When they take the microphones behind a DJ booth at the New York Young Republican Club party, Dasha Nekrasova and Anna Khachiyan have a less-than-captive audience. The event’s headliner, longtime Republican operative Roger Stone, has just finished speaking and is on his way to the bar to make martinis, setting off a small stampede of young conservatives.
Nekrasova and Khachiyan, co-hosts of the podcast Red Scare, address the remaining crowd.
“Hey, we’re all Republicans here,” Nekrasova says. “I’m a Democrat now,” Khachiyan deadpans. “Yeah, we’re actually Democrats.” “After tonight, I changed my mind. I am registering as a Democrat. It’s over for you hoes, I am slamming that button for Joe Brandon.”
Have the hosts of Red Scare—once a left-ish podcast that backed Bernie Sanders—become Republicans or is this just another ironic stunt that happens to benefit the right? The distinction is barely worth parsing anymore. They’re here on a Friday night as “special guests” at a $140-a-ticket party for a Republican club whose leaders are eager to recruit from a larger pool than the shallow puddle of young conservatives in this liberal city.
“I’m here for the Red Scare girls,” says one man who earnestly describes his politics to me as “far right.”
Khachiyan suggests the event is at least a partial letdown. “There’s no young people here,” she tells me. “They lied to us. They said it was young Republicans.” She’s mostly right. Aside from a couple of baby-faced Brooks Brothers types struggling with cigars, most of the under-30 set here is from the downtown Manhattan art scene, where Republican investors like Peter Thiel have poured money into efforts to astroturf a cool-kids conservatism.
But Khachiyan and Nekrasova otherwise decline to comment on the evening’s commingling of conservative hedge funders and self-proclaimed socialists. That duty falls to NYYRC leaders who are all too happy to proclaim the party as a sign of the future.
Vish Burra, the NYYRC’s executive secretary who also works as Rep. George Santos’ director of operations, describes the gathering to me as “the horseshoe party,” a reference to the theory that people on the right and left ends of the political spectrum end up curving back toward each other. “The populist left, at least the ones who haven’t lost their minds, and the new right are finding places to work together, especially now that the Republicans are in charge, at least on the congressional level.”
Burra’s pre-Santos efforts to land a young New York Republican in office involve managing an unsuccessful campaign for Joseph “Joey Salads” Saladino, a right-wing YouTuber best known for videos in which he dressed as a Nazi or pissed in his own mouth.
NYYRC president Gavin Wax nods at an effort to cast the GOP as edgy, alternative. “I think there’s a lot of currents on the right that are more transgressive and counter-culture than people want to admit,” he tells me.
Some of those efforts come meticulously planned and lavishly financed. The likes of Thiel and venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz have spent big on experimental downtown film festivals, literary magazines, and cryptocurrency-forward social media platforms, all tailored to attract an overlapping sliver of disaffected post-leftists and academic conservatives who, a few years and rebrands ago, would have called themselves “neo-reactionaries” or “Dark Enlightenment” thinkers.
They’re wise to distance themselves from the boomer aesthetics of the mainstream Republican Party, although the event’s DJs, with current-event gimmick names like “Chinese Spy Balloon” and “Non-Non-Binary,” can’t seem to shake the smell of a Fox News comedy panel. The GOP remains deeply unpopular with young people, who are more likely than older generations to favor LGBT rights, action on climate change, free college, and universal health care—not exactly popular planks in the Republican platform.
A flier for the party, at the Little Italy bar Gigi’s of Mulberry, gives its top billing to Stone but prominently advertises Red Scare and the event’s multiple art-scene hosts and DJs. Most of that set tells me they’re at this Republican event in a non-political capacity.
One of the DJs from the Chinese Spy Balloon collective says he’s been to a couple Young Republican events but isn’t a Republican. “I don’t have a stake in this because I’m not conservative,” he tells me, expressing gratitude that this isn’t an event with PowerPoint slides.
“Me DJing here is not like—I’m not on the dollar to do that, so it’s not something I’m doing on behalf of the conservative club. It’s just more so simply having fun.”
“It’s all the fucking same to me. I don’t know, the drinks are free. I didn’t fucking pay to be here,” a woman who showed up with the Red Scare crowd tells me.
“We’re just having fun,” adds performer Salome, who is co-hosting the event. “We’re artists.”
“I’m just here to collect weird experiences,” a young woman from that crowd tells me. She’s a writer, writing a book about “my life and my work and the parallels between the two.”
So, the experience. The $140 ticket includes an open bar. Fliers for the event say it's open from 7 to 8 p.m. In Manhattan, on a Friday. Perhaps it’s a commitment to conservative fiscal strategy, a calculated bet that most self-respecting young people will have dinner plans during this early-evening block. Even so, I get a glance at the bar tab when someone waves it beneath Wax while we talk. It looks like something around $7,500. (The club later tells me the bar was open till 9, and that, far from cheap, the NYYRC incurred an unexpectedly large bill after people ordered Macallan 15 Year Double Cask scotch, mixed with Diet Coke.)
But the night’s topline drinking event is scheduled for 9 p.m, when Stone will reveal Richard Nixon’s “secret martini recipe.” Stone gives a short speech about Republicans and the martini recipe (olive juice is key), at times audible and inaudible as the crowd chatters and organizers shush them. He actually starts pouring drinks a little before 9 p.m. It’s seldom a good sign when a party is running ahead of schedule.
Apolitically: This is a bad martini. Maybe Stone, who’s giving an interview behind the bar while pouring my drink, is distracted. Maybe Nixon’s vaunted olive brine has run out. But the drink I receive, in a whisky tumbler, is a too-sweet, one-note cocktail that tastes faintly like pears and not much else. Where the martini lacks in salt, the event’s promised “hors-d’œuvres” (mozzarella sticks, distributed in plastic cups by a roving waiter) more than make up for the salinity. There are supposed to be free cigars, but they run out.
The event also features a burlesque show by a pair of dancers dressed up to represent Russia and Ukraine. The burlesque dance has been a logistical nightmare, an organizer (one of several men I meet named Alex, all of whom decline to provide a last name) tells me. This is the second set of dancers they’ve had to book, after some unclear fallout with the first pair. NYYRC media chairman and former Gateway Pundit reporter Lucian Wintrich, who is coordinating the party, says the burlesque show actually forced them to change the party’s location at the last minute.
“Folks were gonna protest us,” he tells me. “They kicked us out of the original venue. There was a collective of Ukrainian models that said it was racist to have a Russia vs. Ukraine burlesque dance. As if that’s the most offensive thing.”
Other partygoers have different objections. Two men in front of me watch the burlesque performance with audible concern that this might all be a little LGBT.
“Is that burlesque? What do you call it?” one asks me. I’m not really familiar with modern dance styles, I admit, but the other man clarifies their concerns.
“I’m like, what if those are drag queens?” he asks.
“Well, what if they are?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” he nods. “That one’s pretty tall.”
The day before the event, the NYYRC hosted a panel called “Children Under Threat: Drag Queen Story Hour.” The event featured two speakers from the conspiracy-shilling group “Guardians of Divinity,” which demonstrates alongside Proud Boys outside drag queen reading events in the city. Both of those speakers were recently arrested for allegedly targeting the apartment building of a gay New York City Council member. One of the speakers, David “Jesus” Nieves, is accused of hitting one of the council member’s neighbors in the face, causing the neighbor to bleed. The sidewalk outside the apartment was vandalized with text reading “child predator” and accusing the council member of being a “pedo child groomer.”
I ask NYYRC vice president Nathan Berger about the previous night’s event. “We have speakers who don’t represent the club’s views. We welcome all different viewpoints, and that was a panel discussion, so individual panelists are going to express their views,” he says.
Should people be able to attend a drag queen story hour at a library with their children if they want to? I ask.
“Well, I think our event last night provided an opportunity for people to state their view on that,” he says.
“What are your views on that?”
“I don’t think my views are relevant,” he says. We go through this a few more times before he says, “It’s a hypothetical. I don’t have children.”
I mention the panel to Salome, one of the party’s hosts. “I’m a drag queen, basically,” she says. “If they don’t like drag, fine.” Last week, Tennessee’s Republican governor signed a new law criminalizing some drag shows. It’s one of several such efforts from Republican governments in multiple states.
There are occasional suspicions between political factions at the event. As Roger Stone enters the bar for the first time, a man with a camera tries to ask him a question. “That guy’s a fed,” a Republican behind me tells his partner of the photographer. “He’s giving me Brooklyn lib.” (The photographer turns out to be there with the Red Scare set.)
Multiple people tell me they’re worried that reporters from the Southern Poverty Law Center are secretly in the crowd, after the SPLC reported from the NYYRC’s winter gala, where a prominent white nationalist publisher was a guest.
Berger says the NYYRC welcomes all. “We had the SPLC at our gala,” he tells me.
“Yeah, but you kicked them out.” (They did, after SPLC reporters tried to interview far-right political operative Jack Posobeic.)
“We knew they were there. We knew that they had bought tickets and that they were there. We didn’t turn them away.”
But for all their talk of being a political minority under siege in a blue city, most of this crowd seems pretty comfortable. In the line for drinks, a NYYRC board member tells a friend about a book deal he and NYYRC president Wax are about to sign with Simon & Schuster next week. The man talks mass orders, throws around the word “algorithm,” describes how the future book is all but guaranteed to be a top seller on Amazon. I ask Wax about the book deal. Yes, he says, the deal is finalizing on Wednesday. The book will be about “the emerging populist movement in the country.”
Someone I haven’t interacted with butts into a conversation and urgently warns my interlocutor that she has a podcast. A man named Gary introduces himself to me on three separate occasions. Notorious “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli is here, multiple people report, but I can’t find him. I ask Gary (tall) if he can locate Shkreli (short) in the scrum, but the securities fraudster appears to have called it an early night. Stone, too, has bailed early. By 11:30 p.m., the youth event is getting sleepy.
Eventually an ideological argument does break out between the Red Scare and NYYRC factions. Cries of “heretic” bring me to a backyard area where Nekrasova is standing over a table berating the head of the NYYRC’s Catholic Caucus about the pope.
“The pope is a heretic, which makes him not a part of the Catholic Church because he is not a legitimate pope,” she shouts. “That’s it! He’s not the fucking pope!” (Nekrasova apparently supports sedevacantism, a small traditionalist Catholic movement that claims the Vatican accidentally invalidated the Holy See with doctrinal changes in the 1960s.)
It’s her co-host who suggests probably the most viable platform for Downtown Left/New Right unity.
"The president who returns smoking indoors gets my vote,” Khachiyan announces.
Editor’s note: The initial version of this story said Stone was on his way to the bar to make margaritas. He was making martinis.