Former President Donald Trump received a rapturous hero’s welcome Saturday night as he delivered the closing keynote address to a room packed with religious-right activists in Washington, D.C. for the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual Road to Majority conference.
Trump knew his audience. “We are warriors in a righteous crusade to stop the arsonists, atheists, globalists, and the Marxists, and we will restore our republic as one nation under God with liberty and justice for all,” Trump said. As part of his typically long and rambling speech, he denounced his recent indictments, bragged about his administration’s accomplishments–including his Supreme Court justices cementing the right-wing majority to overturn Roe v. Wade—and declared that Democrats have become “monsters.”
Trump thrilled the crowd with promises about what he would do as the 47th president, saying, “When I get back in the Oval Office, I will totally obliterate the Deep State.” And he vowed to push “school choice” plans—which divert public education dollars into private and religious schools and homeschooling—and, oddly, called for public school principals to be chosen by direct election by parents.
Trump’s speech and others at the conference signaled the issues and strategies around which the MAGA movement is mobilizing to try to take power in the 2024 elections: waging war on “wokeness,” demeaning transgender people and calling for institutionalized discrimination against them, mocking corporate support for diversity, equity, and environmental protection, and, in the name of parents’ rights, purging schools and libraries of materials that do not align with MAGA activists’ political and religious worldviews.
Trump’s speech was preceded by awards given to right-wing movement fundraising godfather Richard Viguerie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Viguerie declared that the nation is in “a spiritual civil war” that “the left has launched against Western civilization, America, our Constitution, Judeo-Christian moral values, and much else we value at home.” Viguerie encouraged activists to get more involved in any way they can, signing off with, “Good night, ladies and gentlemen. See you on the battlefield of the spiritual civil war, and don’t be late!”
Viguerie was not the only speaker equating American politics with spiritual warfare. Huckabee said that “the battle that we’re facing in this country is not a political battle. And it’s not an economic fight. And it’s not a sociological fight. It is a spiritual battle between the forces of evil and good.” Huckabee concluded with, “Let’s not give up, because the battle is not over, folks. It’s just getting started.”
Earlier in the conference, Christian nationalist and anti-LGBTQ North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson drew cheers when he declared, “This nation is at war, and we need a warrior at the helm,” and endorsed Trump’s bid to return to the White House. Robinson noted his own campaign for governor, and compared himself to the Union soldiers at Gettysburg, the Marines on Iwo Jima, and civil rights marchers, and insisted that he only looks “crazy” to people who are “insane.”
Before Saturday night’s gala, activists heard from nearly all the Republican presidential candidates, hard-right Republican elected officials, and MAGA movement activists like Kari Lake, the defeated-but-still-refusing-to-admit-it candidate for Arizona governor in 2022.
Trump’s major contender for the Republican nomination, Florida’s authoritarian Gov. Ron DeSantis, was greeted enthusiastically on Friday—giving a stump speech attacking “the woke mind virus” and declaring “We did not start this fire, but as president of the United States, I will lead the effort to extinguish the fire of cultural Marxism once and for all.” DeSantis pledged to “discipline” the federal bureaucracy, “impose our will on it,” and turn the Justice Department “inside out.”
At the beginning of Road to Majority, Reed urged participants to treat all speakers respectfully, which most did until former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had the audacity to question Trump’s character and tell activists that Trump had let them down—eliciting a chorus of boos.
The conference kicked off at a Thursday afternoon “town hall” on Capitol Hill, where Faith and Freedom founder Ralph Reed told the audience that God told him to create the organization because Christians who love this country and love God “should be the head and not the tail, and at the top and not the bottom of our political system.” Among the members of Congress who spoke were Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty and Reps. Jim Banks, Patrick McHenry, Burgess Owens, Alex Mooney, and Tom Emmer—who spent much of his speech attacking the government of his own state of Minnesota.
Other speakers sounded Christian nationalist themes, including former Trump faith advisor Paula White, who declared, “We were established as a nation under God,” and Lake, who said, “With God on our side, nothing can stop us from taking back this government.”
At a panel featuring African American speakers representing the seven “mountains” in Seven Mountains Dominionism, Florida congressional candidate Carla Spalding declared that public officials must “write laws that are going to be according to the Bible” and if they don’t, “one by one we get them out.” Other speakers on the panel include anti-abortion activist Alveda King and failed congressional candidates Kim Klacik and Mark Burns. Burns is a Trump-promoting Christian nationalist pastor fond of warfare rhetoric; he spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally on the eve of the Capitol insurrection, where he declared that the attempt to deny Trump a second term was “a demonic attack from the gates of Hell” and insisted that Joe Biden would “never” become president.
In addition to the relentless invocations of “wokeness” and its variants—Indiana representative and Senate candidate Jim Banks bragged about creating an “Anti-Woke Caucus” among House Republicans—speakers frequently denounced transgender people and their supporters, the “deep state,” and corporations that consider diversity and environmental consequences in their investment decision-making.
Another theme running through the conference—which fell on the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade—was the need for Republican candidates to deflect focus from their unpopular abortion ban laws by portraying pro-choice Democrats as the “real extremists”—complete with lies from Trump and others that Democrats support killing babies after they are born.
Feminism itself—now “woke feminism”—continues to be a target of the religious-right movement. Nick Adams, a right-wing activist who immigrated to the U.S. from Australia, claimed that men are the most persecuted and maligned demographic in the world. “Every single problem in America today can be traced back to the absence of strength, strength that can come only from real men, genuine masculinity, and an alpha male mindset,” he said.
Also on display was the right-wing political strategy of “parents’ rights” as a rallying cry and voter mobilization tool. Moms for Liberty, a group founded to resist mask requirements that moved quickly into promoting book bans, school board takeovers, anti-LGBTQ smears, and authoritarian politics in general, had a significant presence at Road to Majority, which was held just a week before their own national summit in Philadelphia. During Q&A at a panel on school choice, M4L’s national director Catalina Stubbe called teachers unions “enemies” and claimed that public schools are “abusing” and “indoctrinating” children. From the main stage, M4L cofounder Tiffany Justice claimed that “our parental rights are being obliterated by our government every single day.” She said that the group’s 135,000 members in close to 300 chapters spread out over 45 states are “unifying” their communities, a laughable assertion given the anger and chaos they have created at school board meetings and after they take over school boards.
In its speakers and panels, the Faith and Freedom Coalition made an effort to highlight its outreach to conservative Black and Hispanic Christians, a group that the Republican Party hopes to win over in greater numbers in 2024 and beyond. The 2024 elections were a major focus of conference speakers, and not just the presidential candidates. Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Adam Pipkin described the organization’s turnout strategies, including its use of postal change of address data to track targeted voters and make sure they update their registrations, and evangelical church-based ballot harvesting operations in California and other states where permitted by law.
While Reed and the Faith and Freedom Coalition gave a platform to major, minor and relatively unheard of Republican presidential candidates, Road to Majority made it utterly clear that it is Donald Trump who has won the hearts of these activists, and that they will do everything they can to once again put him in the White House so that he can wage merciless war against the Americans they view as their common enemies.
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