CLEVELAND — America’s most notorious hatemongers gathered in one place to celebrate their victory: They successfully infiltrated the Republican Party.
The gathering was called “Wake Up!” the so-called “Gays for Trump” party thrown on Tuesday night near the Republican National Convention. The party was decorated with photos of near-nude boys — I say “boys” because some looked like they legitimately might be underage — wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. The guest list was something of a who’s who of the fringe internet right, ranging from a men’s rights activist who brags about “banging” drunk women to the leader of America’s foremost white nationalist think tank.
Early on in the festivities, before most of the guests had arrived, I had my first encounter with a notorious guest. Walking back from the bar, I ran into Pamela Geller, the proprietor of the anti-Islam blog formerly known as Atlas Shrugs. Geller, who had previously referred to President Obama as “the jihadi in chief,” was busy explaining to a rapt attendee how the flood of desperate Syrian refugees into Europe were doing ISIS’s bidding.
“ISIS said they were going to send a jihad army into Europe via migration in 2015. Then two months later, the migration started,” she said. The implication, that the refugee crisis was an ISIS plot, wasn’t especially subtle.
Shortly after the rant ended, Geller — adorned in a rainbow sequin “Love Will Win” T-shirt — started dancing.
This bizarre contrast, between hateful rhetoric and exuberance, was a defining element of the Wake Up event. It was, by far, the most joyous scene I had encountered at the Republican National Convention — and there was a clear reason for that. This gathering, this island of fringe internet misfit toys, were the people who were most elated by Donald Trump’s victory in the Republican primary.
Trump, they believe, is a kindred spirit. His victory is a harbinger that their brand of aggrieved white nationalism — my term, not theirs — was poised to overthrow movement conservatism and dominate the Republican Party.
I’d heard this talk from fringe rightists before. I’d always dismissed it as fantasy.
But judging by the way this convention is going, the fringe just might have a point.
This party was a celebration of the international anti-Muslim right
The “Gays for Trump” party was the brainchild of Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart tech editor who was recently banned from Twitter after his followers viciously harassed Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones.
Milo is a gay, fringe right prankster, dedicated to smashing what he sees as the “authoritarian left’s” stranglehold on American culture by saying a lot of offensive stuff. One of his favorite slogans is “feminism is cancer”; he declared his birthday “World Patriarchy Day” and encouraged his fans to celebrate it by telling a woman that "this isn’t going to suck itself."
Tonight, though, Milo didn’t take aim at women. The Wake Up party had a different kind of target in mind — Muslims.
“As gay Americans, we could no longer stay silent about a barbaric ideology that wants us dead and that actively threatens the freedoms of all Americans,” the party invite reads. “We decided to organize WAKE UP to raise awareness and start a dialogue about this — all while having a fabulous time.”
At first, the ideology wasn’t super apparent at the party — which, as far as parties go, was pretty uninspired. It was populated by a lot of people with spotty facial hair and worse cargo shorts sipping beer and overpriced cocktails. About an hour into the party, the DJ yelled, “Everybody get on the dance floor! Vote Trump 2016!” Almost nobody did.
Shortly afterward, several invited speakers got up to talk about the theme of the evening — and that’s when the crowd really found its energy.
Geller, still wearing her rainbow sequins, gave a barnburner of a speech arguing that Trump was the best hope for gay voters worried about jihadists. Her basic argument was that the modern gay rights movement, with its focus on civil rights and legal equality, is completely missing the point. The real issue for the LGBTQ community, she thinks, is that Muslims are coming to get them.
“Transgender bathrooms? That’s not gay rights in the 21st century,” Geller said. “[Trump’s] ban on Muslims from jihad nations is logical, sensible, and reasonable.”
Milo went next, clad in a revealing bulletproof vest, which he promptly stripped off to uncover a T-shirt emblazoned with a rainbow Uzi (caption: “We Shoot Back”). Milo blamed the left for betraying the gay community — for letting political correctness and left-wing ideology swamp the strong anti-Islam stance that should define it.
“For a while, the left were the ones that had our back. That is no longer the case,” Milo yelled. An audience member interrupted, yelling, “Traitors!”
“They are,” Milo said. “Traitors to the gays.”
The most interesting speaker, however, was Geert Wilders — a member of the Dutch parliament and leader of the staunchly anti-Muslim Party for Freedom. Wilders sauntered onto the stage, sporting a shock of hair that reminds one strongly of Donald Trump, and endorsed the GOP nominee for president.
“I hope that Donald J. Trump wins the election,” Wilders said, to massive applause. “There is only one Islam, and that Islam has no place in a free society. ... We should de-Islamize our societies. It’s a matter of our existence.”
Wilders’s presence at the event was fascinating, because the Dutch pioneered the use of pro-gay rhetoric as a means for bashing Muslim immigration. Back in the early 2000s, a gay sociology professor named Pim Fortuyn rose to the commanding heights of Dutch politics — by casting Muslims as a threat to cherished Dutch values of tolerance, including gay rights. Fortuyn was assassinated in 2002, but Wilders took his place, actually winning a number of seats in the Dutch parliament.
This approach has now become common on the European populist right, a loose grouping of far-right parties united mostly by their hatred of immigration in general and Muslim immigration in particular. These parties, ranging from the Front National in France to the Freedom Party in Austria, have all started to appropriate liberal rhetoric about LGBTQ equality to advance an anti-Islam agenda.
During his speech, Wilders categorized Trump as part of this overall movement. “Parties like mine and the movement of Mr. Trump are gaining,” he said.
And that’s when I realized the real endgame of the Wake Up party — to claim Trumpism as a victory for a European far-right style of politics. To ultimately remake the GOP into a party that supports their hard-line anti-Islam and anti–political correctness politics, to make it into a nationalist populist movement.
“When you understand that our culture is the best, and worth protecting, then you begin to understand why Trump is popular,” Milo told me in an interview after the party. “We’re building a new party. The old party, I hope, dies — it deserves to die.”
This movement goes well beyond anti-Islam politics and into many other forms of political extremism
But the party went well beyond a contempt for Islam. The “new party” that Milo is building has a much broader set of targets in mind.
When I was standing in a circle with a group of other journalists, I noticed an angry-looking man with a giant beard walking by. That’s Daryush Valizadeh, known better as Roosh — one of the internet’s most infamous “men’s rights” writers and activists.
Roosh got famous writing a series of “travel books” that teach men how to sleep their way through various countries — e.g., Bang Sweden, Bang Brazil, Bang Ukraine, Don’t Bang Denmark (he had a bad time with the Danes). The “advice” in Roosh’s books can sound disturbingly like bragging about getting away with date rape.
“While walking to my place, I realized how drunk she was. In America, having sex with her would have been rape, since she couldn’t legally give her consent. It didn’t help matters that I was relatively sober, but I can’t say I cared or even hesitated,” he writes in Bang Iceland. “If a girl is willing to walk home with me, she’s going to get the dick no matter how much she has drunk.”
Roosh, like Milo, has become a minor internet celebrity. He founded his own website, “Return of Kings,” dedicated to promoting a vision of “neomasculinity” where men run the world and women exist to raise children and satisfy men’s sexual urges. At the party, he told British journalist Laurie Penny that she needed to change her haircut, because her current one made her face look round.
Another attendee was a middle-aged man who goes by the name Richard Spencer. Spencer is less flamboyant than a Milo or a Roosh, but in many ways even creepier. Spencer is the president and director of the National Policy Institute, America’s premier white nationalist think tank.
Spencer has referred to Martin Luther King Jr. as a “fraud and degenerate” who “has become the symbol and cynosure of White Dispossession and the deconstruction of Occidental civilization.” He told Vice that “our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans.” A speaker at an NPI conference suggested ethnically cleansing black people from “white” states like Iowa, and turning all of Manhattan into a formalized ghetto for nonwhites.
It wasn’t just Roosh and Spencer. When the Gays for Trump party was setting up, I heard a relatively senior event organizer blaming the black community for police killings.
“When you’re in a community that despises and hates the police, then the police are going to fuck that community up,” he said. Other organizers took his side.
This party, then, was not a celebration of love, as Geller’s shirt suggested. It was not even a celebration of hate directed solely toward Muslims. It was essentially a gay-friendly gathering point for various members of the radical, regressive, or white nationalist right.
These people actually have some disagreements internally. Roosh once wrote a piece slamming the “alt-right” group of (mostly) white nationalists that Spencer champions. Roosh, who is ethnically Persian, argued that they were racist (mostly true) and thus reject his right to “bang” white women as he sees fit.
But the cause that united them under Milo’s tent is that the gathering, more than even its attack on Islam, was oriented around an attack on political correctness.
These people may hate different groups in different ways: Geller hates Muslims, Roosh hates women, and Spencer hates black people. But they all agree that the current norms that dominate American society, which say that outright expressions of sexism and racism aren’t okay, are stifling American political discourse.
For any of them to succeed, they say, we need to be able to tell the “truth” about women/Islam/black people/Jews/Latinos/whoever. They all agree that political correctness needs to be cast out.
This explains their shared affection for Donald Trump. Trump’s relentless misogyny, his fearmongering about Muslims, and his willingness to indulge racist tropes about black people is exactly what these fringe right figures need to become mainstream. His ascendance is proof that mainstream conservatism, which is nominally on board with certain norms about racism and sexism, can eventually be overtaken by its rabid id.
“It’s amazing,” Spencer said of his time at the GOP convention. “We’ve taken over the right.”
What’s really scary about this is Republicans really do seem to be moving in their direction
I left the party exhausted — and not just because I had been hanging out with Milo and his entourage in a parking garage until 2 am. No, some of my exhaustion was spiritual: When these people said they were winning the war for the Republican Party’s soul, it was kind of hard to deny that they were at least partially right.
Consider what has happened throughout the convention, just at the main events in the main hall:
- Former presidential candidate Ben Carson began his remarks by saying, “I hate political correctness,” adding that “the secular progressives use it to make people sit down and shut up while they change everything.”
- Milwaukee Sheriff Dave Clarke celebrated the acquittal of a Baltimore cop who had thrown a young black man, Freddie Gray, into the back of a van without a seatbelt and decelerated rapidly, causing Gray’s death. “Blue lives matter,” thundered Clarke, who referred to the prosecution of Gray’s killer as “malicious.”
- “Crooked Hillary always talks about what she will do for illegal aliens or what she will do for refugees,” Sabine Durden, a first-night speaker, said. “Well, Donald Trump talks about what he will do for America.”
- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan loudly celebrated the nomination of Trump, a man he had once accused of making a “textbook definition of a racist comment” about a Latino judge.
- Multiple speakers blamed President Obama and Hillary Clinton for refusing to admit that we were “at war” with “radical Islam.”
- Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich warned that Syrian refugees were a Trojan horse that threatened America itself: “We know that Hillary Clinton and President Obama lie to the American people when they say they can safely screen the Syrian refugees. They cannot. ... The cost of Hillary’s dishonesty could be the loss of America as we know it.”
The core uniting thread at the conventions was that nonwhites and Muslims were very, very scary. Avik Roy, a former Rubio and Romney campaign policy wonk, summarized the first night’s theme as, “Brown people are making America less safe.”
This is exactly the kind of anti–political correctness politics that Milo, Roosh, and Spencer crave. They need people to stand up and take the subtext of hatred that’s always floated around GOP politics and turn it into text, because that’s the only way they can be welcome in a mainstream political party.
Well, guess what: Under Trump, that’s what’s happening. The walls around restrained Republican rhetoric, particularly when it comes to race and Islam, are tumbling down. Trump’s populism resembles the European far-right populism of Wilders, but it also has pushed boundaries when it comes to Latinos, women, people of African descent, and even Jews. The barriers against Milo types are coming down.
This doesn’t mean that Milo and his ilk own the Republican Party. As much as they claim Trump — Milo told me that Trump uses code words in his speeches that signal that he’s reading their work — Trump is not nearly as far gone as they are.
But his ascendance has broken down key normative barriers about what you can and can’t say. It used to be that naked racism or sexism would get you thrown out of the Republican Party (it needed to be coded to be acceptable). Not anymore.
And that’s why the fringe right is celebrating. Their path to some kind of real-world power is clearer than ever.