Eric Wang

After coming under fire last month for circulating a whip sheet that invited students to debate the topic “Resolved: Reform the Savages,” Chairman of the Party of the Right Quinn Shepherd ’19 apologized for causing hurt — a rare display of public contrition from a decades-old debate group that has thrived on controversy for most of its existence.

But behind the scenes, a generational debate brewed within the broader Party of the Right community. In a series of posts in a private Party of the Right Facebook group, former members condemned the apology, complaining that the culture, politics and values of the party have fundamentally changed. “Only good injun is a dead injun,” one party alum commented in the group, according to screenshots provided to the News.

Responding to Party of the Right alumnus Christopher Thacker ’99, who described the apology as “dreadful” in a post on the Facebook page, Elizah Stein ’18 — a party member who previously served as chairman — defended the apology as a calculated maneuver designed to ease pressure on the party.

“‘That dreadful apology’ has already changed the narrative, reassured those of our petitioners who might choose to keep petitioning and bought us absolution from most moderates,” Stein wrote in the group. “We do what is necessary to survive.”

In an email to the News, Stein defended her statements and maintained that the original apology was genuine. “What I was defending to the alumni was the fact that the chairman had taken this rare action institutionally rather than offering her private apologies in her own name,” she said.

But the debate in the Facebook thread reflects the broader history of the Party of the Right, which has played an eccentric, rebellious and often controversial role within the Yale community since its founding in 1953. And it highlights the degree to which the whip sheet controversy put the party on its heels, pulling the group’s leadership in opposite directions as it worked to stem the rising tide of campus fury while also pacifying its more radical alumni.

Former Party of the Right member Karl Notturno ’17 — who said he left the group in his junior year because he felt it had become overly concerned with political correctness — said the apology represented a break from the party’s usual protocol.

“They’re not actually apologizing because they’re upset about what they did. They’re apologizing because they don’t want the heat anymore. It strikes me as a little bit intellectually dishonest,” Notturno said. “I am disappointed in Quinn Shepherd for standing down. If you were to ask me if other [generations of the Party of the Right] would apologize, I’d say … they wouldn’t apologize back then.”

The day after the Association of Native Americans at Yale posted a statement condemning the Party of the Right for the “dehumanization of Indigenous peoples,” Thacker posted the ANAAY statement on Facebook, along with the caption, “Someone please tell me this is satire.”

After ANAAY issued its statement, the Party of the Right was widely criticized on social media. Two students left the party for “tangential reasons relating to the events of this weekend,” leaving the party with 21 members, Shepherd told the News at the time. ANAAY did not respond to a request for comment on the Facebook thread.

According to Shepherd, the Party of the Right Facebook group was created by alumni several years ago and is not administered by the party’s undergraduate leadership. The group includes only a small number of the party’s alumni and an even smaller portion of its current undergraduate membership, she said.

Within the Facebook thread discussing ANAAY’s statement on the whip sheet, two Party of the Right alumni — David Zincavage ’70 and Margot Sheehan ’79, writing under the pseudonym “Margot Darby” — made a series of comments denigrating Native Americans and black Americans.

Sheehan wrote that the “only good injun is a dead injun,” and Zincavage described ANAAY as “so lame.” In another comment, Zincavage expressed hope that the party would “put on an old time Minstrel Show in blackface,” to affirm freedom of expression.

“Institutionally, it is not my role to police them,” Shepherd wrote in an email to the News. “The foundational principle of the Party of the Right is that the leadership possesses no authority to censor the opinions of the members, including the alumni.”

Still, Shepherd said she objects to the Facebook comments and emphasized that none of the party’s undergraduate membership has met Zincavage or Sheehan.

A Party of the Right alumna, Sheehan writes for Counter-Currents, a publication that identifies as part of the “North American New Right,” which opposes egalitarianism and racial and cultural diversity in the hope of fostering “versions of white nationalism that appeal to all existing white constituencies,” according to the publication’s website.   

Reached via Facebook, Sheehan said she is friends with far-right icon Richard Spencer, as well as the rest of the “alt-right gang.” Asked to comment on the thread, she denied making any statements offensive to Native Americans.

In an email, Zincavage told the News that he maintains “only very limited contact via social media” with the current Party of the Right, but believes that “today’s members … have been brain-washed” into a “radically left-wing perspective” rooted in identity and privilege.

Thacker, the alumnus who initiated the Facebook thread, declined to comment.

The continuing presence of controversial alumni in Party of the Right communication channels has driven some members to leave the party outright. Alex Fisher ’14, a former chief whip, told the News that he resigned his membership in January after seeing anti-Semitic comments in a  Google group associated with the Party of the Right.

“I wrote the chairman of the time, and the message I essentially got back was — and I am paraphrasing — ‘Oh, it’s essentially too much fuss to try and deal with it, so if you don’t like the forum, you can leave the forum yourself by all means,’” Fisher explained. “I thought that was an utterly inadequate response.”

Amanda Reichenbach ’18, who was chairman at the time of Fisher’s resignation, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday evening.

Since the rise of Donald Trump, Fisher said, some Party of the Right alumni have begun propounding extreme views in various party communication channels. While current undergraduates “definitely [weren’t] supporting them,” he said, they also were not “‘willing to take any action about it all.”

Explaining her comments in the Facebook thread, Stein said she engaged “with those of our alumni who honestly wanted to understand why this was our chosen path forward and not those few who responded with offensive or harmful statements.”

“Every group with alumni from over half a century ago, however, has alumni like this, and we have found it far more productive to engage with those who actually want to understand the undergraduates,” she said.

The Party of the Right has long occupied a countercultural niche on Yale’s campus. Members have smoked at Yale Political Union debates and are known to frequent the Owl Shop, a cigar lounge on College Street. At a banquet in the 1970s, party members toasted the killing of an American Sandinista sympathizer in South America, according to an account published in 2003 by Doug Henwood ’75, a contributing editor at The Nation and former Party of the Right member.

“If anyone recorded everything that was said at a Party of the Right Caucus, especially near the end when the port and sherry supplies had been consumed, one would [hear] the sort of things that would result in people being fired or maybe executed in our day and age,” Edward Veal ’69, who split from the Party of the Right to form the Tory Party in 1969, said in an interview with the News.

A comprehensive history of the Party of the Right is archived in Yale’s library system. Access to the records requires written permission from the party chairman.

Britton O’Daly | britton.odaly@yale.edu