Editor’s note: the original version of this article asserted that the owners of @americafirstnd were students. This was based on several pieces of evidence: their own claims of enrollment, their knowledge of various student-run accounts including the private owner of a smaller account, their interest in the Columbus murals, and other information. There exists a possibility that a non-student member of our community ran the account instead; our article has been edited to reflect that possibility, and any changes have been marked with an *. We still firmly believe that the University should investigate this account as well as students running similar accounts and using Instagram to spread hate and damage our community.
The University is investigating a far-right Instagram account purportedly* run by Notre Dame students for its unauthorized use of the trademark Notre Dame leprechaun, but many students including here at the irish worker are more concerned with the threat posed to the Notre Dame community by the account’s extreme and violent views.
On Monday, local news network WNDU reported that @americafirstnd, an Instagram page reportedly with “unclear” connection to the University, had illegally used the University of Notre Dame trademark logo. Though WNDU noted the right-wing leanings of the page, the irish worker’s independent investigation soon revealed something more ominous than mere conservatism or the misuse of a logo. The owners of the @americafirstnd account, who claimed to be Notre Dame students, used this page to share far-right views on race, the election, and the January 6th Capitol insurrection. Their claim to be students was supported* when an anonymous source came to the irish worker with evidence about their enrollment status, and that their beliefs are more extreme than even their public pro-Trump, pro-insurrection content might suggest.
The phrase “America First,” the apparent inspiration for the handle, has become popular during Donald Trump’s presidency. @Americafirstnd advertised in several posts and the account’s bio for a well-known internet show by the same name; this show was suspended from several major platforms in 2020 for hate speech. On “America First,” host Nick Fuentes shares his extreme views: advocating for white nationalism, denying the Holocaust, and “jokingly” suggesting that state legislators be killed. He is often mistaken for a typical conservative, which allows him to radicalize young conservatives looking for a prominent conservative Catholic personality. The show and its host are not simply conservative or pro-Trump; Fuentes often criticizes prominent far-right figures such as Charlie Kirk and Ben Shapiro for not being extreme enough. Fuentes appeared in Charlottesville for the 2017 white supremacist rally as well as outside the Capitol on January 6.
A student familiar with and opposed to Fuentes’ agenda made a fake Instagram account for the purposes of investigating the post-election trend of right-wing accounts following and allegedly posting on behalf of ND students. The student posted a few times and then began conversation with @americafirstnd through the app’s DMs. Several screenshots of their conversation are shown above.
Rather than simply promoting Fuentes’s internet show or expressing conservative viewpoints, @americafirstnd made posts based on conspiracy theories and bigoted views about race and non-Christian religions. The “Great Replacement” that the account mentioned above is a white nationalist theory that warns of growing minority populations and the need to maintain power by the white population. @Americafirstnd also used the term “globalist”; this term is often used with anti-Semitic connotations among white supremacists. The words and arguments employed by this account show that these students have adopted at least some of the beliefs that resulted in Fuentes being banned from major platforms. It is disheartening to see this hateful language used within and by members of our community.
Notre Dame should seek to encourage meaningful political discussion within our community, whether that discussion is online or in-person. However, violent rhetoric and provably-false disinformation should not be tolerated. Similar rhetoric about race mixing and the Great Replacement, conspiracy theories, and far-right internet culture and personalities have inspired violent attacks in the last couple years; not to mention the events of January 6th (which @americafirstnd eagerly celebrated). @Americafirstnd’s message reached more than its hundreds of followers; from commenting under pages like @coronavirusnd, showing up on Instagram’s explore page, and being shared on other platforms.
The unauthorized use of trademarked University logos is not the primary problem with this Instagram page. Instead, we are concerned with the incitement to violence, the tacit endorsement of fascism, and the racism exhibited by the owner of the account: these are the true threats to our community.
As Father Jenkins said in a video to the community last March, “We are still Notre Dame, even when we’re far apart.” Notre Dame is more than a physical place; it is a community, and Notre Dame is wherever members of the community gather. We gather in LaFortune, Hesburgh Library, and the Basilica; we also gather on Twitter, Instagram, and in Zoom meetings. The University needs to acknowledge this and be active in ensuring that our community guidelines are met everywhere that our community meets.
The staff of The Irish Worker strongly condemn the actions of the community members* behind @americafirstnd and similar accounts and believe that they represent a serious violation of Notre Dame’s Community Standards. For the good of our community, the University should “unequivocally condemn the disruption of institutions designed to serve the common good” by investigating community members’* involvement in @americafirstnd and similar accounts and by considering potential expulsion of students.
The University can reach out to our team via email for more information relevant to these accounts and identifying the students running them. What follows below is a collection of screenshots highlighting @americafirstnd’s posts and interactions with our community for the public record.