The Alt-Right Comes to Washington - 2017-01-01
East Lansing, Michigan—Lounging at the back of his tour bus in a parking lot behind the Springhill Suites, Milo Yiannopoulos, the flamboyant right-wing British provocateur known for his bleach-blond frosted tips and relentless campaign against Islam, munched on a whole cucumber protruding from a paper bowl of raw vegetables and made plans for a party. He had just been asked to host "DeploraBall," an unofficial celebration planned for the presidential inauguration weekend. Yiannopoulos described his vision for the event: As guests entered the National Press Club, shirtless Mexican laborers would be building a physical wall around them. Instead of doves, Yiannopoulos would release 500 live frogs in honor of Pepe, the cartoon mascot of pro-Donald Trump internet trolls. The room would be lined with oil portraits in gilt frames, each depicting a celebrity who had vowed to leave the country in the event of Trump's election. At the end of the night, the portraits would be thrown into a bonfire and burned. Yiannopoulos would send a bill for the party to the Mexican Embassy.
The party is unlikely to proceed in exactly that way, or really anything like it. But the ball is real—a month ahead of the inauguration, the organizers had already booked the room and sold all 1,000 tickets—and it marks a kind of gala debut of a new clique in Washington.
Known until recently as the "alt-right," it is a dispersed movement that encompasses a range of right-wing figures who are mostly young, mostly addicted to provocation and mostly have made their names on the internet. On the less extreme end, they include economic nationalists and "Western chauvinists" like Yiannopoulos, who wants to purge Islam from the United States and Europe; the movement also encompasses overt white nationalists, committed fascists and proponents of a host of other ideologies that were thought to have died out in American politics not long after World War II. Over the course of Trump's campaign, these ideas came back to life in chat rooms, on Twitter and on the fringes of the internet—driven by supporters united by their loathing of progressives and their feeling of alienation from the free market Republican Party as it defined itself before Trump's takeover.
This "new right" is now enjoying something of a moment. It's not clear whether the movement helped fuel Trump's rise or just rode its coattails. But energized by his success, this loose confederacy of meme-generating internet trolls, provocateurs and self-appointed custodians of Trumpism has begun making plans to move into Washington's corridors of power, or at least shoulder their way into the general vicinity. When they look at Washington—a besuited city that moves to the rhythm of lobbying and legislative calendars and carefully worded statements—they see an opportunity for total disruption, the kind of overthrow the movement already takes credit for visiting on American politics.