Let’s cut to another scene from the ongoing death rattle of the DeSantis for President campaign. Yesterday, along with firing a third of the staff because it’s running out of money, the DeSantis campaign fired a staffer who made a campaign video, laced it with far right and Nazi imagery and then farmed it out to a fan site to obscure that it was produced by the campaign. Do you remember this story? Didn’t we hear about this a few days ago? About how the crazy ad supposedly made by a fan was actually cut in-house? At first I was confused too. Actually the same thing had happened all over again. A few weeks ago there was that gay and trans-bashing ad that over the weekend we learned from the Times had actually been produced in house by the DeSantis campaign. Then, over the weekend, a now-fired staffer named Nate Hochman produced an aesthetically comparable ad and farmed it out to a DeSantis supporting Twitter account called DeSantiscams so that the campaign could then amplify it.
At first it sounds almost absurd, not only that the campaign would get caught with another of these ads after catching so much scrutiny from the first one (and by no means just from the left), but that they’d use the identical method to launder it. The first was homoerotic, incel-infused, gay-bashing serial killer chic. The second is more border/vaccine focused and includes far right and neo-Nazi imagery — specifically the Sonnenrad, an ancient Indo-European symbol first appropriated by the Nazi party and still used by white Supremacists. The reports I’ve seen suggest the earlier video was cut by a different staffer. But the details there aren’t clear. So it seems possible that both were the work of Hochman.
Whether it was one or two young DeSantis staffers is sort of beside the point for my present purposes. We’ve seen plenty of examples to conclude that DeSantis world is chock full of these guys. Let’s assume it’s two different people behind the videos. Before that there was Pedro Gonzalez, not a campaign employee but an officially allied influencer, whose cache of racist and anti-Semitic emails was released as part of the DeSantis-Trump online war. Gonzalez dismissed the messages from 2019 and 2020 as from a bygone age, “a different, dumb season of my life.”
They’re hardly only associated with the DeSantis campaign. This spring, TPM’s Hunter Walker brought us the story of George Santos consigliere Vish Burra. Then there were the staffer and intern from the office of Rep. Paul Gosar. There are numerous other examples we’ve seen over the last couple years. There’s some variety in the general profile. But some basic commonalities show through. The first is that most are quite young — like mid-20s or younger. At 32, Burra is a relative elder statesman. Their digital histories also run the gamut from willfully offensive to explicitly neo-Nazi. The common thread, however, is a political awakening in the toxic world of far-right message boards and social media “edgelords.” That’s the language and visual idiom of these DeSantis videos. If you’re not familiar with it it can just seem bizarre. If you are familiar with it it still seems bizarre but the meaning is more clear and because of that understanding usually a lot more disturbing.
They’re also getting jobs and sinecures in what now counts as the GOP mainstream. Gonzalez’s LinkedIn biography lists bylines and jobs at various right wing publications, including Chronicles and its parent organization, The Charlemagne Institute, internships at the Claremont Institute and membership at the increasingly right wing New York Young Republican Club, where Burra was executive secretary before getting his gig with George Santos. Hochman was a staff writer at The National Review before taking his job with the DeSantis campaign. In the summer of 2021 he was an intern at Claremont’s house publication, The American Mind. He even got a lengthy think piece about the future of conservatism published in The New York Times.
If you put this all together, it’s not a series of individual mini-scandals. It’s a generation of young Republican operatives who are fanning out into campaigns, congressional offices and think tanks. They present as edgy young conservatives but are actually wholly immersed in a world of digital racism, incel-drenched misogyny and fascist-curious strongman worship. It eventually bubbles out, either as leaked emails or too-clever-by-half laundered Riefenstahl vids.