It was an impressive spread. Steak and lamb chops, french fries, a slate of roasted vegetables and three different kinds of dinner rolls was atop one table and fresh cheeses, olives, antipasto salads and cured Italian meats were heaped on another. After filling my plate with a dangerous amount of capicola, I scanned the room. I was the worst dressed person in the room by far. I was one of the few people who didn’t understand that the night was as much of a networking opportunity as a book launch.
As projector screens scrolled through Veritas memes, I spoke with an employee of Bloomberg news, or as he put it, a “member of the mainstream media venturing into the belly of the beast.” He was just invited by a friend who works on O’Keefe’s staff; he wasn’t reporting the event. Nonetheless, his tension was palpable in his handshake.
Soon after that skittish conversation, Stefan Molyneux introduced O’Keefe. Molyneux is best known as the founder of Freedomain Radio, an online podcasting and discussion forum once investigated for cult-like behavior. Cult expert Steven Hassan once told The Daily Beast that Molyneux “knows how to talk like he knows what he’s talking about—despite very, very little academic research.” He did more of that Thursday night, discussing societies and their downfalls and historical autopsies and the Roman Empire. The gist of his speech American society was failing and that Project Veritas is documenting the true nature of its fall. Or something. By then I was on my second beer and ready for something stronger.
As I walked around the back bar, I saw Mike Cernovich and Milo Yiannopoulos yucking it up as Gavin McInnes stood alongside. They were all smiles as people gawked and giddily approached the alt right icons for pictures and introductions. The crowd treated all of them like celebrities but it was clear Milo was the big star.
The room exploded with applause when O’Keefe took the stage. He drank it in for a moment and began his remarks. I noticed Cernovich playfully attempt to shush the people around him, but that didn’t stop Milo from gabbing, gesticulating and laughing through the entire speech. Back on stage, O’Keefe was basking in Project Veritas’s latest victory, the video of Twitter employees admitting to reviewing people’s direct messages and the ability to hand them over to the Department of Justice. Twitter issued a statement responding to the video, but in O’Keefe’s eyes it was a pathetic attempt at a tech giant trying to cover for repeated privacy violations.
As the speech wore on, O’Keefe repeatedly referenced the noble journalists of old—Upton Sinclair, Nellie Bly, William Gaines. Project Veritas continues on the path these groundbreaking muckrakers forged, he insisted, while major media lost its way during the Watergate era. (He writes about this idea extensively in American Pravda as well.) Deception isn’t unethical if it’s meant to inform. That’s the best way to idiotically rationalize dressing like Osama bin Laden and crossing the Texas border to illustrate how American borders are under siege.
O’Keefe closed with a story about his grandfather who was his biggest inspiration for building almost everything he owned out of recycled materials. There was more than one metaphor about looking for good and truth in heaping piles of garbage, but to me it just said that O’Keefe comes from a long line of Bergen County hoarders who probably thought the moon landing was staged.
O’Keefe then answered questions written by dullard volunteers in the audience, except he really didn’t, because he answered all the questions in his speech. The only major exception “will we ever get tired of all this winning?” to which the answer was a resounding “hell no,” followed by a chorus of snickers normally reserved for poor people who were just denied welfare.
Alone, in a room full of Trump supporters, I find a man in a t-shirt with a dead Twitter bird and a baseball cap.
“Hello, you’re sloppily dressed, what’s that about?” I ask him, putting on my best charming face. He simply stares at me. Blanking on what to say, I mention that despite being over 30, James O’Keefe has a babyface. That’s when Mr. Dead Twitter Bird tells me O’Keefe is right behind me, walking up to the stage to deliver his speech.
O’Keefe talks about telling truth and giving power to the people. But “the people” aren’t in this room. They’re downstairs, doing coat check. They’re the bartenders at the open bar, receiving, from what I could see, far fewer tips than what the deep pockets of the party should have provided.
The people in this room come in two flavors: the middle-aged investment bankers with their beer bellies and generic Republicanism, and the 30-something MAGAers with their dead Twitter bird hats and indoor sunglasses. I overhear one of the latter bragging about being “best friends” with Martin Shkreli. Another is a yuppie with mutton chops, a Libertarian filmmaker who, even after telling him I write about sex and culture and formerly for BUST magazine (a liberal feminist magazine that he says he’s heard of), thinks he’s got a shot at my nether regions.
“Who do you write for now?” he asks. “babe.com?” with a hearty MAGA chortle. (It’s babe.net, FYI). He’s referring, of course, to the recent allegations against Aziz Ansari. “Oh, teehee” I nervously laugh, not wanting to blow my cover, “no, just freelance, you know.”
My coworker swoops in to save me and they talk about sports.
As Mr. Mutton Chops desperately vies for my name and number, his friend, who works for a Facebook page simply titled “Capitalism,” tries to drag him away to meet Milo. I’ve got an unanswered friend request as I type this. I should respond, he could be my future husband.
Milo is the odd man in the room, the one from a somewhat different demographic. “Have you met Milo?” everyone asks, salivating. He’s the celebrity guest, the token sassy gay—of his own construction, don’t @me. He is the Rihanna of Make America Great Again. (Rihanna, if you’re reading this, you’re a perfect human and I love you.)
By far the strangest element is that everyone assumes we’re in the club. Mutton Chops’ friend eagerly asks for our cards. Send us your work, he tells us, and we can “get it circulating.” Then he brags about the page being targeted by Facebook. That’s apparently how you know you’ve made it in this circle.
I did get a free t-shirt. It’s really soft; it’ll be great to blow my nose with.