If any event could make a statement about a new era in Washington, it was Thursday night’s Deploraball. A mostly young, white, open-bar-lubricated crowd in suits, tuxedos, and ball gowns packed the ballroom at the National Press Club, watching a series of speeches by party organizers Mike Cernovich; Jeff Giesea, a former employee of Peter Thiel’s Thiel Capital Management; and Jim Hoft, better known as Gateway Pundit, as well as conservative provocateur James O’Keefe and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Cernovich and Giesea have been running an online pro-Trump organizing group called MAGA3X, which was behind the party.
The event had all the trappings of a Trump rally, proving that the same effect can be achieved without Trump’s physical presence; the booming cheers, the chants (“USA! USA!” “Lock her up!”), the hats. It was like a Twitter feed exploding into real life. There, in the flesh, was Bill Mitchell, Twitter’s favorite Trump booster. Michael Flynn, Jr, the son of Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn. “Pharma bro” Martin Shkreli. Paul Ryan’s primary challenger, Paul Nehlen. And of course Cernovich himself, who was greeted like a hero.
“It’s good to see everybody from Twitter here,” Cernovich told the crowd, to cheers. “Who’s on Twitter? It’s so ironic to think that Twitter’s in the bag for Hillary Clinton, for Bernie, and we ran Twitter, did we not run Twitter?”
“This is a coming-out party,” Cernovich said.
“This is what we are here to celebrate tonight,” Giesea said. “A new type of Republican. And a new movement.”
“We in this room are all part of something new not just here but throughout the world,” he added.
Hoft, a longtime presence in the online conservative media sphere, had a special announcement to make. The Trump administration, he said, was allowing Gateway Pundit to have a correspondent at the White House. The new White House correspondent will be Lucian Wintrich, the auteur behind a “Twinks4Trump” series of photographs.
Peter Thiel walked in around 8:45, along with a small entourage. Thiel, who for a time employed Giesea at his hedge fund, hovered near the wall to the side of the stage holding a drink. His simple presence was as sure a sign as any that the party had gone mainstream; Thiel was one of Trump’s top financial backers during the campaign and served on the transition, helping to install allies in key posts. He left the ballroom after a little over 30 minutes, refusing to answer questions from two reporters chasing him down the hall of the press club.
There were some notable absences, too. Infowars’ Alex Jones was supposed to be there, but didn’t show up. The same was true of the Breitbart tech editor and provocateur Milo Yiannapolous. There was no sign of Charles C. Johnson, the notorious Internet troll. But the two most conspicuous absences were of disinvited guests: the white nationalist alt-right leader Richard Spencer, and the alt-right tweeter known as Baked Alaska, whose falling-out with Cernovich had colored so much of the party’s pre-publicity.
For Cernovich, a wiry, fast-talking man given to bons mots like “basic bitch conservatism,” the feud was a positive step in his mission to separate himself from the alt-right.
“I think the battle lines are pretty clear now,” Cernovich said. “We have a nice line of demarcation, so I’m happy with where I am and how it shook out. There’s the alt-right which wants to do white identity politics, and then there’s people like me and Jeff who, we want to do nationalism without white identity politics, and now everybody knows where I stand and everybody knows where everybody else is, so I’m thrilled with the development.”
Cernovich said he “for sure” sees himself as the leader of the “new right.”
“The alt-right’s dead,” Cernovich said. “Well, the alt-right’s dead as to most of the people in this room.”
“The media has overstated the scope and influence of the alt-right,” he said.
Cernovich says MAGA3X will shut down now that Trump is ascending to the presidency, and he will turn his electoral focus on keeping “globalists” out of Congress in 2018. Cernovich had earlier referred to House Speaker Paul Ryan as “Cuck Ryan” from the stage, to great enthusiasm from the crowd.“If the GOP opposes Trump, what are we going to do in 2018?” Cernovich asked the crowd. “We’re taking it over. We’ll take it over. We’ll get rid of all of them.”
The new right is “more of a populist movement than a conservative or liberal movement,” Cernovich said. He supports policies like a universal basic income. “Conservatism is on the way out.”
I had been recognized immediately upon entering the party by a 28-year-old alt-right activist whom I’ve known for some time. (Like many in the movement, he won’t go on the record using his real name.) “Does The Atlantic have any non-Jews?” he asked, by way of greeting. “Fair question at this point.”
He was firm that he’s alt-right, because he’s “willing to talk about race.”
But he thinks both factions can get along.
“The thing about the alt-right and the alt-light is we all have the same style, in that we’re un-cucked,” he said.
“Cucked” or no, the tension between the alt- and new-right was palpable later that night at Shelly’s, a cigar bar in downtown Washington, and signs of recent infighting were everywhere. Suffused in a haze of cigar smoke were some of the leading lights of the white alt-right and “new right” (or “alt light”) movements. Mike Cernovich was holding court in a corner of the bar. At another table sat Giesea, and nearby was Hoft.
Standing close by was Spencer, an unexpected sight at the after-party for a party to which he hadn’t been invited.
Spencer introduced me to a man he identified as Mike Enoch, the nom de plume of an alt-right podcaster who was the subject of yet another recent controversy, after he was doxxed and his wife revealed to be Jewish.
“Everything’s good,” Enoch said carefully. “The future is we’re going to make America great again, that’s the future.” Spencer made a point of publicly allying himself with Enoch during the controversy.
Even Bill Mitchell couldn’t catch a break. Spencer boasted to me about having kicked him out of the bar.
“We’re not having that damn cuck in here,” Spencer said. “I told him to get the fuck out and he did. There’s no ideology to Bill Mitchell.”
Spencer’s targeting of Mitchell seemed more aimed at asserting his own supremacy over an increasingly fractured movement than anything else, but he maintained that things were cool between him and Cernovich, to whom he had given a hug.
But later, a tall bearded man calling himself Jack Murphy followed Spencer around the bar, demanding to know what kind of policies Spencer wanted to enact to bring about his wished-for ethnostate. Spencer, wearing a “Germans for Trump” pin on his corduroy blazer and holding a glass of whiskey, finally snapped, shouting at Murphy to get out of his face. Other men, including Cernovich, separated them, gesturing towards the three reporters watching the confrontation. The gathering had taken a nasty turn, the Deploraball’s triumphant tone melting into chaos and acrimony.
Shelly’s kicked everyone out at two. The party spilled outside, everyone asking each other for lighters. Infowars was broadcasting from the sidewalk. Murphy, Spencer’s antagonist, wasn’t done, approaching reporters to tell them that Spencer and his friends are “babbling idiots” and Spencer is a “glommer-onner.”
Slowly, people peeled off in cabs. The inauguration of Donald Trump was a few short hours away.