At the self-described “most fab party at the RNC” Tuesday night, Islamophobe provocateur Pamela Geller, not renowned as a stand-up comedian, opened with a joke.
“A jihadi walks into a bar. The bartender says ‘What’ll you have?” The jihadi says: ‘Shots for everyone!’”
The friendly crowd guffawed, then leaned in for one of Geller’s trademark anti-Islam stemwinders. But there was a twist. In a tank top adorned with a rainbow and the words “Love wins,” Geller came to join gay conservative, anti-feminist bad boy Milo Yiannopoulos in launching a new alliance, uniting gays and right-wing, anti-Muslim activists (Yiannopoulos is both). In the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre, they think it’s a natural. Killer Omar Mateen claimed the shooting as a blow for ISIS, though it probably had more to do with his own tortured sexual identity and history of mental problems than with his Muslim background. But Tuesday night’s event denounced the liberal establishment that one speaker claimed “cares more about the rights of Muslims than murdered gay people.” Orlando, this alliance argues, was just the first shot in a coming Muslim crusade against LGBT Americans, and gays should know who their real allies are. To Geller and Yiannopoulous, they include Donald Trump, the man Yiannopolous playfully calls “Daddy.”
That sounds dire, but mostly people had turned out to party—and worship the cult hero Milo, who hours before had been permanently banned from Twitter, reportedly for his role in ginning up the racist, sexist harassment of Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. “With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives,” Yiannopolous said in a statement. He took the stage to chants of “Milo, Milo, Milo!” from the mainly male, entirely white crowd (the only black person I saw was a reporter).
Before Geller and Yiannopolous spoke, the crowd welcomed the notorious Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who runs the anti-immigrant Dutch Party for Freedom. Wilders, a Trump admirer, was banned from entering Britain in 2009 for his Islamophobia (the decision was reversed in 2010) but was welcome here in Cleveland. He denounced politicians who “are Chamberlains when we need Churchills,” called Europe “Eurabia,” and said both the United States and Europe are at risk from Muslim residents who’ve traveled to train with ISIS but are allowed to return home anyway.
“Sharia means hate,” Wilders declared, adding “Islam has no place in a free society.” Wilders’s party is leading in the polls. “I could become the next prime minister,” he told the crowd. “I don’t want more Muslims in the Netherlands.” Some in the crowd didn’t seem to know who he was when he began, but Wilders left the stage to chants of “Geert, Geert, Geert.”
An exhilarated Richard Spencer, a leading white nationalist who coined the term “alt-right,” introduced himself to me just as Milo began to speak. “This is the alt-right convention! We were really absent in 2012; we have a big presence here, in a way we never had before.” Spencer, 38, is witty and well-dressed and happy to politely spar with journalists of the left. He came to national attention last year when he pronounced Donald Trump as the candidate for white Americans in an interview with The Washington Post’s David Weigel. Almost exactly a year later, he’s even happier with the presumptive GOP nominee.
“I think with Trump, you shouldn’t look at his policies. His policies aren’t important. What’s most important about Trump is the emotion. He’s awakened a sense of ‘Us’ a sense of nationalism among white people. He’s done more to awaken that nationalism than anyone in my lifetime. I love the man.”
It was a very friendly crowd, many of whom seemed to recognize me as the author of a book that is not exactly the bible of the white-nationalist movement. One of the organizers, Chris Barron, the genial founder of GOProud, greeted me warmly, and several people went out of their way to say hello. “You blocked me on Twitter,” says a friendly Josh Smith, who used to run one of two Salon.com parody accounts. Smith has turned out to see his hero Milo, but he’s impressed by the luminaries in the room. He points out to me the urbane, white-haired Peter Brimelow, the long-time, pro-white, anti-immigration writer and agitator who runs the similarly themed site VDare.com. “Isn’t he kind of a white nationalist, or white supremacist?” I ask Smith. He smiles. “What is white supremacy, really?”
I didn’t stay around to answer. I followed Brimelow as he moved outside; the music had gotten too loud for him. The event “really doesn’t speak to me,” he confessed apologetically, dressed in a three-piece suit when most attendees were wearing T-shirts and jeans. But he was happy to see so many young people. “It’s phenomenal.” Marrying the issue of gay rights and anti-Islam activism “makes a lot of sense,” Brimelow told a group of reporters. “The two are incompatible, Muslim immigration and gay rights.”
Brimelow and VDare have been advocating for years that the GOP more explicitly become a party geared toward white people, and he’s heartened that Trump seems to be listening. The group’s tweets are now featured in the “crawl” of conservative Twitter accounts that circle the GOP convention arena. The British former National Review writer isn’t sure he trusts Trump to keep his promises on immigration. “He’s says he’s against illegal immigration, well, we listen to that, because all Republicans say they favor legal immigration” (VDare does not.) But Brimelow believes Trump wants to limit legal immigration too. “His immigration paper was essentially written by Jeff Sessions. It’s against birthright citizenship.”
“Who the hell knows what he’s going to do?” he continued.” But we knew what Jeb Bush was going to do, he wanted amnesty. We knew what Marco Rubio was going to do.” Brimelow will take his chances on Trump.
Richard Spencer told me he doesn’t know what Trump will do either, but he seems to trust him more. I ask him what his larger political goals are, beyond electing Trump, and he draws me into a friendly, if surreal, conversation about the future of white people. At first, he sounds pragmatic. “We are going to be a minority. If we ceased all immigration tomorrow, we’d still become a minority. So we need a radical reorientation, and we need a new consciousness, to determine what we want.”
OK, I’ll bite, I decide, and I ask him what he thinks “we” should want.
“What I care about is not just about being comfortable. It’s not just about safety, or national security. White people are unique in the sense that, we are the ones who are going to explore the world. We’ll need our own state eventually, for our Faustian destiny to explore the outer universe. That is what we were put on this earth to do. We weren’t put on this earth to be nice to minorities, or to be a multiculti fun nation. Why are we not exploring Jupiter at this moment? Why are we trying to equalize black and white test scores? I think our destiny is in the stars. Why aren’t we trying for the stars?”
When I try to argue that equality and pluralism are central to the nation’s founding documents, he looks disgusted. “When I look at Thomas Jefferson’s writings, the Declaration of Independence, it makes me want to vomit. The idea that a ‘creator’ made all human beings equal? That’s ridiculous. The idea that all human beings are equal is such an appalling sentiment. We’re here on this earth for such a short period of time. The idea that we would dedicate ourselves to something as stupid as ‘equality’ or ‘democracy’ is morally insulting to me.” Nearby I notice a man carrying a sign: “Income Inequality = I.Q. Inequality.”
One thing that excites him about Trump, he says, is that the GOP nominee says he wants better relations with Russia. “I think we should be pro-Russia, because Russia is the great white power that exists in the world. I’m a Slavophile! I admire Vladimir Putin. I think Trump and Putin, together, could bring about a united white world. It’s beautiful.”
To Spencer, anyway. I ask if he has any reservations about his hero. “The Mike Pence thing really bothered me. He’s just a typical conservative, part of the dumb establishment. Trump defeated these people, so why? I’d have liked Jim Webb as vice president, sure, he’s a Democrat, but he’s with us, he loves his people.” The former Virginia senator is in fact known for his opposition to affirmative action and his writing about the bravery of his Scots-Irish Southern relatives and the suffering of their descendants in an age of multiculturalism.
“Actually, he probably hates me,” Spencer added, half joking. “Because I’m a WASP and he’s Scots Irish.” I tell him that the Scots Irish didn’t get along with Irish Catholics either—they didn’t even consider us white for a while—so he probably hates me too. Finally, we’re interrupted by his fans, and only later I think to ask Spencer: Does he consider me white?
The party had begun to break up around us, but then I noticed a huge crowd of people up in the bright hallway of this Cleveland State University “ballroom.” I find a long line of young white men waiting for a chance to maybe shake the hand or chat with their hero Yiannopolous. The famous Milo, wearing sunglasses indoors, is chatting with his squad, but supposedly he will deign to shake hands with some of his admirers. I pick out one of the few women in the crowd and ask her what drew her to meet Milo. She laughed ruefully and points to the young white man next to her. “My husband.” Which makes me realize that there actually aren’t that many gay men in attendance at this “Gays for Trump” party. The crowd consisted mainly of straight white 20- and 30-somethings who thrill to rebel Milo’s attacks on feminism and “political correctness.”
I declined to stand in line for the chance to meet the man who’s become notorious for challenging “rape culture” and picking fights on liberal college campuses. It’s getting toward 1 am. As I left I found a big crowd of protesters, with a sign, “Queers Against Racism.” Cops stood by warily, but there was little interaction between the revelers and the protesters. Ann Coulter hadn’t showed, though she was advertised as a cosponsor, but no one had seemed to miss her. I realized that none of the protesters were likely to recognize any of the speakers, or the luminaries, I’d seen inside. At this first “alt-right convention,” most of the influentials weren’t known to the public. They’re hoping that will change, under President Donald J. Trump.