CPAC 2022—no war, but the culture war

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Every year the who’s who of the “real” conservative America meets at the Conservative Political Action Conference organized by the American Conservative Union. Over the Trump administration, the faces of CPAC have changed from a more traditional conservative (tax cuts, pro-corporation) to an odd mixture of libertarian isolationism and cultural dog-whistling so loud that my labradoodle back at home started howling. 

Back in 2017, I wrote for Nationofchange a piece titled “You should be frightened,’ CPAC drifts even more right” where I discussed the speeches from Wayne LaPierre, Dana Loesch, and of course Donald Trump. They were terrifying, and meant to be so—they laid out a future of liberals running the future, forcing your kids to be gay, and cops knocking down your doors to get your guns.

Obviously, none of that has come to pass—but we did in the proceeding years see a global pandemic that has killed one million Americans and an attempted and ongoing insurrection. There is a new type of fear to be had at CPAC 2022—it’s masks, mandates, critical race theory, voter fraud, and to a lesser extent, immigrants. 

Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, who has been drifting more and more right for years gave what was likely the best-received speech (outside of Trump’s of course)—told the audience that they need not worry about Ukraine and Russia. “The U.S. southern border matters a lot more than the Ukrainian border, I’m more worried about how the cartels are deliberately trying to infiltrate our country than a dispute 5,000 miles away in cities we can’t pronounce, in places that most Americans can’t find on a map.” Former Trump official KT McFarland later in the day attempted to make people care about Russian expansionism and it fell on deaf ears—isolationism and nationalism has taken over CPAC. 

The cheerleaders for the pandemic—anti-maskers anti-vaxxers and medical disinformation purveyors were among the main speakers at CPAC 2022. Sunday, Dr. Robert Malone sat on a panel with Senatorial candidate Dr. Oz (I’ll get to him in a minute) called “The Government is Dangerous to Your Health” and continued spreading his disinformation. Dr. Malone has been the lead horse in the apocalyptic charge amongst right-wing media punching disinformation about vaccines and the virus. He was Joe Rogan’s guest that prompted the large outcry against the MMA commentator and reality show host’s podcast. 

Dr. Oz who has been at the head of medical misinformation for decades, used his wildly popular and long-running tv show to stow doubt in his viewers about trusted medicine—and push them towards his ‘miracle cures.’ He’s now running for U.S. Senate in the Pennsylvania Republican primary and hasn’t stopped. Current polling has him in second place—but Oz is well funded by his own millions he’s sold selling snake oil.

The insurrectionists were also at CPAC in force (this time no Oath Keepers were seen) all on stage with prominent speaking times. Sen. Josh Hawley, Representatives Andy Biggs, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, and Matt Gaetz were all cheered and greeted at martyrs to the cause. All had been canceled—and they were there to speak about it. 

Sen. Hawley in his speech specifically cited his heroic fight to stop the count and defend election integrity. He was cheered for it. Pillow magnate Mike Lindell was not on stage but still had his own speaking time in the exhibition room. Friend of Ali Alexander and Stop the Steal campaigner and grassroots activist Scott Pressler did make it to the stage and the line for selfies with him was around the hall. 

Marjorie Taylor Greene, joined by CPAC speaker and pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio also attended the America First PAC conference on the other side of Orlando. She shared a stage with AFPAC organizer, the racist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. Fuentes leads a troop of young Christian fascists nick-named the ‘groypers.’ Also in attendance at this event were Arizona Republican State Senator Wendy Rogers, Congressman Steve King, and Gab founder Andrew Torba—all people known for embracing white nationalism. 

Wandering the halls, identified as America Firsters by their hats were also a small number of Fuentes’ groypers. Arizona Neo-Nazi and groyper Greyson Arnold was in attendance for at least Thursday and Friday. 

While I’m doubtful we’ll be seeing Nick Fuentes and his groypers speaking on panels in the next year or two—there’s no need. His message of fear and nationalism has been heard by the conservatives in Washington D.C. and at the American Conservative Union. Embrace it or get buried. That’s how Trump won in 2016—they’re using his fascist trailblazing but getting rid of the dog-whistles. 

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