At the DeploraBall, Trump’s Online Army Wonders: What Now?

On the eve of president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, an angry mob gathered outside the National Press Club to protest one of the many elite galas taking place around Washington, DC, as is inaugural tradition. Outside, the demonstrators held homemade signs over their heads and wore scarves over their faces. Inside, the attendees wore suits and cocktail dresses, tuxedos and ballgowns. Outside, they chanted, “This is what democracy looks like!” Inside, they swayed to “Funkytown” and fist-pumped to “Eye of the Tiger,” snacking on smoked gouda and clinking glasses from the open bar.

The scene was pure establishment. Yet not so long ago, this insider crowd of self-proclaimed deplorables was definitively fringe.

The attendees at last night’s inaugural DeploraBall represent the new political establishment, a loosely affiliated band of social media celebrities, online provocateurs, and their millions of followers. During the campaign, they staked their reputations on bucking authority, Democrat or Republican.

And their ascendancy represents a feat of political upward mobility almost as stunning as Trump’s own. But they also face the same political problem as their anti-establishment hero-cum-POTUS: what now?

Reaching consensus about what this movement stands for has proven as difficult as forming consensus about anything on the internet.

You know some of them by name already. Pharmaceutical bad boy Martin Shkreli, who Twitter recently banned for harassing a Teen Vogue writer, wandered meekly through the sea of Make America Great Again baseball hats. Bill Mitchell, the online radio host and prolific tweeter of statistically dubious claims, glad-handed and posed for selfies with a parade of fans. Notorious tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who famously helped Hulk Hogan sue Gawker into oblivion and has since become a key Trump transition advisor, hustled to the exit after reporters spotted him. And up on stage was Michael Cernovich, famed on social media for, among other things, perpetuating rumors about a Washington pedophilia ring.

“It’s good to see everybody from Twitter!” Cernovich said before leading the crowd in chants of “Lock her up!” and “Drain the swamp!”

It was far from the typical staid DC gala, but then, it was never meant to be. The name alone, DeploraBall, is a cheeky reference to the nickname Hillary Clinton clumsily bestowed upon Trump supporters during the election cycle, and which Trump supporters have since gladly embraced. “We’re trying to assert our presence as the new type of Republican,” Jeff Giesea, who organized the event with Cernovich, told me before the ball. “This is not your dad’s or mom’s Republican party anymore.”

In this new wing of the conservative movement—the Deplorable Wing, as Giesea calls it—issues like gay marriage and abortion are secondary to issues like immigration and jobs for Middle America.