‘It was a scene within itself.’ Social media and streaming services have been instrumental in opening the door.

Take Sage Todz, who quietly put out debut single ‘Sage Mode’ in 2020: a fiery track about his experiences of racism while growing up in rural Wales. When he uploaded it to TikTok and Twitter this year, he erupted. ‘I couldn’t have really called it a career before then,’ he says. He’s now sharing bills with grime stars like D Double E and is being played on BBC Radio 4.

A few years ago, it felt like the Welsh-language music scene was just a lot of boys with guitars

But it’s not just about the accessibility of music. The artists themselves are doing genuinely exciting stuff, all while breaking down stereotypes of what Welsh-language music can be. Cerys Hafana is a 21-year-old singer, composer and purveyor of the triple harp – a Baroque instrument with that lived on in Wales after almost dying out when the more convenient pedal harp was invented. It’s now a big part of Welsh folk music. ‘A few years ago, it felt like the Welsh-language music scene was a just lot of boys with guitars, which is fine,’ says Hafana. ‘Now, there’s also so much other stuff. Any genre can be in the Welsh language.’

Hafana puts her own ethereal spin on traditional folk music, and the results often sound more like Floating Points or Björk than something you’d hear on ‘The Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe’. ‘I guess I got a bit bored,’ Hafana says. ‘There’s a lot of music for the harp, but there’s nowhere near as much as there is for the piano. Either I stopped playing the instrument, or I had to start writing my own stuff.’ 

Similarly, Sage Todz – along with artists like Marino, Mace the Great, Deyah and Juice Menace – is shaking up Welsh hip-hop, which has been around since the late 1990s. According to Ogunbanwo, Cardiff is now home to a vibrant drill scene, with weekly nights at Clwb Ifor Bach acting as one of its hubs. ‘Two or three years ago, I don’t think Wales was ready for this new, more urban sound,’ he says. ‘It existed, but now people want to hear it. They’re starting to look.’ 

Ogunbanwo is from the small village of Penygroes in north Wales, where he moved from Essex aged seven. ‘I went to an immersion school to learn Welsh,’ he says, recalling being thrown into a class where Welsh was all they were allowed to speak. ‘It was difficult growing up, not just because of language. I was the first Black kid in the history of my primary school – I didn’t know what racism was before I moved there.’ Rap was one way of processing his experiences. ‘I don’t want to just sit there angry: I want to make something productive,’ he says. ‘Welsh is a part of who I am, so it was only a matter of time before I started incorporating it into music.’ 

For all-female post-punk trio Adwaith, meanwhile, music was a way of making the Welsh language ‘more fun’. ‘Growing up, Welsh just felt like another regimented subject in school, like maths or geography,’ says Hollie Singer, on guitar and vocals. ‘You were forced to speak Welsh, so it was almost an act of rebellion to not speak it. It was seen as an uncool thing.’ Singer’s first experience of live music was going to a Welsh-language gig at The Parrot, which was the only music venue in her hometown of Carmarthen, in the south west. ‘It completely changed my appreciation of the language,’ she says. ‘We wanted to get involved.’ 

Singer formed Adwaith in 2015 with bandmates Gwenllian Anthony (bass, keys, mandolin) and Heledd Owen (drums), all in their early twenties. Their sound is part Echo and the Bunnymen, part Wet Leg, with snappy lyrics about everything from lipstick to infatuation. It’s fair to say things are heating up for them. In the past six months, they’ve released their second album ‘Bato Mato’, become the first group to win the Welsh Music Prize for two years running and performed at Glastonbury on the BBC Introducing stage. ‘We were picked by Idles to play after their secret set – it was packed,’ says Singer. ‘A super overwhelming experience.’

Young people here can identify much more with Wales and Welshness than Britishness now

Despite all the hype, Adwaith found themselves trying to convince the London-centric UK music industry that Welsh-language music was ‘marketable or whatever’. ‘It’s exhausting,’ says Singer. Now they’ve decided to ‘bypass’ the UK market altogether, with the idea that they’ll get to the rest of the world quicker. Their booking agent is European and they’re signed to a Welsh label, Libertino Records.

Ogunbanwo, on the other hand, says using Welsh in his music probably helped him to stand out in a saturated market. ‘It was strategic, but I don’t want to be considered a fad or that guy who’s just pulling out random tricks,’ he says.

But it would be a mistake to say that Welsh-language music is just a novelty: it’s the product of genuine increase in speakers. Welsh was the fastest-rising language on Duolingo in the UK last year. And according to the Welsh Government’s most recent Annual Population Survey, 29.7 percent of people aged three or older were able to speak the language in the year ending June 30 2022. That’s around 900,000 people – an increase of 14,000 since 2021.

The Welsh language was introduced as a compulsory part of the curriculum in Welsh and English-medium schools in 1999. Earlier this year, the Welsh Government announced plans to reach one million Welsh speakers by 2050. All teaching staff, as well as young people aged between 18 and 25, will be offered free Welsh lessons. In the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty incredible that the language is still surviving – let alone that it’s on the rise – given there have been literally centuries of attempts to suppress it following Henry VIII’s Act of Union in 1536.

But there’s another big reason why this generation is embracing the Welsh language with open arms: for many in Wales, language is a way of asserting their national pride in a post-Brexit Britain. And what with the political instability of the past few years (indeed, just consider the past few months), the idea of an independent Wales has become more and more appealing. ‘I think a lot of younger people want to be Welsh more than British now,’ says Singer. ‘They can identify with Wales and Welshness more than Britishness. I think it’s going to be the generation that pushes independence.’ 

Gwenllian Anthony from Adwaith
Photograph: Dyma Ni!Gwenllian Anthony from Adwaith

So it’s fair to say that this new generation of Welsh-language artists is low-key political: for many, music is a form of soft power and a show of cultural identity. ‘Music is a really strong tool for change, it’s subversive, it gets to people without them realising,’ says Llwyd. There’s a patriotic shift taking place elsewhere, too. Wales’ national sports teams may officially changing their name to Cymru after the World Cup, with the Football Association of Wales (FAW) apparently already discussing the change with UEFA.

Politics, patriotism and red dragons aside, one of the main achievements of Welsh-speaking musicians is their success in promoting the language – showing it can be more than just road signs and another class in school. They’ve shown it’s something to be proud of, too. And while ‘Cool Cymru’ 1.0 gave birth to mostly male-fronted bands, with the majority of the songs from the era actually being sung in English (think Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers), most of the excitement surrounding the scene today is down to just how varied it is. 

Artists like Sage Todz, Adwaith and Cerys Hafana are redefining what Welsh-language music can be, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you can or can’t understand what they’re saying. ‘A lot of people who don’t understand the language can still understand the motivations and emotions behind the music,’ says Neal Thomson, co-founder of FOCUS Wales, an annual Welsh music festival in Wrexham.

As Todz put it in that song, ‘O Hyd’, released in support of the football team: ‘We are here! On the way to the top of game, on the way to the top of the world.’ His words could just easily apply to all of the great music coming out the country too.

Source: Timeout Wales

“History’s First Draft” – an interview with Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson
Photographs by Kelly Davidson

By John Wolfson

Three years ago, Heather Cox Richardson was in the middle of the kind of sparkling career that any academic would admire. The BC history professor had written a number of highly regarded books, was a regular contributor to respected publications such as the Washington Post, had cohosted an NPR podcast, and had amassed twenty thousand or so followers on Facebook who looked forward to her weekly essays about history, current events, and life itself.

Then, in 2019, something happened in Washington that would change the trajectory of Richardson’s career. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee sent a letter to the acting director of national intelligence demanding that, in accordance with the law, a whistleblower complaint be turned over to the committee. To Richardson, the letter marked the first time that a lawmaker had accused a member of the Trump administration of breaking the law. Recognizing the historical significance of the moment, Richardson dedicated one of her Facebook essays to it. Rather than assume her readers were already experts, however, she used her conversational writing style to provide context and help her audience understand the nuances of the issue. The response was astounding. So Richardson wrote again two days later. “The floodgates just opened,” she recalled. “And I’ve written every night since then.”

Those early essays formed the beginnings of Letters from an American, Richardson’s daily musings about the state of the nation. She continues to post her 1,200-word essays for free on Facebook, but hundreds of thousands of people also pay for subscriptions to them on the hit newsletter platform Substack, on which Richardson is one of the most successful authors. Her posts generate tens of thousands of comments. She was named one of USA Today’s 2022 women of the year. And she was invited in February to travel to the White House to interview President Biden.

We sat down with Richardson to discuss her sudden—and quite unexpected—rise to media stardom, the state of the country, and how the job of historians will change in the future.

There’s much more to this conversation. To listen to the entire Boston College Magazine podcast, click here.

How did Letters from an American get its start?
I had a Facebook page of about twenty-two thousand people in 2019, and I posted an essay on it about once a week—sometimes about history, sometimes about life, whatever, just because I like to write. And I had not written in 2019 since July 18 and my readers were starting to be nervous about me because I had been listed on a professor “watch list,” and people like me get hate mail. So I started to get emails from people saying, “Are you okay? Has something happened?” But actually, I was just really busy and didn’t have time to sit down and write an essay. One of the things I was doing was moving to a new place. So I was painting my house before I moved, and I got stung by a yellow jacket. Now, I’m allergic to yellow jackets, and I did not have my EpiPen. I was supposed to come back to Boston but I didn’t dare get in a car until I knew that I was not going to have a bad reaction to that sting. So I thought I might as well write. So this again was 2019, just after Representative Adam Schiff, who is the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, had written a scathing letter to the acting director of National Intelligence saying, We know there’s been a whistleblower who has said something. And by law you must give us that complaint, and you have not done so. So we have to assume that there’s somebody big that’s referred to in this whistleblower’s complaint and you’ve got to hand it over. This was the first time in all the years of the Trump administration that a member of the legislative branch had explicitly accused a member of the executive branch of breaking a law. And so I thought, well, I might as well write about where we are in American history right now. So I wrote up this quick thing for Facebook saying, “This is what’s happened, there’s been this whistleblower complaint.”

What kind of a reaction did you get to that essay?
It was very different than in the past. All of a sudden, the transoms opened and people were writing in, asking all kinds of questions: Who is the DNI? Who is Adam Schiff? What is going on? That post was on September 15. I wrote again on September 17. Again, the floodgates just opened. And I’ve written every night since then. What I’m doing is responding to people’s questions about this country. And I think the magic of it is not me. It’s that I’m a teacher, and a translator for people asking questions. And a lot of what I do is simply say, “Okay, here’s what the Department of Justice is, and here’s what a congressional committee is, and here’s the difference. And here are the powers that they have. And here’s what they’re trying to do.” All those things that many people pretend they know and they don’t actually know. And that’s always been the key to my professional career, saying, “Wait, I don’t understand that. What are you talking about? Let’s figure out what exactly you mean.”

Your Facebook audience has exploded since then. 
It’s about 1.5 million now, and it happened really quickly. I remember reaching out to my Dean within three weeks or so—because I was already touching on some really hot topics—and saying, “Just so you know, something really big is happening over here. And I don’t want to embarrass the university.” And I will say that the administration has always been extraordinarily supportive of me.

How do you choose your essay topics?
I’m not deliberately trying to push any arguments with my essays other than for multiracial democracy and liberal democracy. Beyond that, I am not pushing an argument except to the degree that I want people to understand the facts. I firmly believe in the Enlightenment concept that if people have true facts in front of them, they will make good decisions. They will not necessarily be the decisions that I would make, but they’re the decisions that make sense for them. And that’s how a pluralistic democracy works. So that’s my political point of view. But that means that as a person trained to be a teacher, I try to include voices that I don’t agree with but that are well grounded in facts, ones that simply present a different perspective. In terms of the topics I write about, I look at this in many ways as a chronicle of America for the graduate student in 150 years. So, which are the stories that are going to matter then? I try and look from that perspective and say, “This is important, and many of these other things are not.” And my historical training is very useful for that because, for example, I could look at the first speech that Antony Blinken gave when he became secretary of state in the Biden administration—which was not well covered in the media—and say, “Whoa, boy, this is a major shift in American foreign policy. This is the speech that’s going to be in textbooks and is going to be in monographs in 150 years.” Meanwhile, some other stuff in the news today really is going to be in the background in the future. So that’s how I choose my stories and how I figure out what’s going to be important.

How did you come up with the name Letters from an American?
There is a very famous document in American history called Letters from an American Farmer. It’s by J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur, and it’s very famous for the line, “What is this American, this new man?” And so it is partly saying, “what is America?” And I’m trying to explain what America is and keep a record of what America is. But there’s also a twentieth-century reference and that is Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America. And those were absolutely brilliant short snapshots, once a week, that really took off in the 1940s. Alistair Cooke, who was a journalist from England, took a look at America, saying “This is what America looks like today.” And he would cover everything from the 1948 reelection of Harry Truman to a tattoo artist. And it was his way of creating a kaleidoscope of what America looked like. And I thought those two things worked very well. That being said, it sounds like I was sitting around thinking great thoughts—I was literally running down the hallway in Stokes Hall with two of my graduate students going, “Oh my God, I got to have a name for this. What am I going to call it?” And we shopped it, the three of us, and this is what we came out with.

Writers are typically encouraged to write for their audience. Your audience is enormous. Do you write for your readers?
I have a laptop and I sit alone in a room, and I don’t see those oceans of people out there. I write these letters to explain to about six friends the way the world works. My touchstone about what goes in a letter is always, would I send this to the six friends? Because the minute I start thinking about the people who are actually reading that letter, or the people that I would like to impress, or the people that I think are really cool, or the people I don’t like, I find I get paralyzed. So I sit there and I say, “Would I say this?” And one of the people is my college roommate. “Would I say this to my college roommate?” And if I would, then it goes in. And if I wouldn’t, then I figure I’m not writing authentically any longer.

I firmly believe in the Enlightenment concept that if people have true facts in front of them, they will make good decisions. They will not necessarily be the decisions I would make, but that’s how a pluralistic democracy works.

You have an especially large audience among women, people of color, and other groups that have traditionally been marginalized in our country. What makes your work so appealing to these readers?
Well, I don’t know. I’ve never actually done a survey or anything like that, but I think that there are two pieces that matter. One is where my writing appears. Everything I write is available for free on Facebook, which is where the audience is. That’s where people are. Love or hate Facebook, there are billions of people on Facebook. So it’s very easy to get. It’s very accessible. I also think it doesn’t hurt that I’m not afraid to say I don’t understand something. And my great example of this was when Tom Cotton, a senator from Arkansas, wrote a letter during the Obama administration to Iran. The letter was signed by a whole bunch of senators. Afterward, there were a number of news articles that said, Well, he’s violated the Logan Act. And I was like, I have taught American history for thirty years, and I don’t know what the Logan Act is. Why are you all pretending that we know what the Logan Act is? So, literally, I went to Wikipedia. I’m like, Oh, that’s the Logan Act. It was a very simple law from the Quasi War with France in which a regular citizen had gone to try and cut a deal with France, to undercut the administration. And the Congress passed a law in 1799 saying you can’t do that. Okay. So that’s an explanation that journalists could include in a sentence. The fact that they didn’t made me feel really stupid, like, “Well, everybody else knows the Logan Act.” So part of what I do is always remind people. I even identify the president of the United States every night. That’s saying, You don’t have to remember this. I know that you have worked a ten-hour day and your car’s breaking down and the laundry’s dirty and you’re exhausted. You don’t have to remember who Adam Schiff is. I’m going to tell you who Adam Schiff is. And I think that helps this whole world be more accessible to people who otherwise feel like it’s a language that they don’t speak.

From the weakening of democratic norms to the pandemic to the insurrection, these are terrifying times, and it often feels like all of this is unprecedented. One thing that your readers learn is that we’ve often been here before. What is history’s role in informing modern public debate?
We have been here before in many ways. We are currently in a brand-new moment in which we have a major political party that has rejected democracy. That is alarming and it is not completely unprecedented because, of course, this was the position of the Democratic party in the late 1850s. But in that case, those lawmakers and leaders left our government and tried to start their own. In this case, we have those same people remaining in the government, and this is new and dangerous. But I think that history’s primary role in this moment is providing the melody, perhaps, that we all sing: The reality that as Americans—and I mean this not only for native-born Americans but for the people who came to these shores a minute and a half ago—we share the same values, which have been embodied in particular documents, in particular people, and in particular events. It helps us to recognize that we have a shared reality, a shared set of aspirations, and a shared devotion to the common good. And I think of it like listening to a concert of somebody like James Taylor, where everybody in the audience knows the words to “Fire and Rain.” And part of you says, “why do they want to hear this song again?” And the answer is not because it’s breaking new musical ground for the audience, but because it reminds them that they are all in this ship together. And that, I think, is something that our shared history brings to this incredibly fraught moment.

Various takes of Heather Cox Richardson

Will the rise of social media and the spread of disinformation complicate or change the nature of the work that historians will be doing a hundred years from now? 

How will this affect history, and the way we do history? I think that’s a really interesting question because of course the real issue for archivists is curation. Whose voice gets to stay in the archives? Who gets to be there? And the proliferation of so many different forms of media and of speech means that we’re going to lose most of it. How many of your emails do you have from the late 1990s? I have none. I don’t have an archive. If it had all been on paper, I would, at this point in my life, have an archive. I don’t have one. That stuff’s going to get lost. And the question right now for archivists is, what do we keep? Why do we keep it? And what will that say about who America is at the end of the day? A lot of the reason we don’t understand that we have this whitewashed version of the past is because the only people who ended up in the archives were the white guys. And we did not, in fact, have a past that was uncontested at all. For example, if you were a follower of Joe McCarthy from Wisconsin in the 1950s, you were a fervent anti-Communist who was willing to hang people that you considered your enemies. And if you think about the 1930s, we literally had Nazis here in Boston. And those are stories that perhaps are less known, but it’s not like the past has not been contested. But at the same time, the modern explosion of media and of information offers the opportunity to include more voices in our archives, which will change the way we think about this history. When we talk about the construction of the idea of America, one of the things that has jumped out to me in the book I’m writing right now is that the people who have most clearly articulated what America means are people of color, are immigrants, and to some degree are women. And that, I think, is a really interesting reconstruction of what America means. Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, these are the people who sit in our stone pantheons. And yet, if you think about the people who made the dream of America come alive, it’s Fannie Lou Hamer, a former sharecropper who was beaten almost to death for registering people to vote. It’s the Chinese American who was asked not long after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 to donate money for the Statue of Liberty and responded, “I’m offended that you would ask me to give money for a statue dedicated to Liberty just after you’ve passed a law that says I am not welcome in this country.” It’s Frederick Douglass asking what—to an African American—is the Fourth of July? And that strikes me as being perhaps an obvious thing that I should have seen long ago. In terms of the way that we remember our history, maybe it’s time to recognize that the people who are keeping America alive are its marginalized peoples and its newcomers who recognize our dream in a way that those of us who have come to be somewhat blasé about it no longer do.

Portrait of Heather Cox Richardson with favorite hat

Do you see any way out of the disinformation swamp we seem to find ourselves in?
That hits on what is in many ways the most interesting part of where we are for somebody who studies ideas. I think about disinformation in two ways. First, I look at it as an attack on our society, no different than a physical attack. And I think it has been quite deliberate to try and destabilize America. The efforts of people like Russian President Vladimir Putin to seed America with divisive concepts that tear us apart have been clearly established. So first of all, it’s an attack. But second of all, there’s a larger problem. And not just the foreign influences in America. There is the problem of the algorithms that enable people essentially to package social media users, to sell them. That’s been part of advertising since the beginnings of radio—people make the mistake of thinking that we are buying products, when in fact we are the product that advertisers buy—so that’s not exactly new. But what’s new are the algorithms that permit social media to privilege certain speech. And I see social media as we are currently using it, if you will, as a wild west. Every time we get a new technology, there aren’t rules around it, people misuse it. It’s got enormous potential to do good. It’s got enormous potential to do evil. Invariably, a lot of people jump in and do the evil with it. The society looks at this and says, “We can’t have this happen,” and they start to regulate it. And I expect that this is the direction we’re going now in America. The First Amendment means the government can’t say, “Hey, you’re not allowed to lie.” But what it can do is say, “you are not allowed to put warping algorithms on advertising,” for example, or on who sees what posts on Facebook.

What’s the problem with these algorithms?
We know that Facebook privileged posts that created high emotion, especially anger. You were much more likely to see those posts than you were to see posts that created, for example, good feelings or no feelings at all. If you think about Facebook as a public sphere, that’s quite different than just seeing whatever comes along. Instead, you were literally being fed things that make you angry and that continue to lead you down a rabbit hole. And it’s not just Facebook that did this, of course. There are algorithms on YouTube. There are algorithms on TikTok. There are all sorts of ways in which people are steered into certain political directions. And I really think that’s pushing a lot of our polarization. I continue to believe that we are in an artificially polarized moment because of the way we have been steered into one way of looking at the world or another.

You’re someone who has studied and written about a number of long-deceased American presidents. And then, very recently, you had a chance to interview a living president, Joe Biden, and you got to do it in the seat of American power, the White House.
It was really interesting because my White House is a historical White House. It’s a building full of memories and ghosts and paintings and statues and rooms and the Rose Garden. And I’d never been there before, and all of that is what I saw. And yet the White House is also, in the modern world, an office building. It’s full of people doing their jobs, and literally being like, “Hey George, do you have that envelope?” And those two things are overlapped when you’re there. I’m walking through history, I’m in an office building, and in some very small way, I’m making history because I’m interviewing a president. And that was also very odd because I know President Biden very, very well. But he’s on paper. I know his speeches. I know his videos. He is a historical figure to me. No different in many ways than FDR or Lincoln or Harding or any of those people who exist for me on paper and on screens. But he’s alive. He walked into the room and he talked to me and I got to ask him questions. And there was this moment of feeling like he wasn’t supposed to be three-dimensional and he wasn’t supposed to be able to answer my questions. And if he was going to answer my questions, I wanted him to give me the answers I wanted to hear . . . but he didn’t. And I’m like, Wait a minute, you’re not allowed to do that. You’re a historical figure. I get to do research and I get to figure out what the answer is. And then I get to write it. You’re not allowed to have your own opinions about your life.

That interview seemed to take your acclaim to a new level. What’s it like to be a media star now?
[Laughs] When you put it that way, sure. But you don’t walk down the street thinking I’m going to interview the president of the United States. I am still absolutely the same person that was here five years ago or ten years ago. Sometimes I joke that I still feel like I’m twelve. I think we are who we are. And I’m a writer, I’m a teacher, and that’s what I do. I write and teach. I just have bigger audiences than I used to ten years ago.

What comes next for you?
I’m making no plans at all. Everyone says to me, how long will you do the letters? And my answer to that is, they began absolutely organically and they will stop organically. We’ll know when it’s time for them to stop. People aren’t going to need them forever and then it will be time to do something else. I think that my life will depend a lot on what happens with the country. And right now, I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of this supportive, interesting, creative community that cares so deeply about this country. It is a wonderful community that is gathering. I also feel like I have been given the golden ring in that, for a historian, there is literally no better position in our entire history than to be the person who gets to keep the record of this era. And the fact that I fell into this—if you had told me three years ago that I was going to have this opportunity, I would be like, “Nah, never me.” But I happen to be in the right place at the right time. And that for somebody like me is an unfathomable gift.

Holocaust denier, neo-Nazi Fuentes dines with Trump

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

November 26, 2022

I hate to break up a holiday weekend with a political post, but I want to put down a marker for the record.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, November 22, former president Trump hosted the antisemitic artist Ye, also known as Kanye West, for dinner at a public table at Mar-a-Lago along with political operative Karen Giorno, who was the Trump campaign’s 2016 state director in Florida. Ye brought with him 24-year-old far-right white supremacist Nick Fuentes. Fuentes attended the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in its wake, he committed to moving the Republican Party farther to the right.

Fuentes has openly admired Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and authoritarian Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is currently making war on Russia’s neighbor Ukraine. A Holocaust denier, Fuentes is associated with America’s neo-Nazis.

In February 2020, Fuentes launched the America First Political Action Conference to compete from the right with the Conservative Political Action Conference. In May 2021, on a livestream, Fuentes said: “My job…is to keep pushing things further. We, because nobody else will, have to push the envelope. And we’re gonna get called names. We’re gonna get called racist, sexist, antisemitic, bigoted, whatever.… When the party is where we are two years later, we’re not gonna get the credit for the ideas that become popular. But that’s okay. That’s our job. We are the right-wing flank of the Republican Party. And if we didn’t exist, the Republican Party would be falling backwards all the time.”

Fuentes and his “America First” followers, called “Groypers” after a cartoon amphibian (I’m not kidding), backed Trump’s lies that he had actually won the 2020 election. At a rally shortly after the election, Fuentes told his followers to “storm every state capitol until Jan. 20, 2021, until President Trump is inaugurated for four more years.” Fuentes and Groypers were at the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, and at least seven of them have been charged with federal crimes for their association with that attack. The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol subpoenaed Fuentes himself.

Accounts of the dinner suggest that Trump and Fuentes hit it off, with Trump allegedly saying, “I like this guy, he gets me,” after Fuentes urged Trump to speak freely off the cuff rather than reading teleprompters and trying to appear presidential as his handlers advise.

But Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2024 just days ago, and being seen publicly with far-right white supremacist Fuentes—in addition to Ye—indicates his embrace of the far right. His team told NBC’s Marc Caputo that the dinner was a “f**king nightmare.” Trump tried to distance himself from the meeting by saying he didn’t know who Fuentes was, and that he was just trying to help Ye out by giving the “seriously troubled” man advice, but observers noted that he did not distance himself from Fuentes’s positions.

Republican lawmakers have been silent about Trump’s apparent open embrace of the far right, illustrating the growing power of that far right in the Republican Party. Representatives Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) have affiliated themselves with Fuentes, and while their appearances with him at the America First Political Action Conference last February drew condemnation from Republican leader Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), now McCarthy desperately needs the votes of far-right Republicans to make him speaker of the House. To get that support, he has been promising to deliver their wish list—including an investigation into President Joe Biden’s son Hunter—and appears willing to accept Fuentes and his followers into the party, exactly as Fuentes hoped.

Today, after the news of Trump’s dinner and the thundering silence that followed it, conservative anti-Trumper Bill Kristol tweeted: “Aren’t there five decent Republicans in the House who will announce they won’t vote for anyone for Speaker who doesn’t denounce their party’s current leader, Donald Trump, for consorting with the repulsive neo-Nazi Fuentes?”

So far, at least, the answer is no.