A congressional candidate in Southwest Washington is attempting to distance himself from a white nationalist figure after the revelation of a phone conversation last year about working together.
Joe Kent, a Trump-backed challenger against U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, said in an interview Friday he talked with Nick Fuentes last spring about helping his social media strategy, but has not associated with the 23-year-old racist activist any further.
Fuentes, who gained a social media following after participating in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, has become an emerging far-right figure. He organizes an annual political conference built around the “America First” movement and its “conviction in God,” according to its website.
Kent, who has been the conservative frontrunner among several Republicans hoping to unseat Beutler, said the call was set up by a consulting firm when he was starting to launch his campaign. He couldn’t specify which. “I don’t even remember who set it up,” he said.
“Once I announced I got hit up by a lot of different vendors, like political consultants, and people who do media specifically,” Kent said. “They come at you with a package like, ‘Hey we can get you more followers on social media, more amplification on social media … so it was one of those calls that he was on.”
The statement comes a day after Fuentes, who describes his ambitions as “fighting for a white majority,” posted a lengthy livestream where he described the phone call with Kent.
According to Fuentes, who could not be reached for comment, Kent told him “I love what you’re doing.” Fuentes said he and his organization — as well as his social media following — boosted Kent’s message.
“We retweeted his stuff, we showed his stuff on Gab, we got his social media up off the ground,” Fuentes said in the three-and-a-half-hour livestream. “That was part of that call.”
Kent said there was no agreement with Fuentes. He said he didn’t know if anyone in his campaign has communicated with Fuentes.
“I never told him great job because I didn’t even know what kind of job he was doing,” Kent said. “I didn’t know necessarily what he did.”
For Republicans, associating with Fuentes has become yet another intraparty wedge. While some, including Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, have condemned Feuntes’ views, he has drawn other well-known, far-right politicians into his orbit.
Last week, an annual conference thrown by Fuentes featured U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar as headline speakers. On Tuesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz said he disagreed with Fuentes’ “ethno-nationalism,” yet defended him as no more controversial than Rev. Al Sharpton.
Kent has held events with, and regularly lauded, all three congresspeople. Kent’s chief consultant, Matt Braynard, also attended Fuentes’ conference last year.
Braynard, executive director of the organization Look Ahead America, set up a booth at the conference. The Washington D.C.-based organization has spearheaded claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, and hosted a “Justice for J6″ rally last September.
According to Fuentes, Braynard and his organization set up the only booth at the conference, called the America First Political Action Conference. Braynard said Friday that he was present at both AFPAC and the more mainstream Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC.
“We were there to recruit volunteers,” Braynard said. “There were a lot of people there that weren’t at the other.”
Braynard added that AFPAC attendees “didn’t seem too interested in us.”
“We set up a table, we handed out pamphlets, we asked them if they wanted to volunteer,” he said. “We didn’t track it much more beyond that.”
Braynard, who noted he did not speak for the campaign, declined to comment on Fuentes specifically. He said Kent’s phone call with Fuentes occurred before he joined the campaign.
The question of Kent’s relationship with Fuentes came to light following a Twitter thread by one of Kent’s opponents in the Republican primary, Christian public speaker Heidi St. John.
After AFPAC last Friday, in which Fuentes reportedly led a pro-Russia chant amid the country’s invasion of Ukraine, St. John on Wednesday called on Kent to disavow Fuentes and “repudiate (his) endorsement.”
Kent responded via Twitter the next day, saying his opponents are “spreading lies about me.” He said he condemned Fuentes’ politics and said he did not seek Fuentes’ endorsement “due (to) his focus on race/religion.”
Fuentes responded with his nearly three-hour livestream — about an hour of which was dedicated to discussing the new Batman film — as well as several messages on the chat app Telegram. In much of his video, Fuentes criticized Kent as not being conservative enough.
“You’re not for white people. You’re not for America. You’re not for Christianity. You’re not for our heritage,” Fuentes said.
Kent, St. John and state Rep. Vicki Kraft are all conservatives challenging Herrera Beutler and running against her with more conservative platforms. Kent, a former Green Beret and “America First” candidate, is no stranger to controversial statements.
In speeches, he’s been unafraid to describe COVID-19 as a China-designed “vehicle” to suppress freedoms and float ideas the FBI set up protesters on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
But Kent said he wasn’t aware Fuentes had endorsed him. He said he wasn’t aware of Fuentes at all.
“I don’t know what his endorsement necessarily means,” he said. “The last, whatever, 24, 48 hours is really the biggest, deep-dive I’ve done on him.”
The Clark County Republican Party, the largest Republican Party in the district Kent is vying to represent, said it had not been aware of Kent’s call. The party has not endorsed any candidate.