A New York Gala Draws Incoming G.O.P. Lawmakers, and Extremists
Three incoming House freshmen who flipped Democratic seats in November attended a conservative gala in Manhattan on Saturday — along with white nationalists, right-wing conspiracy theorists and European representatives of far-right parties with authoritarian roots.
The event, sponsored by the New York Young Republican Club, has attracted attention for the remarks made by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. Ms. Greene told the crowd that had she and Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to Donald J. Trump, organized the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, she would have made sure the insurgents were armed.
“And I want to tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won,” she told the audience. “Not to mention, it would have been armed.”
But the three congressmen-elect in attendance have received scant notice, and their presence has raised questions about the influence of the party’s extremist fringe on the new Republican-led House.
The leader of the Young Republican Club, Gavin Mario Wax, opened Saturday night’s event on Park Avenue in Manhattan by calling for “total war” on Republican enemies.
Attendees included Peter Brimelow, the founder of the anti-immigration website VDare, which publishes writings by white nationalists and which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group. Also in attendance was Jack Posobiec, a far-right commentator known for promoting the PizzaGate conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton and Democratic elites were running a child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington pizzeria.
And beyond Ms. Greene, guests of honor included three Republicans who took districts from Democrats in last month’s midterm elections: George Santos of Long Island; Cory Mills of Central Florida; and Mike Collins of the northern exurbs of Atlanta.
The Republican gala has become an unexpected flash point as the party prepares to take the gavel in the House after winning a razor-thin majority in the midterms. Democrats have questioned the silence of House Republican leaders since the gala’s attendance list and speeches came to light in an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s HateWatch.
“The unwillingness of so-called Republican moderates in New York and throughout the country to explicitly denounce the reckless extremism of people like Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks for itself,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the incoming House Democratic leader, said in an interview on Tuesday.
Some attendees and club officers say the event has been sensationalized by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center is a nonprofit organization known for its analyses of extremism and hate groups, but Republicans criticize it for being too quick to charge conservatives with bigotry.
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Nathan E. Berger, the vice president of the Young Republican Club, said that anyone who wanted to buy a ticket was allowed in, including the Southern Poverty Law Center writers, and that the group had no intention of hosting a gathering of extremists.
“I’d explicitly state we did not invite anyone who a reasonable person would characterize as a white supremacist or a white nationalist,” said Mr. Berger, who noted that he is Jewish, as is Mr. Wax.
Mr. Brimelow — whose VDare website traffics in anti-immigrant rhetoric and sensationalist articles on Black-on-white crime — defended the incoming lawmakers’ presence in an email to The New York Times.
He wrote that the attendance of a member of Congress and three soon-to-be members “shows that the most dynamic Republican activists recognize that National Conservatism in general, and immigration patriotism in particular, are winning issues — and that they’re not afraid of the usual smears and name-calling from, to pick a random example, The New York Times.”
Mr. Brimelow said he would not divulge private conversations he had at the event.
Mr. Brimelow is a former editor at Forbes magazine, and has been on the radar screen of civil rights groups for years. The Anti-Defamation League describes him as a white supremacist, a label that he has rejected. He said in 2018, “My heart is with civic nationalism, but my head is with racial nationalism.” At a white nationalist conference in 2017, he spoke of “ethnic specialization in crime” and said Hispanics specialize in rape.
Mr. Brimelow unsuccessfully sued The Times for defamation in 2020, claiming it was defamatory to call him a “white nationalist.”
It was unclear whether the three congressmen-elect knew Mr. Brimelow would be at the gala. The gathering’s announcement gave Ms. Greene and Mr. Posobiec top billing, along with Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son. All three newly elected House members were featured as special guests, along with several high-profile conservatives, including Raheem Kassam, who once called the Quran “fundamentally evil” and described Islam as a “fascistic and totalitarian ideology.”
Other special guests included current and former members of the Freedom Party of Austria, founded by a Nazi functionary, Anton Reinthaller, as well as the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, the first far-right party to make it into Germany’s federal parliament since World War II. The AfD party, which once questioned the need for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin, was placed under surveillance last year by the German government.
An AfD member, Maximilian Krah, dismissed the characterization of him and his party as extremist, saying in an interview on Tuesday that if he was an American, he would be considered “an East Coast Republican.”
“In Germany, anyone right of Hillary Clinton is far right,” he said.
Lucian Wintrich, who attended the gala and is a former writer at The Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy-minded right-wing website, also said the law center’s characterization of the gala was an exercise in hype because it attracted “viewpoints across the conservative spectrum.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, he said, “wanted to write about something and frame this as an extremist gathering, and it was the opposite.”
Michael Edison Hayden, a senior investigative reporter and spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center who attended the event, said the three newly elected congressmen sat in the front of the room with other V.I.P.s and appeared enthusiastic.
“I am unequivocally alarmed by what I saw there,” Mr. Hayden said.
Aides to Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader who hopes to be speaker next year, did not respond to emails or texts seeking comment. Nor did representatives for Mr. Santos, Mr. Mills or Mr. Collins.
Mr. Jeffries, the New York Democrat, said it was highly unlikely Ms. Greene or the three congressmen-elect would not have known the nature of the gathering. In 2018, the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan invited an early leader of the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, to speak. The event ended with a melee, a rash of vandalism and three people charged with assault. In 2020, the Young Republican Club held its gala in secret — and in person, without masks — provoking anger over the group’s flouting of Covid rules.
The location of Saturday’s event was announced only 48 hours beforehand, which Mr. Berger said was standard procedure for the group. Mr. Brimelow said going to such lengths before an event “shows that New York City is effectively controlled by communist mobs.”
To Mr. Jeffries, the secrecy of the location was evidence that event organizers understood the controversy of the gathering.
“It’s very unfortunate that some of the incoming Republican House members from New York have chosen to embrace extremists who want to undermine our democracy. They are not getting off to a good start,” Mr. Jeffries said.
Mr. Santos, the only incoming member from New York who was there, is the first openly gay Republican elected without the advantage of incumbency. He made his name in New York politics with his adamant opposition to abortion, which he compared to slavery. But he also was a proponent of the false claims that Mr. Trump had the 2020 election stolen from him, insisting that he, too, had his election stolen in 2020 when he lost by 12 percentage points to then-Representative Tom Suozzi, a Democrat.
Mr. Collins was not Mr. Trump’s pick in the Republican primary for a Georgia district that was redrawn to turn Republican, but he ran as an acolyte of the former president and an election denier. In Florida, Mr. Mills ran largely on his credentials as a decorated combat veteran in a district whose boundaries shifted sharply to become strongly Republican. His Republican primary challenger, Anthony Sabatini, called him a “Republican in Name Only,” but through appearances on One America News Network, he established his conservative bona fides.
Just what their roles will be in the next Congress is anyone’s guess, but with just 222 House seats, the Republican leadership will have only a two-to-three seat margin on partisan votes, starting with the vote for speaker, for which Mr. McCarthy will need 218 ballots.
Denouncing any of the attendees of the Saturday night gala could cost him dearly as he scrambles to win over other far-right House members ahead of the January speaker’s election.
Mr. Berger, the club’s vice president, noted the attendance of Hungary’s ambassador to the United States, who he said went at the behest of the country’s president, Viktor Orban. Mr. Orban has been accused of systematically dismantling Hungary’s democratic institutions while waging openly antisemitic political campaigns.
“The fact that this has been characterized as a secret conclave of evil people is patently absurd,” Mr. Berger said.