Last week, the late Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum hosted the 24th annual Phyllis Schlafly Collegians D.C. Summit, which gave eager college students from across the country an opportunity to meet conservative leaders in Washington, D.C. On the second day of the three-day event, a variety of conservative activists and politicians, ranging from members of Congress to a Breitbart news editor, spoke to the small group of students, highlighting the enthusiastic alliance between conservative elected officials and fringe-right activists in the age of Trump.
Throughout the day, speakers echoed themes that were dear to Schlafly, voicing opposition to LGBTQ equality, eschewing “political correctness,” speaking out against Muslims and immigrants, and advocating for a government strictly guided by “Judeo-Christian” law.
Many of the speakers characterized the proponents of this agenda as political underdogs, fighting a corrupt, hegemonic state.
For example, Republican Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia and Faith and Freedom’s Ralph Reed both described the need to “protect” the church’s role in politics by rallying against Johnson Amendment, which bars nonprofit organizations (including churches) from campaigning for political candidates. Hice went so far as to characterize the Johnson Amendment as an “enormous bully-stick of intimidation” used to silence Christian leaders, while Reed described how the Johnson Amendment has led to the “untold persecution and harassment of faith churches and ministries across the country. ”
Hice and Reed were not the only ones to rely on the idea that the far-right is a marginalized group in need of protection. Others included Matt Boyle of Breitbart, who boasted about how his employer had bravely declared war with the “goliath” that is the “mainstream media,” boasting that the publication’s goal is the “full destruction and elimination of the entire mainstream media.” Journalist James Robbins claimed that “Americanism” is under direct threat from multiculturalism. Robbins was followed by author Dr. Paul Kengor, who warned that LGBTQ advocates are inspired by a communist agenda that poses an imminent threat to our children and seeks to destroy the traditional family.
While many speakers depicted the far-right as the victims of government persecution, there was also an element of hope that permeated the day, as many speakers excitedly recognized the current administration as an opportunity to advance the interests of the far-right. Schlafly, who died last year, was an early and ardent supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign, drawn particularly to his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Anti-immigrant advocate Maria Espinoza took the stage on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the ascent of her Remembrance Project from a small group that promoted stories about crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to an organization that has direct contact with the head of the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, and has been commended by the president.
Likewise, anti-choice activist Janet Porter spoke of the success of her extremely restrictive “heartbeat bill” which has been introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Steve King of Iowa, and boasted of her direct contact with the legislators who crafted it.
Just as Trump continues to rail against the establishment that he now represents, these Trump supporters weren’t ready to give up on marketing themselves as a persecuted minority, even after gaining a new level of access to the halls of power.