Dinesh D'Souza's latest lib-owning opus, Death of a Nation, is just as absurd and over-the-top as his previous documentaries, and that's saying something. The conservative filmmaker's thesis that Democrats are the real fascists and that Donald Trump is the new Abraham Lincoln is too wild for mainstream critics—the movie has a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is at one percent on Metacritic—but D'Souza doesn't care about convincing people who don't agree with him, or even creating something that makes sense outside of his far-right bubble.
Death of a Nation will undoubtedly be a colossal financial success for D’Souza, just as each of his past films have been; it took in $2.3 million its opening weekend. The clear hunger for competently made left-bashing content in a market otherwise bereft of it has made D’Souza’s films three of the top ten highest grossing political documentaries of all time. (Only Michael Moore surpasses him with four on that list.)
This is remarkable given how far on the fringes D'Souza has become. As the more extreme elements of the GOP, emboldened by Trump, have taken over from more moderate and traditionally conservative voices, D’Souza’s own assertions and theories have listed further into the realm of trolling and kook conspiracy theories. It's never quite been clear whether he truly buys into this stuff or if it's all a savvy act to court the crowd most likely to give him money and attention, but it bears mentioning that he wasn’t always this extreme. D'Souza has been courting controversy since his days as editor for the Dartmouth Review, where he published an anti-affirmative action screed written entirely in ebonics and a list of the school's Gay Straight Alliance members, outing some in the process. But as his post-grad career took off, the man was actually regarded as a rational voice on the right, worthy of scholarly rebuttals. For a long time, he was willing to engage with his opponents in good faith, and seemed poised to become a respectable right-wing public intellectual.
But in the wake of 9/11, D'Souza shifted his career almost entirely to saying a bunch of outrageous things about the left and Democrats, then basking in the response—a model that has been replicated by dozens of pundits since his debut film from 2012, 2016: Obama's America. So it seemed fitting that Death of a Nation's LA premier, on July 30, came with a red carpet event that drew in the biggest names of the fringe right, even if those big names would be unrecognizable to most people who don't think Adolf Hitler was a leftist.
Despite his railing against liberal Hollywood—they're responsible for the Twin Towers falling, you know—D’Souza obviously loves its trappings. He and co-producer Aaron Brubaker set up an event with all the security, step-and-repeat walls, and red carpet interviews—performed by D’Souza’s daughter, Danielle—as any premiere at Grauman’s.
As nu-right darlings like Tomi Lahren, Mike Cernovich, Diamond and Silk, James O'Keefe, and Joy Villa made their way down the red carpet, their commonalities began to reveal themselves. Lahren specializes in bleating out outlandish statements to goad liberals into mocking her. Cernovich and his minions dig into Trump-bashing celebrities' online history in attempts to get them fired. Diamond and Silk, two former Democrats-turned-Trump loyalists, have carved out a nice gig for themselves playing contrarians. Project Veritas's O'Keefe specializes in going "undercover" to humiliate the right's political opponents, then often selectively editing the resulting videos. And Joy Villa, a singer best known for her MAGA dress at the 2017 Grammys, was mining that same vein of attention-seeking at the D'Souza premiere, traipsing down the red carpet in Betsy Ross cosplay.
These guests have more in common than just their right-wing views. Like D'Souza himself, they have made their careers out of clout chasing via controversy, living and dying by the "any press is good press" axiom. It seems a far more short-sighted route to fame than the traditional path from journalist to talking head, but maybe this is the new normal—first you trigger the libs, then you get more famous so you can trigger more libs, and on and on. (The catch is, you have to avoid going full Alex Jones and getting banned from YouTube.)
As D'Souza himself took a few trips down the red carpet—alone, with his wife, or with his daughter—each time stopping for a few pics in his trademark “naughty schoolboy” pose, it was clear he was having a blast mingling with his fellow agitators, the bomb-throwers who make up the heart and soul of the modern GOP.
But if D'Souza was enjoying the press attention outside, he must have been on cloud nine once all the guests were seated and he introduced the film. His monologue’s jokes got laughs, its references to Hillary Clinton got jeers, and every fawning reference to the president who'd just pardoned him, wiping out a campaign finance violation, only further ingratiated him to crowd.
"Our poster, as you can imagine, has generated some... comments," said D'Souza to a tittering crowd, referencing its jarring Lincoln/Trump face mashup. "Some of the never-Trumpers have to look at it two or three times to make sure it's actually what it is."
If you strip away the shock value of "Trump is Lincoln" and "liberals are Nazis," the 109 minutes of Death of a Nation is by-the-numbers propaganda. But D'Souza obviously knows his audience: The film opens with a 20-minute montage of experts and late-night hosts doubting Trump's ability to win the 2016 election, then coming to terms with the fact that he had.
Sure, every respectable publication may trash the film for its myriad flaws, but D'Souza got the applause and approval of the only crowd whose approval he seems to care about. Who cares what people think if those people are outside his bubble? He has everything a Trump-era right-wing pundit could want, and it appears he will until his audience dies out.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Justin Caffier on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.