All photos by Erin Desmond
Outrage culture was invented to annihilate people like Ann Coulter, but instead it's reinvigorated her career.
In a corner booth at a popular Los Angeles Mexican restaurant called El Coyote, Ann Coulter and her friends are celebrating the completion of the professional conservative's latest book, ¡Adios America! The Left's Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole. She has chosen El Coyote, specifically, because she fears the town's Mexican restaurants will ban her once they hear the premise of the book: It's a manifesto arguing that Mexicans, Somalis, and Latin American and Middle Eastern immigrants are importing "peasant cultures" into the US. Over margaritas, Coulter and her friends joke about how immigrants "stole" lesbians' jobs and debate whether Mitt Romney could stage a comeback. Everything is going well--until I call Coulter a fag hag.
"I'm not a fag hag!" she screams. "I'm very picky about my fags!"
Since the '90s, Coulter has hung out with hordes of homosexuals. "[Gay men and I] like the same cocktails, the same music, often the same underwear," she says. She considers herself "the Judy Garland of the Right."
Considering her stance on gay marriage--she opposes it--her choice of friends, on the surface, seems odd. In fact, a lot about Coulter on the surface seems odd--like how she enjoys a good meal at a Mexican restaurant despite having just written a book explaining why Mexicans should be deported. Or how she says, "marriage is the most important institution to civilize young people," but remains single on the wrong side of 40. Is it cognitive dissonance? Is she just fucking with us?
"My main reason for opposing gay marriage is once your friends get married, you lose them," she laughs. "The angry gays don't like me, but the angry gays don't like anybody. My theory on the angry gays is they're not really gay: They just hate their fathers."
In the last few years, gays have also become part of Coulter's fan base. They buy her books, appear at her events, and watch her TV appearances as religiously as they rewatch Britney Spears music videos on YouTube. In 2010, she even gave a speech at Homocon--a conservative event hosted by the now defunct gay Republican organization GoProud--about why gays should oppose marriage.
I'm not a fag hag. I'm very picky about my fags.
"You have to be [conservative]!" Coulter said there, according to the New York Times, explaining why it makes sense for gay men to be Republican. She cited the money they earn and how they're treated in the Middle East. "You know what the Muslims do to gays."
John Phillips, a gay conservative radio host in attendance at the dinner at El Coyote, says even his liberal gay friends adore Coulter. A few years ago, Coulter came to his birthday party at his apartment, and his liberal gay friends rushed to her like hyenas running to a dead gazelle.
The author [second from left] enjoys a night of Mexican food with Ann Coulter and her conservative friends. All photos by Erin Desmond
"Celebrity trumps ideology," Phillips says. "If you go to the [West Hollywood gay bar] the Abbey, they hate her guts, but they all want a picture with her because she's on TV and she's on radio."
Another time, when Coulter was ill, Phillips asked her how he could help. "We need to get all the gays together," Coulter told him. "We need to go out and take them to dinner. I'm going to talk them all out of gay marriage." This was the way to make her feel better.
Phillips organized a night out, and Coulter told his gay friends she knew they really didn't want to get married--she knew they were more interested in promiscuous sex than in traditional family structures. In a view very similar to radical queers' opposition to gay marriage, Coulter argued that gay marriage would ruin gay culture, because gays value promiscuity over monogamy. "That's the whole point of being gay, so stop the bullshit," she said. "I know at least half of you are totally against gay marriage." By the end of the dinner, they agreed with her.
When Phillips tells this story at dinner, it doesn't surprise Dr. Kelly Victory, another of Coulter's friends. "Gays are not liberals," she says. "Gays are right wingers who like butt sex."
Coulter's rise as a gay icon coincides with a change in the American cultural landscape. In the last few years, people across the political spectrum have argued that Twitter--a medium that makes nuance near impossible--is policing our language and sentiment. Students request trigger warnings before they read Ovid, and angry denizens of the internet demand Comedy Central fire a black South African stand-up comedian because he made a "fat-chick joke" a few years ago.
Outrage culture was invented to annihilate people like Coulter, but it has instead reinvigorated their careers. Other conservative women have also experienced a rise in their cultural relevance. Camille Paglia's Reason interview, in which she claims Hillary Clinton is "a fraud," sent shockwaves through certain sections of the internet, Christina H. Sommers's defense of #gamergate made her a subject of debate for the first time in at least a decade, and bikini blogger Pamela Geller's "Draw Muhammad" contest went so viral, two terrorists shot up the venue.
But nobody has benefited from outrage culture more than Ann Coulter. ¡Adios America! debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, landing at the top of the list as most of her books do. A few weeks ago, she starred as the Vice President in Sharknado 3 alongside fellow camp icon Tara Reid, trending on Facebook and Twitter in the process. Five years ago, people who may have hated Coulter are now drawn to her because she represents something bigger than her political ideas--she is fearlessly exercising her First Amendment rights.
"Gays are politically incorrect," Coulter says. "There obviously are some funny liberals, but the PC stuff is the death of humor--it's like the joke bomb squad. I have stand-up comedian friends who will say to me, 'You're the luckiest person in the world, you're the only one who can say anything.'"
Take black stand-up comedian Sherrod Small. Since he met Coulter at Fox News's Red Eye several years ago, he's considered her a close friend. When hecklers question their relationship at comedy shows, he says he yells, "I pick my friends, motherfucker!"
"You know people who wear AIDS ribbons, but won't take someone with AIDS to dinner? [Coulter] will actually have lunch with me and talk, instead of just wearing a ribbon that says, '#BlackLivesMatter,'" Small tells me. "Where's the black lives that matter to you, motherfucker? It's not like [MSNBC hosts] aren't gonna put their purse by their side when they see me walking down the block. It's not like Rachel Maddow isn't gonna hide her purse when she sees me."
"[MSNBC] does not give two shits about black people," Coulter agrees. "What they are saying is: 'I'm better than other white people.'"
These statements may seem to contradict Coulter's statements about Ferguson on Fox News. Some outlets, like Salon and Jezebel, have gone so far as to depict her as a campy performance artist playing an elaborate prank to sell books and make millions in the process.
The first time I meet Coulter, that actually seems true. We're getting lunch at the Farm of Beverly Hills, a ritzy health-conscious restaurant near her Los Angeles home. Wearing tight blue jeans and a cross around her neck, she resembles both a church lady and a fun mom who loves wine. Throughout lunch she also demonstrates a keen sense for personal branding. She asks our photographer to change the angle to get the Lucky Brand store into the shot--because "Lucky Brand is perfect"--and refuses to say the words cunt or fuck on record, perhaps to avoid offending her conservative fans. (Faggot is OK, though.) "Make sure it's clear that Ann wasn't saying the c-word," she orders.
But Coulter is even more on-brand when I'm not interviewing her. She compulsively flips her hair and chews nicotine gum. When a homeless man spots her from the street, shouts, "Ann Coulter! Provocateur!" and then walks into the restaurant and asked her to pound it, she smiles and obliges his request. Later, when a canvasser on Rodeo Drive asks her, "Do you care about gay rights?" she laughs, flips her hair, and keeps walking through Beverly Hills.
If it were up to her, she would live in Portland instead of California; she identifies with the Pacific Northwest's aesthetic, considering herself "DIY" both because she promotes her own products (she's her own publicist and researcher) and sees conservatives as America's last true punks.
"The liberal kids are the brown-nosers. They're the ones who are the apple polishers for teachers," Coulter says. "The real radicals on college campuses these days--unless you're at Bob Jones University--are the college Republicans. They are the ones going against the establishment, challenging authority, and they don't care what people think about them."
Coulter takes pride in never having been an ass-kisser. She grew up in a conservative household in Connecticut where her Republican parents expected her and her two older brothers to not only have opinions, but to express them.
"We considered Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas as a failure if we did not argue about both religion and politics," Coulter says. "It's a secret plot by the Left that it's an etiquette thing to not talk about religion and politics."
To prep for arguments, she read books like Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative. She credits her "feistiness" in debates to her southern mother and her views to her father, a lawyer who loved Senator Joseph McCarthy. At age 14, she visited her older brother in New York City where he attended law school. While he was in class, he had his little sister read books by Milton Friedman and Treasury Secretary Bill Simon. When he got home from class, he quizzed Coulter. As a reward, he and his friends took her out to bars on the Upper East Side. Reading Republican books made Coulter dream about working as a writer.
Coulter paints her family as a portrait of tradition, but her father encouraged her ambition. He even expected her to become a lawyer like her brother.
"It's nonsense [to think that] conservatives don't want their daughters to be successful," she says. "Conservatives are so not sexist. It's a myth created by liberal men to get women to like them. It serves the interest of the liberal pussies in the media."
Coulter says she has identified as a conservative since kindergarten, but only became a "conservative who hates," as she calls herself, as an undergraduate student at Cornell where she encountered loads of liberals. "They were so stupid, so stupid," she says. She found solace studying under her mentor--conservative law professor Jeremy A. Rabkin--whom Coulter thanks in the acknowledgements of all her books.
[MSNBC] does not give two shits about black people.
Other conservative Cornell students flocked to Rabkin and identified with Coulter's pain.
With Coulter, they founded a conservative college newspaper called theCornell Review. According to Coulter, early issues featured layout errors because the students had no journalism experience. They were simply passionate, rebellious young Republicans. "We were very enthusiastic," Coulter explained to C-Span 2 in a 2011 interview.
Over a decade before her first New York Times bestseller, Coulter's college writing featured her stylistic trademarks: zingers about liberals, hyperbolic comparisons of people to Hitler, and quotes from leading academics and journalists juxtaposed next to politically incorrect jokes. But her college articles differ from her famous works in one way: She attacks men and accuses conservatives of sexism. Without identifying as a feminist, Coulter writes an attack on conservative men's treatment of women in the second issue of the Cornell Review. The piece opens:
Conservatives have a difficult time with women. For that matter, all men do. Perhaps more is expected of conservatives. Then again, perhaps conservatives have a unique tropism toward moral befuddlement in their attitudes regarding women. Having rejected a lion's share of the multifarious issues which are seemingly inseparably fused with 'feminism,' conservatives apparently do not believe that any genuine affront to women is, in fact, possible, because such affronts are rarely if ever given a hearing in conservative publications. Once the term 'sexism' is extricated from the puerile outrages over men opening doors for women, the titles Miss and Mrs., and the societal expectation that women wear bras, the term finds its legitimate target: an implicit belief that women are either mothers or walking vaginas.
The piece differs from Coulter's famous writing, but everyone changes from college to adulthood. Some may say the writing reveals the big secret that Coulter is a "performance artist," but she was critiquing porn, not standing up for abortion rights. As a 2005 Time magazine cover story pointed out, Coulter has continued to criticize the media's depiction of women's writing, highlighting Coulter's commentary of Halle Berry's cleavage at the Oscars: "Berry's unseemly enthusiasm for displaying 'these babies,' as she genteelly refers to her breasts, reduces the number of roles for any women who lack Berry's beauty-queen features." When I ask Coulter how she feels when people say she's pretending to be a conservative, she compares herself to the dentist who shot Cecil the lion. "It's so monumentally idiotic [to say anyone pretends to be a conservative], I don't think it deserves refutation," Coulter writes me in an email. "It's like saying, 'You're just PRETENDING to be the guy who shot Cecil the lion. We know it's all an act.'"
After Cornell, Coulter wanted to postpone law school to try to become a conservative writer, but knowing the reality of making a living being as controversial as a lion killer, her father said, "That's fine, but I'm not paying for it if you put it off." So off she went to law school. She graduated and then secured a job at a law firm she considered "a snooze fest." From 1995 to 1997 she worked on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If she had continued working as a lawyer, she says she would have married a rich man as an exit strategy. Luckily, she found a guardian angel in the form of Bill Clinton's many political scandals.
Sexual harassment law is a tool to be used against ideological enemies of the feminist movement.
Starting in July 1996, she was working three days a week at MSNBC as a contributor. MSNBC couldn't pay Coulter because of a senate rule barring senate staffers from receiving payment from media outlets, but the network put her up in "fleabag motels" in New York. She spent the weekends locked in nasty rooms writing and pitching columns around town.
Coulter faced problems at MSNBC. The network wanted a conservative commentator, but frequently battled Coulter over her statements because they found them "over the top." After Coulter told a Vietnam vet, "No wonder you guys lost," the network fired her--only to bring her back.
In January 1997, she quit the Senate Judiciary Committee and joined the Center for Individual Rights, a non-profit public interest law firm that is nonpartisan but widely considered conservative or libertarian. (While placing an importance on free speech, the Center's primary focus has been to challenge what it deems unlawful preference based on race, i.e., "affirmative action" programs, through litigation. She split her time between working as a lawyer, appearing on MSNBC, and writing a weekly column for the conservative magazine Human Events. She started secretly working on Paula Jones's legal team in her case against Bill Clinton for sexual harassment. Then came the cum-stained dress that changed Coulter's life.
"I was a lawyer and we had a [president accused of perjury] in the White House," Coulter says, referring to Bill Clinton lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky under oath. "So BAM! Two universes just came together, and my first book was High Crimes and Misdemeanors."
Although Regnery Publishing refused to allow Coulter to title the book's first chapter "Fellatio Ad Absurdum," the book climbed to number five on the New York Times bestseller list, a place she would frequent for the next two decades.
Unlike her columns and later books, the tome lacks Coulter's bite and jokes. A scholarly book, it's a well-researched examination of Bill Clinton's alleged crimes and the historical precedent to impeach the president. Republican senators passed the book around, and it became Coulter's first--of eventually 11--New York Times bestsellers. Coulter felt accomplished after the book's success. "I wanted to change America, and we impeached a president," Coulter says, smiling in her Ray-Bans. "[Gloria] Steinem announced the new Clinton-era standard of sexual harassment: The boss gets one free grope," Coulter writes.
So the dividing line between chivalry and a legal cause of action is the use of force-until Clinton actually rapes a woman. If you stop at some point after grabbing your female subordinate's breast and placing her hand on your crotch, it is not sexual harassment... Most fabulous was Steinem's admission that laws against sexual harassment were never intended to stop sexual harassers. Rather, sexual harassment law is a tool to be used against ideological enemies of the feminist movement.
Coulter's views about feminists have stayed consistent. She called Lean In "absolutely preposterous."
"[Sheryl Sandberg is a] fabulously wealthy woman who, from what I've heard, sits on lots of boards where she's the only woman," Coulter says. "Practice what you preach." Echoing Camille Paglia, but not citing her, Coulter despises feminists because she sees them as rich white women who posture as defenders of the poor, when really they're only interested in protecting their own interests.
"[Feminism is] totally a class thing. Feminism is about upper-middle class women who went to Smith or Wellesley and are supported by their husbands... they [don't care] about people who work at Walmart," Coulter says. "Ted Bundy cares about women more than feminists do."
At first, High Crimes and Misdemeanors seemed to have made Coulter's dreams come true. She was a writer with a best-selling book. Along with her column for Human Events, she wrote screeds against the Kennedys in John F. Kennedy Jr.'s George magazine. However, Coulter wanted to build a life where she could be self-employed and say what she wanted without having to worry about getting fired.
Her work caught the attention of HarperCollins editor-in-chief Robert S. Jones. The high-powered editor published authors like Armistead Maupin--the legendary gay writer behind the Tales of the City series--and wrote his own fiction, even being published in The Best American Gay Fiction. He snapped up the publishing rights to Coulter's second book, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right.
"[Jones] was a convert to conservatism," Coulter told C-Span 2 in 2011. "He said he had tried every kind of radical behavior, and he finally realized, being in the publishing industry in New York City, to be a real radical you had to be a conservative."
When Jones wasn't editing books, he dedicated his time to working as the media coordinator for the radical AIDS advocacy group ACT UP. In an obituary, Jones's brother, Stephen, told the New York Times that the editor "found similarities between his work at ACT UP and editing, like persuading journalists to think twice before applying the term 'victim' to someone who was living with AIDS." (Coulter declined to comment on the record about Jones other than to say he was a great editor and she is thankful for him.)
Before he even read Slander, Jones died of cancer. Without him to protect Coulter, HarperCollins killed her book contract shortly before 9/11. Suddenly she went from being a New York Times bestseller with a potentially huge publishing career to a poor woman who owed her entire book advance back to the publisher.
"I was poverty stricken," Coulter says. "That's when I was headed towards [living under the] Brooklyn bridge."
But she remained optimistic. She visited her friend, the New York Times writer Frank Bruni, in Washington DC, and spent time with her Muslim boyfriend, whom she called "my Muslim." (They met shortly after 9/11; Coulter says, "I thought he was a terrorist.") She told both Bruni and her boyfriend, "Somehow this is going to be published, and I know it's going to be a hit."
Coulter discusses Ferguson on her gay friend John Phillips's radio show.
And Coulter was right. Crown bought the book, and upon publication, the manifesto soared to the the top of the New York Times bestseller chart, where it stayed for eight weeks. The only thing more controversial than the book was Coulter's publicity tour. She told the New York Observer, "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building." Katie Couric confronted her on The Today Show about the book, in which Coulter called her the "affable Eva Braun of morning television."
Over the course of the next 14 years, she wrote nine more New York Times bestsellers. The success has afforded Coulter a nice life. She owns homes in Beverly Hills, the Upper East Side, and Florida. After our lunch in Beverly Hills, we "run errands" on Rodeo Drive, which translates into picking up her watch she is having repaired at Cartier. Holding up her watch to the light in the jewelry store, she says, "Yes! I'm so happy!"
Coulter still works hard, but like everything else in her life, it's on her own terms. Every day she wakes up at around 1 PM, and like "Jack Nicholson in The Shining," she says, she researches and writes her books and weekly column until two or three or sometimes even four in the morning. On her days off, she goes to dinner parties and attends a black church in LA. According to her friend Joshua McCarroll, a gay former Fox News booker, it's common to see many black people at the Coulter house on Christmas.
Coulter does acknowledge, to a degree, that she is contradictory, considering she identifies as a conservative but divides her time between ultra-liberal Beverly Hills and Manhattan. She says she only chose the cities because she needs to live close to the media to promote her books.
Despite her wealth, she shows an understanding of the middle class in her work. Whereas most name-brand Republicans consider themselves champions of the middle class, they're often guilty of financially sucking the dicks of every major corporation. By contrast, Coulter shows an equal hatred for both money-loving Republicans and Mexican immigrants in ¡Adios America! In chapter one, Coulter calls for us to bring back private unions. (She hates public unions.) And throughout the book--in between the Mexican jokes (chapter titles include "Spot the immigrant!") and pages and pages about how we need to deport every single Mexican and bring in more Canadians--she criticizes the Republican party for taking donations from corporations. She accuses Sheldon Adelson--the casino tycoon urging the Republican party to give illegal immigrants citizenship--of wanting immigration reform simply for the cheap labor, which she believes steals jobs from working-class citizens already struggling to make rent. One chapter of ¡Adios, America! is called "I Wrote This Chapter After I Realized How Stupid Rich People Are."
The book has clearly appealed to middle-class voters. A week before the book hit stores, according to Coulter, Donald Trump asked Regnery for a copy, and Coulter's publisher overnighted a copy to him. (Trump's campaign didn't return a request for comment.) Trump has since repeated Coulter's anti-immigration views and soared to the top of the Republican primary polls.
"He's been good on immigration for years," Coulter tells me in an email. "[Trump has] praised [Adios, America!] and said he's read it cover to cover."
Of her work, Coulter says she's often at once joking and exploring important issues in America. It doesn't seem that different from when Norman Lear sitcoms would make jokes about American race relations that spoke to bigger truths about America. Like Lear, Coulter places a value on humor. If an editor tells her to cut down a book, she will delete facts before she removes jokes because, she says, in today's politically correct environment, the jokes take on a bigger meaning.
Sherrod Small, the black stand-up comedian who considers Coulter a close friend, agrees. "[Coulter] is fighting the same battle we're fighting: Freedom speech," he says.
Coulter sasses Phillips, one of her gay friends, at a Mexican restaurant.
At a dinner party Coulter and I attend at his Upper East Side apartment, McCarroll describes how he gravitated towards Coulter in college for similar reasons. He purchased Slander and then on the weekend read her one-liners to his gay friends as they sunbathed and listened to Dolly Parton. They laughed at the jokes but, as Texan homosexuals, also agreed with Coulter's calls for an end of big government regulating people's lives.
"I think that because she does the blonde thing with the cocktail dresses, people write her off as something less than what she is [the same way they write off Dolly Parton as a songwriter]," says Zac Bissonnette, another of Coulter's gay friends and the author of The Great Beanie Baby Bubble. "Frankly, [she's] more counter-cultural than a lot of people who get credit for being feminist icons... I've always kind of thought that there's a subversive feminism to [conservative women]. Because there's nothing more conformist than to just talk about the college rape epidemic as being America's biggest crisis. But to be a woman who's going to go on TV and just declare the college rape epidemic to be a load of crap, that takes guts."
In May, Coulter took Sherrod Small, Bill Schulz, (the creator of Fox News's Red Eye), and me to a gun range in New Jersey, RTSP. I wasn't very surprised.
Coulter wanted to go to a gun range closer to her apartment on the Upper East Side, but the city's strict gun laws forced us to drive two hours in a van to RTSP. Wearing a crop top, tight Levi's jeans, and Ray-Bans, she screamed, "This was so worth [the drive]!" as we entered RTSP. The expansive indoor facility features a regular shooting range; a huge warehouse, where this Halloween they will set up a zombie maze for people to kill fake zombies (Coulter plans to return for the holiday event); and a virtual reality room for cops to practice different shooting scenarios. It's basically the Cheesecake Factory of New Jersey's gun ranges.
As we walked around the building, conservative middle-aged men stopped shooting guns to take selfies with her and profess their love as if they had run into Kate Upton, not a political pundit. Women also stopped Coulter to thank her for her writing--the receptionist even asked her to autograph her worn, clearly read hardcover copy of Coulter's book Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America.
When we entered the (extremely clean) gun range, Coulter headed straight to the virtual reality room, where a movie screen displayed different criminal scenarios. In between shots, she flipped her hair.
"You just have to get used to a small explosion going off in your hands," Coulter said as she taught me how to shoot a gun. But she could have also been talking about the explosions she encounters as she goes about America speaking her mind.
The first time Coulter told me she was punk rock, I thought she was joking, but this time, she wasn't trying to make people laugh. While the rest of us save our most provocative thoughts for private moments, worried we'll be fired or offend someone, Coulter has purposefully built her life so she can speak her mind without fear about employment or financial repercussions.
"I didn't get the gene that makes you afraid," Coulter explained. "I really am the freest person in America right now. I can say anything."
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