CPAC: Return of the Fringe

Right-wing political operatives Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl pitch reporters their latest far-fetched scandal on a balcony outside the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 27, 2020. (Photo: Jared Holt)

Like bees to honey, the pro-Trump fringe descended on this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference outside of the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C., in hopes of stealing a sliver of the spotlight for themselves.

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and a cohort of his Infowars employees roamed the conference’s exhibition hall and the escalators ​on their way to radio row, attracting a crowd of star-struck attendees with their cell phones hoisted above their heads to get video of Jones. Right Wing Watch asked Jones for his thoughts on the new coronavirus​ ​now spreading around the world, a subject that Vice President Mike Pence had directly addressed on the CPAC main stage hours earlier.

“We know it’s a manmade bioweapon, produced by the U.S. government, sold to China in 2015. That was in the Journal of Science. That’s why we got a bit concerned about it. It’s a chimera cross-viral species system,” Jones said, going on to argue that the U.S. should restrict travel from China.

Right Wing Watch was unable to track down a Journal of Science article that made that assertion, which was recently floated by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, as well. According to The New York Times, former White House strategist Steve Bannon is also a purveyor of the theory, which is widely disavowed by scientists.

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones rides an escalator to radio row at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 27, 2020. (Photo: Jared Holt)

Jones told journalists at CPAC that he felt at home with CPAC attendees, “But the Republican establishment, I don’t feel at home with them. But we’re here to let them know that we’re taking the Republican party over.”

On a terrace overlooking the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center lobby, Republican political personalities Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman hosted a press conference, as they did last year. In the audience, far-right political entertainer Gavin McInnes, who founded the Proud Boys hate group, accosted reporters. McInnes was later ejected from the event. One attendee told Right Wing Watch they reported McInnes to security after McInnes threatened to assault them. A request for information from CPAC about McInnes’ ejection was not immediately returned.

Laura Loomer, anti-Muslim activist who is pursuing a bid for Congress in Florida, was spotted around CPAC touting her ​campaign. Last year, Loomer had her media credentials revoked and was removed from CPAC after harassing journalists in the media filing center​; this year ​she donned standard attendee credentials.

But white nationalist organization leader Patrick Casey never made it past the conference center’s front door, according to a post in his Telegram chat channel. On days that the vice president or president speaks at CPAC, guards at the doors of the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center require conference credentials or hotel room keys to enter the building​. Casey falsely claimed to his followers that the policy was new for this year.