WASHINGTON — “The alt-right is dead.”
Mike Cernovich, a controversial internet provocateur whom many associate with the alt-right movement, sat comfortably in a flimsy chair at the end of a vacant hall, removed from the Deploraball, a party he was hosting on the eve of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Just moments before, he had taken the stage to loud cheers from a packed ballroom gathered to celebrate Trump’s victory. A series of acts followed him. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Jim Hoft, of the Gateway Pundit blog. Jeff Giesea, an entrepreneur associated with tech-billionaire Peter Thiel.
But now Cernovich sat alone, far from the youthful crowd, speaking to Business Insider and a reporter from The Atlantic.
The Deploraball, he explained, was about launching a populist, nationalist movement, separate from the alt-right, a white nationalist ideology which rose to prominence during the 2016 campaign.
In the weeks which preceded Deploraball, civil war had enveloped the alt-right movement. Cernovich, who has made a number of controversial statements himself, led a wing that aimed to expel white nationalists. Richard Spencer, a leading white nationalist who gained notoriety in the weeks after Trump’s election, led the opposition that fought for control.
Relations between the feuding groups came to a head when Cernovich made the decision to bar Spencer and his white-nationalist faction from attending the highly anticipated Deploraball, for which he was one of the primary organisers.
Cernovich instead decided to use the opportunity to break off his supporters, who he claimed far outnumbered Spencer’s, and launch the “new right,” which he said would be free of the racist tendencies the alt-right had become all too known for.
“There is the alt-right which wants to do white identity politics. And there’s people … who want to do nationalism without white identity politics,” Cernovich said. “And now everybody knows where I stand and everybody else knows where everybody else is.”
“The alt-right is now Richard Spencer’s weird house,” Cernovich added. “I think that I drew the lines and that a lot of people who called themselves alt-right realised they weren’t.”
Cernovich claimed “the media had overstated the scope and influence” of the racist tendencies in the alt-right movement, and that exiling such individuals from the movement would have little effect on their numbers.
“David Duke is irrelevant,” he said of the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.
He added: “If he came in here, nobody would recognise him. Maybe 100 people would. People sure as f— wouldn’t like him.”
Such messaging critical of the alt-right was echoed throughout the night by a number of speakers and high-profile guests invited to the party.
Bill Mitchell, a popular online personality, refused to identify with the ideology during an interview with Business Insider. (He has previously denounced it on Twitter). Giesea went as far as to deliver a speech titled “A New Type of Republican.”
“This is what we are here to celebrate tonight — a new type of Republican and a new movement of Trumpism,” he told a raucous crowd packed into the ball room.
The new right’s three tenets, Gisea said, were protecting US sovereignty, economic nationalism, and — echoing something Trump would make a focus of his inaugural address a day later — putting “America first.” Race-based identity politics was not mentioned.
But while the Deploraball organisers worked to denounce white nationalism, others proudly boasted about subscribing to such views.
A man who identifies himself as Devin Saucier and has ties to white nationalists said while he had nothing against Cernovich, the attempt to sanitize the movement from white identity politics was a mistake. Other partygoers identified themselves as members of the alt-right movement when asked by Business Insider.
Spencer later boasted about this fact while crashing an after-party Cernovich held at a nearby cigar lounge. While taunting the Deploraball organiser with his presence, Spencer characterised most of the party attendees as members of the alt-right movement and laughed off claims by those who said otherwise.
Cernovich, who sat in a corner of the lounge while Spencer held court toward the center of the room, said he had no problem with Spencer attending his bash.
But the tension was palpable. And at one point, things nearly boiled over. A boisterous large man associated with Cernovich, who had been badgering Spencer all night, physically confronted the white nationalist.
“Get out of my f—ing face!” Spencer exclaimed, prompting Cernovich to rush over and get between the two men.
While no fight ensued, the incident served as a clear reminder of the strong rift which had formed between the two factions of a once unified movement. But more so, it served as a strong reminder that while Cernovich and his allies might claim the alt-right is dead, it remains a breathing force ready to war for the soul of the movement.