Conservatives in Hollywood fret about the entertainment industry’s liberal tilt so many closet their beliefs, but the perceived need to tiptoe around Tinseltown’s Democratic legions has the virtue of binding their little tribe together, yielding an underground community spirit.
In huddles at film sets, studio offices, homes and cafes they groan about Black Lives Matter, lament Hillary Clinton and decry the socialist catastrophe named Barack Obama. Occasionally they gather en masse to hear visiting Republican speakers address a semi-clandestine club, Friends of Abe(FOA), over beer and pizza in Brentwood.
The camaraderie, however, is cracking. Donald Trump’s insurgent campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has sent a fault line snaking through Los Angeles, shaking solidarity among Hollywood’s conservatives.
“It’s a civil war in slow motion,” said Lionel Chetwynd, a producer and screenwriter and co-founder of FOA. “It’s too volatile. I’ve never known an election to be so personal. People don’t really sit around any more and talk about their preferences because it’s a time of inflamed passions. Now I don’t talk much to my Republican friends.”
Instead of unity against a common liberal foe, many rightwing actors, writers, producers and directors are exchanging insults, branding each other Nazis, nuts and cucks, the latter derived from cuckold, and used to demean fathers with adopted children of colour.
Acrimony may deepen now that Trump’s main rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas,flew in this week for a fundraising lunch at Newport Beach.
“A few of my conservative friends told me to lay low over the Trump stuff,” said Jack Marino, an actor and writer who champions Trump. “He’s like a big FU vote to Washington. I’ve lost one friend, a big Cruz guy who hates Trump. It’s silly for friendships to break up over politics.”
David Cole , who used to run a bacchanalian group called Republican Party Animals, said the various splintering factions were “one primary away from needing a benzodiazepine drip”.
The “alternative right” had a racial animus now emboldened by Trump’s xenophobia, Cole said. “The base as I know it is fractured. People are at each other’s throats.”
Infighting has convulsed Breitbart.com , an influential rightwing news and opinion site that serves as a noticeboard for LA’s conservatives.
For months the site stirred controversy by cheering Trump, in contrast to Fox News and other rightwing media. It then crash-landed into the election and became part of the story when Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, yanked and bruised a Breitbart reporter, Michelle Fields, during an 8 March campaign event.
Fields quit the site when it refused to back her. Ben Shapiro, an editor-at-large, followed her out the door in protest. Both claimed vindication this week when Lewandowski was arrested on a misdemeanour battery charge. He and Trump deny any wrongdoing.
When the Guardian visited Breitbart’s LA headquarters, a small, compact set of offices in Brentwood, there was no visible sign of tumult. Behind an unmarked door – no sign or plaque – a handful of mostly young people worked on computers, casting occasional glances at mute televisions.
Milo Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart writer and self-styled provocateur, declined to discuss the Fields saga – “next question” – but expressed delight at the divisions roiling Republicans.
“I don’t want the wounds to heal. I want the American right to be ripped in half, just like I want the American left to be ripped in half. We need new formulations. The Republican party is no longer fit for purpose. If you’re conservative the Republican party can’t deliver you the government that you want.”
Yiannopoulos’s defence of Trump’s crassness, including his targeting of Heidi Cruz , has earned denunciation from Glenn Beck. The pundit compared Yiannopoulos to Joseph Goebbels and accused him of “pushing poison to the republic”.
Mere grist to the mill for Yiannopoulos, who is gay. “Why Goebbels? There are so many gay Nazis he could have compared me to.”
He said much of Hollywood welcomed Trump’s broadsides against political correctness as an overdue rebuttal to feminism, the Black Lives Matter movement and other stifling threats.
“For them, culture matters much more than economics or foreign policy. Trump represents a massive middle finger to an establishment that has been suppressing free speech for decades. There are huge numbers of Trump fans in the highest echelons of Hollywood.”
Several celebrities including Jon Voight, Stephen Baldwin and Kid Rock have publicly endorsed Trump but it has hardly been a stampede.
According to Yiannopoulos, much support is hidden in the same way British voters conceal Tory preferences from pollsters. “Middle and upper classes don’t like to express their anger, and Hollywood is nothing if not snobbish.” Another reason was fear of liberal retaliation. “It’s profoundly dangerous. It can get you blacklisted.”
The American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis expressed a similar sentiment last month, tweeting: “Just back from a dinner in West Hollywood: shocked the majority of the table was voting for Trump but they would never admit it publicly.”
Author and activist Ann Coulter has reportedly worked behind the scenes to muster Hollywood support for Trump, including dinners with Clint Eastwood and other industry figures.
Some question the notion of Tinseltown thrumming with clandestine Trumpian fervour.
“I haven’t encountered that phenomenon,” said Jeremy Boreing, who heads FOA. “Both the pro-Trump and anti-Trump camps seem perfectly confident and vocal as far as I can tell. It’s made for a lot of feisty conversations around town lately.” If people were being timid, Boreing added, it was probably for fear of backlash from liberals, not fellow conservatives.
Cole, the former Republican Party Animals ringmaster, suggested it was Trump critics who were lying low. “An essential element to being pro-Trump is despising the establishment, so for that reason a lot of pro-Trumps welcome the fight. They’re driven by anger, and anger is a difficult emotion to hide and a satisfying one to indulge in. Conversely, I know several anti-Trumpers who are purposely staying silent because it’s not pretty to arouse the ire of the pro-Trumpers.”
Nick Searcy, for one, is not intimidated. The actor, best known for his role on FX’s Justified, has scorched the GOP frontrunner in social media posts. “Some friends have blocked me, or got mad at me, because I’ve made a lot of jokes about Trump. I have trouble finding this election anything other than ridiculous.”
For all the anger and resentment, many think this is just a phase, not a terminal breach, and that come summer the nomination – be it Trump, Cruz or someone else – will restore peace of sorts to Hollywood Republicans. “I think the air will clear,” said Chetwynd, the screenwriter. “The people I know will do anything to prevent another Democratic term, particularly if it’s Hillary Clinton.”