NATIONAL HARBOR, MD—There are two things that seem to attract conservatives, young and old, to the annual CPAC event in National Harbor. The first is the daily programming, which this year included speeches from esteemed President Donald Trump, esteemed shadow President Stephen Bannon, White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus and Ivanka Trump brand ambassador Kellyanne Conway. The second are the parties, which tend to result in somewhat outrageous behaviors, like the congressman who got in a hot tub with a bunch of college kids one year, or the Ray Donovan actor I personally witnessed lick a former colleague’s face at the Breitbart party last year.
The Breitbart party, in particular, has always gone hand in hand with CPAC and the Bannon townhouse hoedown has typically been the hottest ticket of the weekend. This year, with Breitbart at peak relevancy, the party was moved to a docked boat near the convention center. Plans to cruise the party around National Harbor were apparently canceled, New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi reports, because attendees were anxious about the prospect of getting trapped with all the other Breitbart invitees.
And then there was the underground party. Somewhere in D.C. at an undisclosed location and shunned by the CPAC organizers allegedly raged rightwing troll Mike Cernovich’s competing event, the Bull Moose Party. For some reason, Jezebel reporter Prachi Gupta and I were determined to hit them both in some desperate quest to understand one thing—why????
Prachi: Before Gabby and I set off to the hellscape that is CPAC, I had attempted to get us on the invite list for both Breibart’s party and the Bull Moose Party. When I emailed a Breitbart writer about getting an invite, he responded saying, “Unfortunately, we can not add any more names to the list. It’s just gotten a little too crazy.” We later learned that this party was on a boat, which was a stupid idea for a party in February, but actually not so stupid I guess, because it was around 70 degrees that day. I never heard back from Cernovich, and cannot say I was too upset about it.
Gabrielle: I also tried to get on the list through a friend who was already confirmed. She dutifully texted both our names and gave me the bad news the next day. “Breitbart said they’re at capacity :( I know you are devastated.”
I was so devastated I started packing my bags and making plans for Friday night in New York City. But Prachi and I had a job to do, and if that job meant humiliating ourselves trying to get onto a boat to breathe in the same cigarette smoke Nigel Farage was exhaling, goddamnit we were going to finish the job.
Prachi: My plan was to tag along with New York Magazine reporter Olivia Nuzzi, who had a legitimate invite, and see if I could bypass security or talk my way in. There were several times that night where I paused to question the life choices I’d made that had led me to work so hard to get on a docked boat filled with racist white people.
The security turned out to be three guys holding clipboards filled with names that they did not bother looking at. Olivia said, “She’s with me!” and pulled me in close and someone gave me a lei made of purple flowers, and we walked in. I then texted Gabby, “I’m in, they did not give a shit.”
Gabrielle: Jubilation! I was having drinks downtown so I immediately jumped in an Uber and basically told the driver to look for the big boat. I don’t know what I expected… a yacht? It was not a yacht. It was the musty old Spirit of Mount Vernon, a grizzled bleach blonde with a cigarette in one hand playing the slots for the rest of eternity of a boat. It’s also the sister boat of the Spirit of Washington D.C., where my sorority held its 2009 spring formal. My date took his shirt off on the dance floor and I named the Facebook album “Everybody Look at Me ‘Cause I’m Sailing on a Boat.” It was all very regrettable and fun.
Prachi: On the first floor of the boat, hula dancers twisted and twirled under neon blue lights. Through a window, I saw the pulsating red, white, and blue lights of Capital Ferris Wheel, watching us like the Eye of Sauron over the black water. We dropped our coats off at a table by the entrance, but the room was surprisingly empty, so we walked to the second floor.
The mood was more subdued than I had expected. It felt more like a corporate retreat, where men dressed ill-fitting suits and Hawaiian shirts bonded after a day at the office. Soothing Hawaiian music wafted through the speakers, barely audible. I went to the bar and ordered a rum and coke, and then walked to the back of the room, where I pulled a chair up to Olivia. She introduced me to the man sitting to my left: the provocateur and aspiring film editor James O’Keefe.
O’Keefe is the notorious rightwing political activist who releases secret audio and video recordings of liberal organizations through his Project Veritas. Last year, he wreaked havoc with a series of heavily edited sting videos about Planned Parenthood’s fetal donation practices that caused national outrage among Republicans.
In a conversation dripping with subtext, O’Keefe mused to me about how reporters could be so nasty to each other over the internet, but so nice to each other when face-to-face. I’m not really sure why—maybe just to see how honest I’d be in my response—O’Keefe said, “I don’t think you’ve written anything negative about me,” while noting that Jezebel and Gawker are not fans of his. I said that while I have never written a piece exclusively about him, I’ve definitely called his Planned Parenthood videos “deceptive.” O’Keefe paused, smiled at me, and said he’d have to check out my work. Then he went back to fawning over Olivia, whom he described as “special,” and asked if she had a boyfriend. Olivia asked him if he was recording our conversation through a microphone or a camera, to which O’Keefe assured us he was not. “Right now our target is the media,” he said. “Don’t worry, I’m not recording right now.”
Gabrielle: Around this time, I walked up to the gangway on edge, running through potential excuses to give the door person for why my name wasn’t on the list. I’m here to deliver an extra battery pack for James O’Keefe’s body cam… I’m the ghost of Kellyanne Conway… They said I could come in if I gave the password, okay here it is, ‘the Muslim ban is Good and Essential for our country’…
There was no door person. There was no list. There weren’t even a lot of people there, considering the supposedly at-capacity guest list. So I just walked onto the boat, where a man handed me a beautiful lei made of fresh flowers and ushered me inside. I didn’t see anyone I recognized on the first level, though there was a lovely Hawaiian band playing to a bunch of empty tables, so I stopped and listened for a moment. Then I walked upstairs and spotted Prachi and Olivia sitting with O’Keefe.
People tell me I have no future in film, but I challenge you to find a performance nominated in tonight’s Oscars ceremony more convincing than my “this is cool and normal” face. O’Keefe was drinking a blue drink the exact color of Windex and I asked him if it was Windex and he laughed and posed with it and then he put on a lei and posed with a pineapple, so I took a picture because frankly everything else we wanted to do would have gotten us escorted off the boat. Then a man approached with his young son hoping to take a photograph with O’Keefe, so we got up and went looking for the next attraction, sort of like being at a carnival but instead of rides it was full of sundry racist undertones.
Prachi: When we got back, we spotted Dog the Bounty Hunter, a beast of a man who carried a walking stick that reached his exposed chest, which has the texture of rawhide. Within seconds of meeting him, Dog the Bounty Hunter started pawing at me. He ran his leathery fingers along my scalp and squeezed three times while saying, “You’ve got some beautiful hair.” He also complimented Olivia’s “bright eyes,” and later entrapped another female reporter who complained about his nipple staring at her like a third eye.
Gabrielle: Dog, if I may call him that, was wearing a black True Religion hoodie Jon Gosselin would probably trade one of his kids for, and it was unzipped very deeply. His chest and nipples reminded me a bit of that Geraldo shirtless selfie.
Prachi: This ridiculous animal of a man cornered another reporter of Persian descent and singled him out to tell him he thought the racial profiling happening at airports was awful.
Gabrielle: Dog was ostensibly there to stump for Sheriff David Clarke, who is the current darling of a Super PAC that wants to draft him for the Senate. But Dog didn’t want to talk politics. He wanted to talk about the “cash me outside” girl, who came up because he’s getting a new show that’s set to air between Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil.
“Did you see the ‘cash me outside’? Is that fucking amazing? ‘Howbow dah.’ Did you see that?” Dog said. When Prachi told him she’d missed that internet gem, he urged her to google “Dr. Phil, ‘cash me outside.’ Unbelievable.”
“I wish I could have had that interview with that little girl,” Dog said. “It brought up [Dr. Phil’s] ratings, and he needed them. We all need them. ‘Howbow dah, cash me outside.’ Is that unbelievable, huh?”
Another reporter asked him how he’d respond if that was his daughter. He did not pause. “Whoop her little ass,” he said, explaining it was really her mother’s fault.
“Glad that wasn’t my mother. Very ignorant, probably. No mother’s a bad mother, unless she gives her away. But she just doesn’t like—you move away when your kids start doing that shit. You get them out of that environment right away,” he said. “She’s like what now, 14? I heard she got in a fight on an airplane the other day.”
He also had a thought about the airline she was flying: “DELTA—Don’t Expect Your Luggage to Arrive. That’s the fucking truth.”
Prachi: Desperate to not go even one second without alcohol during this real life lucid dream, Gabby and I ran to the bar and ordered beer, only to learn that the party was over. I left my Corona at the bar, but Gabby was much smarter and stowed her beer away in her coat.
Gabrielle: You gotta do what you gotta do. On our way out, we spotted Nigel Farage wearing a lei and smoking what appeared to be his 293,849,038th cigarette of the night. Then we piled into an Uber with Olivia and a reporter from The Atlantic, thinking maybe all the people who didn’t show up at the Breitbart boat were at Mike Cernovich’s secret event in downtown DC.
Prachi: Beastie Boys was playing on the radio. I asked our driver to turn it up, and we reverted to our high school selves and sang “Fight For Your Right.” Twenty minutes later, around 11:30, we arrived at the infamous Bull Moose Party.
Cernovich, once prominent in the white nationalist alt-right movement, previously organized the DeploraBall at Trump’s Inauguration. In a Periscope announcement to Trump supporters, he said it would be hosted at a top secret location with strict security. Again, we did not make the invite list. However, when we arrived, a woman at the door saw my lei and exclaimed, “Oh you’re with Breitbart!” and waved us in. I remained hyper aware of my melanin levels.
This was no night club rager, however. We filed into a cozy cigar bar called Shelly’s Back Room, where more men in bad suits donning MAGA trucker hats slumped into lounge chairs in a dark living room-like den. My dark wool coat, blue Banana Republic dress, and Dog the Bounty Hunter-blessed hair soaked in the nauseating odor of smoke and whiskey. It was honestly very, very boring. Then we found Mike Cernovich.
Gabrielle: I don’t hate the smell of cigars and I love parties where everyone is sitting down, so it turns out Mike Cernovich and I agree on something. Here’s another thing: Neither of us care much for neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, who he referred to as a “cake boy—soft, like a cupcake.”
“I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about people who are irrelevant and have to crash other parties because if they throw their own parties the only people who are going to show up are media,” Cernovich said to a group of reporters. “I’m only worried about relevant people, like Milo and me. Everybody loves Milo. Everybody who knows me knows Milo, but not everybody who knows Milo knows me.”
Cernovich continued, outlining for us the pecking order of what he calls the “new right.”
“There’s the god tier—Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones. That’s the god tier—the top of the top,” he said, comparing Jones to the Yankees and Carlson to the Sox. “Then you have like, the Triple-A, like, we’re getting a shot. So Milo is the very top of the Triple-A, he was almost at the majors. But he’ll be back up within a year bigger than ever. And I’m still Triple-A.”
“I’m too controversial, I’m too much of a loose cannon,” Cernovich said, explaining that he’ll probably stay Triple-A forever, unlike Milo, who is gay and can say “things I can’t say” and get away with it.
It’s an interesting statement to make about Milo, who was forced to resign from Breitbart after comments he’d previously made about people having sexual relationships with young teenagers went viral earlier this month.
Prachi: Cernovich also explained to us that he’s not racist because his wife is Persian.
Gabrielle: Well there you have it. It was late and we were tired, so we did one last bathroom run before heading back to National Harbor. There was a sign in the hallway explaining the restrooms are all gender neutral. “If this offends anyone please do not complain to Shelly’s but rather contact the DC Office of Human Rights,” it said. Everyone seemed fine with it.