Blood, Drugs & Nazi Pranks: Alt-Right Launders Icons of Hate for Trump Art Show

     MANHATTAN (CN) — In a night where send-ups of rape, slavery, Native American genocide and Martin Luther King lined the walls, photographs of naked men wearing “Make America Great Again” sports caps hung to the side of a liquor bar draped by the Confederate flag.
     Welcome to #DaddyWillSaveUs, a full-frontal assault on political correctness — or perhaps, basic human decency — organized by the group Twinks for Trump, which on Saturday night brought together the two men mainstream America loves to loathe.
     The star attractions of the show included Martin Shkreli — nationally vilified for price-gouging AIDS drugs and currently prosecuted on securities-fraud charges — and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, whom Twitter banned over the summer for online harassment.
     Gay, British and a committed internet troll, Yiannopoulos capped off the night by frolicking in a bath of mock-pig’s blood. He billed the Muslim-baiting performance as a response to the Islamic State-inspired massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
     If Trump was “Daddy” that evening, notably absent from the right-wing family was the Republican presidential candidate’s running mate Mike Pence, an Indiana governor with an undeniably anti-gay record.
     Twinks for Trump had planned to disturb North Brooklyn with the event, but the owner of the Pierogi Gallery in Williamsburg sent the group packing to Manhattan’s Chelsea art scene days earlier after a profile in Gothamist opened the floodgates of angry messages.
     Courthouse News obtained one such email sent to the owner sent with the subject line “Trump, really?”
     “Cancel,” the message said. “This is an outrage. I’m nauseated.”
     The Wallplay gallery agreed to host the event in Chelsea on the condition that the organizers did not publicize its name. Visitors learned from a sign posted indoors that 100 percent of the night’s proceeds would benefit Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
     “WE DO NOT SUPPORT TRUMP,” the sign blared. Then, in smaller text, “BUT DO BELIEVE EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES ARTISTICALLY.”
     And express themselves the artists did — goading black, female, indigenous, Jewish or Muslim people, along with, in their narrative, any uptight liberal who dares to find the displays repulsive, juvenile, offensive or just plain dull.
     Almost immediately upon entering the gallery, one finds a triptych of photographs by Gavin McGinnes, the reputed “Godfather of hipsterdom” who co-founded Vice Media, a multibillion-dollar empire that brands itself upon edgy youth culture.
     In each of the three hashtagged works — #AbolishColumbusDay, #SoSorry and #Rape — a white man resembling the artist mimics a marginalized group, wearing a feathered headdress, a slave’s shackles, and the ruffled dress of a sexual-assault victim. McGinnes, who left Vice and now hosts his own independent podcast, explained in a video describing his work that one of the pieces shows him “pretending to give a shit” about “obvious virtue-signaling.”
     A similar dynamic is at play in another work by a different artist featuring Dr. King wearing a Trump hat, with a McDonald’s emblem in the bottom left corner. The implied satire of commercialism provides a mask to debase a legendary civil-rights icon.
     Much of the work in the exhibit played to similar levels of irony, lending intellectual cover to the crowd’s overwhelmingly white audience — members of the so-called alt-right who wear the “basket of deplorables” label given by Clinton with sneering defiance.
     In his signature frosted hair and dark sunglasses, Yiannopoulos drawled to the crowd: “There’s a problem in popular culture today that people are not allowed to say things that are true and that are real.”
     “They are not allowed to express opinions that millions of ordinary Americans hold, which are not bigoted, or racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, or whatever the fuck,” he said to great laughter.
     Railing against the “media,” “globalists” and the “left wing” over the course of 10 minutes, Yiannopoulos blamed a series of faceless others for the persistent perception of oppression in the United States of the 21st century.
     His words moved one supporter in crowd to veer spectacularly off-message.
     “We’re not South Africa!” the heckler shouted, differentiating the so-called melting pot from the Rainbow Nation of the post-apartheid era.
     People of color in the crowd interviewed for this article reacted differently to the aesthetics and ideas on display.
     Andrew Ritchie, a 32-year-old black writer and comedian, attended to gather material for his own artistic purposes but left with concerns about providing the show any sort of megaphone.
     “I kind of regret coming,” Ritchie said in an interview. “This is just them begging for attention.”
     Promotional materials tout the exhibition as the “first major conservative art event in New York City” — the idea being that the art scene here enforces a stultifying code of leftist ideological conformity.
     This breathless claim aside, works by right-leaning artists of enduring caliber already line the walls of the city’s most prestigious museums and galleries.
     One can find hanging at the Met, Whitney Museum or the MoMA, for example, any number of paintings by late conservatives Edward Hopper or Andrew Wyeth, the Nixon and Reagan voter behind the iconic painting “Christina’s World.”
     For all its taboo-busting pretensions, the works displayed at #DaddyWillSaveUs appropriate clear derivatives. There were nods toward pop icon Andy Warhol, photographed penises seemingly pulled from Nan Goldin’s oeuvre, and a framed pill that could recall British artist Damien Hirst — all of whom braved heavier censorship than a venue change.
     Yiannopoulos’ performance, whether he realizes it or not, owes a debt to left-wing performance artist Karen Finley, one of the so-called NEA 4 accused who fought a Supreme Court battle for indecency for rolling around nude in honey and chocolate.
     Not half so bold or original, Yiannopoulos preserved his modesty — well, at least physical — with swim trunks. He hammed for his fans as he soaked in the tub, taking a drag of his cigarette, bloodying up his white Trump hat, and smiling for selfies during a piece purporting to be a somber tribute to a terrorist attack that killed 49 people, and wounded 53 others.
     The artwork turned out being more halal and kosher than originally planned: Organizers told the Daily Beast that they had to swap pig’s blood for cow’s because of the Jewish holidays. Why an observant butcher was expected to serve up pig’s blood, or whether the viscous bath water was blood at all, is hard to confirm. An organizer did not reply to an email asking what butcher sold them the supply.
     But Ritchie, the comedian, would not write off the event as empty provocation.
     “It’s tremendously troubling,” he said. “Someone outside said that white people need to embrace their whiteness, need to embrace their white privilege, and that would solve a lot of problems in the world.”
     As he walked to the McInnis piece on slavery, Ritchie could not contain his disappointment.
     “Oh, that’s terrible,” he said. “Wow, so sad.”
     Ashton Randle, a self-described establishment Republican and health care lobbyist, identified himself as an undecided voter who came to the event to support his friend Lucian Wintrich, the organizer.
     “I am not on the Trump train, yet, but I am waiting to see how things go,” said Randle, who is black.
     “I’m not ‘with her,'” he added, quoting Clinton’s slogan. “But I’m not against her.”
     As for #DaddyWillSaveUs, which takes its name from a nickname Yiannopoulos coined for Trump in his weekly podcast, Randle called his friend’s exhibit “very interesting.”
     “It’s meant to be shock-and-awe,” he added.
     When asked if anything in the room offended him, Randle ducked the question.
     “I mean, as I said, I support Lucian and what he’s trying to do and being provocative in this election,” he said. “I think it’s a very interesting room.”
     
“Mr. Shkreli, Is That Daraprim?”
     Denounced by the nation’s largest LGBT group, straight Martin Shkreli would appear to be an unlikely marquee name for a gay art show. But the “Pharma Bro” had a very expensive work of art on display: a solitary pill center-framed against a white backdrop.
     In an interview, Shkreli would not reveal whether that pill was the same medication that earned him notoriety.
     “Mr. Shkreli, is that Daraprim?” Courthouse News asked.
     “No comment,” Shkreli replied.
     Daraprim is a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis, a life-threatening disease for people with HIV, AIDS and cancer. As the head of Turing Pharmaceuticals, a position he no longer holds, Shkreli jacked the pill’s price up more than 5,000 percent — from $13.50 to $750 a pop.
     Shkreli would not identify whether the pill in his frame had any “active substance,” but it did have his signature and a price tag of $20,000, a sum that he once boasted about spending on a bottle of wine.
     Next to his work were two pictures of a shirtless Trump supporter sporting a Nazi-style armband with a “T” in the center.
     Asked if the photos were his, Shkreli replied: “No, those were errant.”
     As it happened, Shkreli’s exhibit had been photobombed by the same pranksters behind the “Settle for Hillary” campaign. Fox News and other outlets reported on the Nazi symbolism at Trump rallies earlier this year, only to be debunked by Snopes.com, a verification site for internet rumors.
     Alan Turing, the gay icon for whom Shkreli’s former company was named, would have been appalled by the fascist imagery.
     During World War II, Turing shifted the tide against Axis enemy by cracking the Third Reich’s Enigma code machine, giving the Allied powers unfettered access to the Nazis’ secret communications. England repaid Turing’s service toward global freedom by chemically castrating him for homosexuality, a sentence that led Turing to kill himself.
     The Washington-based advocacy group Human Rights Campaign called Turing Pharmaceutical’s price hike this year “Shkreli’s despicable effort to make money off sick, vulnerable patients.”
     Shkreli justifies the price hikes on the need to fund more scientific research, and he insists that the U.S. health care system guarantees that nobody will be shut out from receiving life-saving drugs, at whatever price.
     The chat label next to Shkreli’s artwork states: “Proceeds will benefit pharmaceutical research for novel drugs for lesser known and often-ignored diseases.”
     Shkreli highlights his own history as a chemist who holds medicinal patents against PKAN, a degenerative disease that — among other things — interferes with the body’s ability to process certain vitamins.
     The 33-year-old waxed poetic on the similarity between modern medicine and art.
     “Taking that vitamin, and adding these decorations to it, molecular decorations to that, to create a medicine, that was no different than the stick figures of a great artist,” he said.
     Shkreli’s self-regard got him in trouble with Congress earlier this year, when the press roasted him for smirking through his testimony, consisting of rote recitations of his Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.
     After the hearing, Shkreli called his congressional inquisitors “imbeciles” on Twitter, and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn accused him months later of “a Ponzi-like scheme” to raid millions of dollars from his publicly traded biotechnology company Retrophin.
     Now a Trump supporter, Shkreli spent part of the election season taunting Clinton. After the former secretary of state collapsed at a 9/11 ceremony last month, Shkreli was quoted shouting “Are you alive?” outside the Manhattan apartment where Clinton was recuperating.
     Shkreli blames Clinton for his upcoming securities-fraud trial.
     “I do, of course, think that my prosecution has a lot to do with Mrs. Clinton,” Shkreli said.
     “Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama appointed somebody named Loretta Lynch to the position of the attorney general of the United States.”
     Lynch used to be the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, where Shkreli is charged.
     “She was the boss of the person who prosecuted me, the direct boss,” Shkreli added. “I’ll leave it at that.”
     In the pantheon of Clinton conspiracy theories, Shkreli’s yarn ranks as even less credible than Whitewater and Benghazi. Clinton’s tenure at the Department of State ended two years before his indictment, and diplomats do not appoint attorneys general for the Department of Justice.
     His famed defense attorney Ben Brafman confirmed in an email that he would not use that defense at trial.
     Not that Shkreli has any great love for Trump, who called him a “spoiled brat” last year.
     In a less-than-ringing endorsement, Shkreli called Trump a “harmless buffoon.”
     “The fact that he’s irreverent and speaks his mind, to me, is a testament to his transparency,” Shkreli said of the only presidential candidate in modern history not to release his tax returns.
     At the event, Shkreli showed his political colors with a green cartoon frog that recently became much maligned by hate-group monitors.
     
“Pepe for Leibowitz”
     Pepe, the cartoon frog from the comic strip “Boy’s Club,” enjoyed a long life as a wholesome internet meme catapulted into the mainstream by musicians Katy Perry and Nikki Minaj. That was, until the alt-right got to it.
     Perry used the frog’s drooping eyes to signal her jetlag, and Minaj posted a twerking Pepe on Instagram to boost her followers.
     Repulsed by frog’s widespread acceptance, internet users kept Pepe away from polite company through neo-Nazi and white-nationalist motifs. One widely circulated image sketched a Hitler mustache on the amphibian with the speech bubble “Kill jews man.” Others showed Pepe in white Klan robes, guarding the gates of a concentration camp in an S.S. uniform, brown-skinned and labeled with a racial slur, and wearing a yarmulke while grinning at a plane smashing into the World Trade Center.
     The Anti-Defamation League added Pepe to its database of hate-group symbols, and his likeness hopped about both in- and outside the gallery this weekend.
     One visitor wore a hat of Trump as the frog, standing behind a podium, with the slogan “Pepe for Leibowitz.”
     “The idea was, I wanted a hat that showed off Pepe in all his glory, a rare Pepe, as you can see, and the tagline on it, because I just finished listening to a [science-fiction novel] ‘Canticle for Leibowitz,’ a little fire in my mind said, ‘Hey, didn’t Trump have a Twitter war with Jon Stewart a few years ago?'” said a man going by the pseudonym Hugh Mungus.
     “Isn’t Jon Stewart’s real name Leibowitz?” added Mungus, who agreed to be recorded but refused to be photographed for this article.
     Three years ago, Trump purported on Twitter to out the proudly Jewish comedian with his birth name. Trump’s tweet was widely seen as an anti-Semitic dog whistle, but Mungus defended the remark.
     “He wasn’t anti-Semitic,” he said. “He was talking about somebody’s name.”
     At this point, a man next to him, Joe Hendrix, chimed in with a remark about Trump’s Jewish grandchildren.
     In an interesting slip, Mungus replied: “I don’t know, he’s Germanic.”
     Trump gets his German ancestry from his father’s side, giving him the birth-name Drumpf, but he is also Scottish on his mother’s side.
     Hendrix, who wore a more traditional black Trump hat, said that he is Jewish with a Holocaust-survivor grandmother, and was not bothered by Trump’s words or the Pepe imagery.
     He saw nothing wrong with Hugh Mungus’ Shoah commentary, either.
     “See, the only thing you can do against someone that says, ‘Never forget,’ is to make them remember so hard, that they don’t care anymore,” Mungus said, before dialing back his chilling words.
     “The Holocaust is a terrible, evil, awful thing that should never be repeated,” he added as an afterthought.
     In the realms of the alt-right, it is hard to tell where provocation ends and ugliness begins, to separate trolling from raw hatred laundered under a faux-ironic gloss.
     For artist Justin Godesky, who displayed Trump-themed poker cards on the wall, Pepe himself has been emptied of meaning online.
     “It means I’ve been on the internet too long,” he said of the frog on his Deplorables pin.
     Enjoying one of the displays with his wife was a martial-arts instructor wearing a T-shirt “White Male,” which is available for sale on the website Swag by Milo.
     “I like it because I’m free to wear it,” said Ewan. “And I feel like I’m free to be a white man without guilt of being a white man, without having any shame in being a white man, and being able to appreciate, yes, we have a negative history in some aspects, and in other aspects, we have a great history — like all kind of cultures.”
     Legendary black intellectual James Baldwin observed whiteness as an illusion with no genetic, geographic or historical basis, and social scientists have long noted that white-nationalist movements appropriate the language of identity politics to sanitize supremacist ideas for mainstream circulation.
     But Ewan emphasizes that he is no white nationalist.
     “That’s an extremely loaded thing to say,” he said. “I think most people, no one has taken issue with me. I don’t think anybody has ever perceived it to be that way, and if they did, they’d be incorrect. I mean, that is not the case.”
     His wife Kristen, a lawyer and self-described lifelong Democrat, said she used to work at a museum and felt it was wrong of the Williamsburg gallery to back out of the exhibition.
     “I can’t make their business decisions for them, but I do think that it’s ethically wrong — that they had such pressure to censor,” she said.
     Jordan Harper-White, a 27-year-old who plans to write in for Bernie Sanders on Election Day, posed for a picture with Shkreli earlier in the night, and also defended the exhibition, even if it does not fit his politics.
     “I support that it’s not being shut down because of adversarial views, and it’ll be interesting to see what people learn from this,” said Harper-White, a member of the New Museum’s arts incubator program.
     The chorus of media outrage the performers sought, for the most part, has not come to pass.
     Gothamist’s write-up panning the event kept its critique mostly aesthetic, with writer Gaby Del Valle finding herself bored with the “predictable and hackneyed” shock, even unimpressed by Vice founder McGinnes telling her “she needs a man,” get married and have children.
     The Daily Caller blared pig’s blood headlines without skepticism, and Breitbart took a couple of victory laps on behalf of their editor.
     Fueled by considerable media firepower, the exhibit received extensive preview coverage but few actual write-ups. It may eventually hit a big screen because a film crew posted a sign warning attendees that their presence there meant consent to recording for a documentary, with the working title: “Alt-Right.”

CORRECTION: The original version of this article misspelled the last name of guest Ashton Randle. It has been corrected in the article but still appears in the photo caption. Courthouse News apologizes for the error.

%d bloggers like this: