The organizers of a pro-Trump conference near Miami, Florida, who purport to be extolling the values of “freedom of speech and free association” at their event, have ejected this Right Wing Watch reporter, who hoped to cover the event. No reason was given for cancellation of my online registration, which I purchased as a paid ticket to the conference. (My payment was refunded.)
Pro-Trump personalities have often expressed their longing for a Trump-centric alternative to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., at which to strategize and organize. The American Priority Festival appeared to be just that. Aimed at a younger crowd than CPAC, the conference website promises appearances from such right-wing luminaries as Donald Trump Jr., Charlie Kirk and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, all in the luxurious surroundings of the Trump National Doral Miami.
On September 19, Right Wing Watch paid the full-price admission of $250 to register for the American Priority Festival and booked airfare and accommodations to attend the event. On October 6, Right Wing Watch received an email from event organizer Alex Phillips, “confirming” that my registration cancellation had been received, as if we had cancelled it ourselves. (We did not.) I replied to Phillips via email, stating that the cancellation must have been an error because I had not cancelled my registration. After several days without receiving a reply, I registered again for the event (this time, using the promo code “FREESPEECH” for a hefty discount off the ticket price). Hours after I re-registered on Tuesday, a banner was added to the conference website, reading, “!!!!!!!!!! Attention – Media is by Invite only. !!!!!!!!!!”
Additionally, the Twitter account used by conference organizers tweeted: “ATTENTION: All media not already registered with this event is by invite only.”
ATTENTION: All media not already registered with this event is by invite only.
— American Priority Conference (@AmericanP2019) October 8, 2019
Right Wing Watch was not offered one of the invitations to the event, and the event’s organizers have yet to respond to my inquiry about my registration. Already in Miami, I went to the event venue at the Trump resort and was given a conference name tag. But within minutes of my sitting down at a table at the back of the ballroom, I was asked to leave and escorted out of the building by security. I repeatedly pressed for an explanation, and was denied one.
On the conference website’s “About” page, a statement from the organization behind the American Priority Festival says that its mission is “to develop and hold educational events that support the First Amendment, highlight American culture, and values as well as solutions to issues we face as a nation.”
“We support the America First but not alone agenda as well as open dialogue freedom of speech and free association,” it continues.
Additionally, the swag bags given to conference attendees include a frisbee that declares that the event is “Home to free speech and free association.”
In fact, the organizer of the conference is slated to participate in a panel centered on free speech on Saturday; the event also features voices who have been shut out of major social media platforms for violating their community guidelines with inflammatory speech, and who now present themselves as martyrs of speech-policing run amok.
Last year, Right Wing Watch reported on the first attempt at an American Priority conference as it was being organized; as we reported at the time, an early organizer told Right Wing Watch the event was meant to “represent the populist wave among conservatives that organizers believed CPAC excluded.” The 2018 event was held in Washington, D.C. But after RWW reported that part of the planned event included a panel of “experts” involved with the QAnon conspiracy theory movement, some speakers dropped out, and the schedule of events was modified to remove the panel. The conference went on but, as RWW reported, few people turned out. This year’s event in Miami features many more prominent speakers and appeared well-attended, and it was our hope that we would bear witness to the expression of a truer CPAC alternative for the pro-Trump movement.
American Priority’s blackout of all but “invited” media is not typical of other major right-wing conferences, where organizers commonly allow entry to RWW researchers and reporters. In fact, RWW reports every year from CPAC.
In the meantime, Right Wing Watch will report out information from the American Priority Festival as we’re best able to observe it.