The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is billed as the place where the leading ideas of the conservative movement are showcased, but this year’s CPAC was little more than a collection of formerly fringe right-wing enclaves that have been ushered to the forefront in the Trump era, all of which are vying for dominance. The conservative movement is—at its core—inseparable from the fringe elements it empowers, and this year’s CPAC was a reminder of that intersection.
CPAC 2019 seemed to have no coherent vision, aside from patting President Donald Trump on the back, and it operated a lot more like a Trump rally than an ideological summit. The panels featuring conversations about tax reform, national security, and energy production—which have long been core GOP concerns—were met with only a fraction of the enthusiasm showered on pro-Trump celebrities. On Saturday, Trump gave his longest-ever speech as president to the CPAC audience. It was a two-hour stream of consciousness display that featured more arguably comedic bits than it did substantive policy discussion. Seemingly vanished from CPAC was the National Rifle Association, save for a scheduled speech from NRA President Oliver North on “What Makes America Great,” and a speech by NRA’s Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre that was not listed on the schedule. Neither did LaPierre appear on the list of CPAC speakers adorning the conference website.
But the real story of CPAC is less about what happens on the main stage and more about who shows up.
White Nationalists Demand to be Taken Seriously
CPAC organizers banned some white nationalists, but not all.
Nicholas Fuentes, a podcast host who regularly expresses racist and anti-Semitic views, made an appearance outside of CPAC this year; he was seemingly forbidden from entering the conference but would not confirm to Right Wing Watch whether he had actually been banned. On the second day of the conference, Fuentes received an attendee badge and roamed the exhibition hall briefly with a cohort of college-aged fanboys—one of whom heckled this reporter, calling me a “Judeo Communist.” Playboy’s Alex Thomas reportedly witnessed hotel security staff darting down the conference center’s escalators looking for Fuentes. Right Wing Watch never received confirmation from CPAC that Fuentes had been banned from entering.
Spotted alongside Fuentes was Vincent James Foxx of the YouTube channel “Red Elephants.” Foxx has used his presence on YouTube to bolster white nationalist groups like Identity Evropa, provide friendly coverage for white nationalist personalities and inflame racist fears about immigrants. He has appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast and once supported the campaign of Patrick Little, a California neo-Nazi who sought election to Congress. Last year, Foxx argued that the Trump administration should not hire black people.
Patrick Casey of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa also made an appearance on the periphery of CPAC this year. Casey complained on Twitter that his registration had been invalidated and spent his time at CPAC railing against organizers, who he said were turning away nationalists in favor of left-leaning media and hosts of the podcast Chapo Trap House. Instead, Casey pulled a move reminiscent of what white nationalist Richard Spencer did last year: Book a room at the convention center hotel and host a brief talk. Right Wing Watch attempted to attend that brief event but was turned away.
Virginia Dare (VDARE), a racist website named for the first white child born in the New World, was let in to the conference. The website was denied media credentials, but Peter Brimelow, the site’s founder, was permitted in as an attendee. Faith Goldy, a “14 Words”-reciting white nationalist, was also permitted in the venue and conducted interviews with Michelle Malkin and Laura Loomer on behalf of VDARE. Goldy was permitted to buy a pass to CPAC but was not credentialed as media.
The white nationalists who say they were denied media credentials or entry to CPAC this year expressed great excitement over a speech that Malkin delivered to the main stage. During Malkin’s speech, she railed against immigration and “the ghost of John McCain.” She also gave approving shout-outs to known bigots and conspiracy theorists, describing them as frontline activists.
“So many speaking up and fighting on the frontlines for liberty and security are being de-Twittered, de-PayPaled, de-Facebooked, de-platformed – people like Laura Loomer and Gavin McInnes and the Center for Immigration Studies and Robert Spencer and so many others,” Malkin said. She closed her speech saying, “Diversity is not our strength.”
In an interview Malkin gave to Goldy for VDARE after her speech, she said that “our enemies are not just from without. They are from within [the conservative movement].”
Despite their hostility toward CPAC officials this year, Casey, Fuentes and Goldy were briefly featured in the CPAC 2019 recap video. The conference deleted the original video from Twitter.
Enrique Tarrio and Luke Rohlfing, respectively the leader of the Proud Boys and a third-degree member of the Proud Boys—a group formerly led by Gavin McInnes and often seen alongside white nationalist groups—were also spotted outside the conference, mingling with their MAGA counterparts. They also attended Turning Point USA’s CPAC party on Thursday night. The Proud Boys have recently been taken up as Roger Stone’s de facto security detail.
Conspiracy Theorists Beg for the Spotlight
Figures associated with and voicing support for the QAnon conspiracy theory roamed the halls of the convention center during CPAC. The QAnon conspiracy theory asserts that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and President Trump are secretly working together to upend a worldwide pedophile ring that involves top Democratic officials and entertainment industry leaders. Believers of the theory rely on riddles anonymously posted to the image board 8chan for clues about the supposed progress of the alleged secret plan.
Joy Villa, a conservative vocalist celebrated by right-wing media for wearing pro-Trump and pro-life attire at award ceremonies, mingled on radio row wearing QAnon-styled earrings that she said she made herself. Right Wing Watch spotted a CPAC attendee wearing a QAnon t-shirt on Wednesday.
Ann Vandersteel, a YourVoice America host who has voiced belief in QAnon, Pizzagate, and various other conspiracy theories, was also spotted on radio row. Vandersteel was recently disavowed by Team Trump after she repeatedly claimed to be a member of the Trump 2020 advisory board.
Vincent Fusca, a man whom QAnon supporters believe to be JFK Jr. (QAnon supporters believe he faked his own death), traversed radio row on Friday. Fusca’s appearance at the conference led one person to question QAnon supporter Liz Crokin, asking her to explain Fusca’s height difference with the dead celebrity he is alleged to be.
Fusca was a CPAC the other day and this woman snapped a picture with him, noting that she is “barely 5’5 tall” and asking leading QAnon proponent Liz Crokin to explain what is going on: pic.twitter.com/42qY949Rra
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) March 2, 2019
Believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory asserted that Trump had confirmed the veracity of QAnon in his speech to CPAC when he said of the Democrats investigating his business dealings and ties to Russia, “These people are sick.”
The QAnon community is hyped that Trump said “These people are sick” at CPAC, because Q has used that phrase.
Except actually, Trump used that same phrase in a tweet and speeches long before Q.
So Q people are literally excited that Trump is quoting himself. pic.twitter.com/UVONzjfEum
— Travis View (@travis_view) March 2, 2019
Together with Loomer, conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl, Jack Burkman and Loomer hosted a press conference in the lobby of the convention center housing CPAC this year, where they alleged that Rep. Ilhan Omar had defrauded the United States by marrying her brother for immigration purposes. The old claim is unsubstantiated and was denounced last year. Their claims were largely dismissed by press in attendance.
jacob wohl is giving his cpac presser while flanked by a tiny security guard with a single airpod in his ear pic.twitter.com/tGt4vjI6oh
— Caleb Ecarma (@calebecarma) February 28, 2019
Loomer was originally credentialed as media and used her pass to accost journalists, including CNN’s Oliver Darcy, who have written negative stories about her. The next day, her media credentials were revoked but she was reportedly told she could purchase a ticket to the conference and attend as an activist.
Paul Joseph Watson, a host for Alex Jones’ InfoWars outlet, was also spotted roaming around the conference.
For all the hubbub outside CPAC’s main stage and despite CPAC’s efforts to push away some of the fringier elements of the right from its conference, the same sentiments were blasted across the nation from the conference’s main podium. Some of this year’s most popular speakers espoused much of the same sentiments shared by the activists roaming around inside and outside CPAC. American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, who leads CPAC, told Fox News that the conference was embracing nationalism.
Pro-Trump vloggers Diamond & Silk brought the house down on Thursday, inspiring members of the largely white audience to yell out “You preach it, girl!” One CPAC attendee remarked to another, “They’re so good. Seriously, so good.” Their speech was a string of greatest hits from the messaging that has yielded them appreciation from members of the Trump administration and earned them Oval Office visits with the president. The duo also piled on the attacks against Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn, the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab in Congress .
“Listen, we’re not governed by Sharia law, we’re governed by constitutional law,” Diamond said.
Sebastian Gorka, the former White House aide turned Salem Broadcast Network radio host, received a similarly warm reception during a speech in which he asserted that “socialists” like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wanted to take away peoples’ pick-up trucks and hamburgers.
“This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved,” Gorka said.
Fox News’ Jennine Pirro also flung inflammatory rhetoric from the CPAC podium, comparing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor who tortured and killed countless Jews during the Holocaust, for supporting a right to late-term abortion in certain circumstances.
But perhaps the most adored group at CPAC this year was Turning Point USA, as The Daily Beast reports. Turning Point USA has been plagued by scandals brought on by the discovery of racist comments by several of its employees. Last year, prior to our reporting, the organization was partnering with Gab for their student summit; Gab is a website favored by unhinged conspiracy theorists and white supremacists. Most recently TPUSA Communications Director Candace Owens was filmed saying that the problem with Adolf Hitler is that he was too ambitious and took his plans beyond Germany. Both Owens and TPUSA president Charlie Kirk were praised, by name, by Trump during his speech at the conference, and Donald Trump Jr. made an appearance at TPUSA’s CPAC party.