CPAC is not new to igniting the culture wars. However, the conservative convention in Dallas this week threatened America with what appeared to be thinly veiled calls for violence through dark, militant speeches and literal demonization of the MAGA movements political opponents, all while trying to cover up the political mayhem of January 6 by portraying Capitol Hill rioters as victims of a Democratic Gulag.
From right-wing extremist Jack Posobiec to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Conservative Political Action Committee speakers pushed for an us-versus-them clash that seemed unconstrained by electoral politics.
By serving as the keynote speaker at the convention’s Friday night ball, Bannon, who is currently the host of the War Room podcast, brought his A-game to CPAC. Bannon informed the MAGA partisans that “we are at war.” A political and intellectual struggle is currently raging. Bannon reiterated the Big Lie that Joe Biden is an imposter and that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Bannon promised the gathering that Republicans had the chance to destroy the Democratic party as a major national political force by sending shock soldiers to Washington. He claimed that radical, cultural Marxists and groomers have taken over the party and are out to end the Republic. There can be no more compromises, Bannon insisted, insisting that the GOP must pursue an outright win over the power-crazed and unrestrained Democrats.
Standing ovations were given for Orbn’s direct appeal to the MAGA faithful on Thursday. Orbn is a strongman from Hungary who is opposed to racial mixing and is fond of Nazi-style rhetoric. Orbn warned that now, we hold neither of them, despite the fact that we need both, and that the European Parliament and the federal government in Washington are the two fronts in the struggle for Western culture. Orbn urged CPAC participants and European far-right groups to create a world movement. Orbn advised us to combine our efforts in order to retake Brussels and Washington.
Sen. Ted Cruz spoke out against the power-hungry, abusive totalitarian nitwits of the Biden administration and the Democratically controlled Congress on Friday while putting on a thick Texas accent for the home-state crowd. Cruz compared his Senate work to that of a gladiator: “It’s like the old Roman Colosseum when you slam on a breastplate and you grab a battle axe and you go fight the barbarians,” Cruz said of his Democratic colleagues. It is a target-rich environment, Cruz said, as they say in the military world.
Cruz went on to say that conservatives might need more than just elections to retake Washington from what he dubbed the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” Cruz said to the group, In this nation, we are on the verge of something incredible, and each of you is at the forefront. You radicals pose a threat. You are the brave heroes, he insisted, fighting for liberty in our nation, just like the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and those who lost their lives at the Alamo.
While the Southern Poverty Law Center recently decried Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec as an hate extremist for his ties to white nationalists, antigovernment extremists, members of the Proud Boys, and neo-Nazis, CPAC welcomed him to its stage despite having expelled a few overt white nationalists from its ranks (including the offensive, Hitler-praising livestreamer Nick Fuentes). To advance the New Right, Posobiec used his time in the spotlight (effectively the latest rebranding of the hateful alt-right). And he, too, used militaristic imagery to describe the impending clashes in the culture war: “Are you ready for fresh ideas to truly take the fight to the front lines, because that’s where we live and we’re not stopping,” he questioned.
It could be tempting to write off Cruz and Posobiec’s hyperbole as just rhetoric. But if the Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, Kari Lake, wins the election in November, she has openly promised to engage in conflict with the federal government over immigration at the Southern border.
Lake asserted that there was an influx of unauthorized immigrants and refugees along the border. After being sworn in, Lake then declared that she would launch a military operation despite not having the support of the Biden administration: We’re sending the Arizona National Guard troops to the border as soon as my hand leaves the Bible, Lake stated. She insisted on the states’ right to self-determination and said, “We will battle the federal government.” We won’t fall prey to what they’re doing to us.
Other speakers and presenters who portrayed the American left as demonic, evil, and destructive, or in other words, the kind of opponents that require harsh treatment, went hand in hand with the rhetoric of revolution and frontline combat.
In-between talks, CPAC sponsored the The Culture Killers documentary, which rails against a major desecration committed by the left and is hosted by chair Matt Schlapp. Schlapp claimed on camera that “all that is good, sacred, and true is under attack.” One voice repeatedly repeats, “There is no end,” over scenes of burning cars in the documentary, which portrays America as being under attack from an enemy within. Unless you stop them, these folks won’t stop.
These themes were taken up by even candidates who presented themselves as being more moderate, such as Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Scott attacked Democrats, branding them as absolutely demonic for pursuing what he called a socialist agenda.
Speaking at CPAC, speakers frequently downplayed the actual political violence committed by the MAGA movement on January 6 while condemning the Democrats in ways that seemed to promote it. For instance, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), an outspoken Christian nationalist, criticized Liz Cheney, the leader of the committee looking into the Capitol uprising, for spreading a falsehood about January 6. (Greene didn’t go into detail about the alleged falsehood, but he has long downplayed the brutality of the day.)
Following that, CPAC hosted a panel titled “Youre Next: The Rise of the Democratic Gulag,” which depicted the defendants from the events of January 6 as the victims of a biased legal system rather than as the alleged instigators of riot and insurrection.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) served as the designated spokesman for this absurdity. He asserted without providing any supporting evidence that Jan. 6 prisoners had been subjected to Soviet-style justice and that prosecutors, defense lawyers, and federal judges had been working together to obtain predetermined convictions. The congressman argued that all American institutions had been turned into weapons, much like the former Soviet Union, in order to establish an American Gulag.
The CPAC convention hall also presented a cutting-edge performance art installation, further elaborating on this down-is-up worldview of justice that maintains that participants in a coup attempt led by the former president Trump are being treated unfairly by the legal system that is trying to hold them accountable.
In it, a figure in a cage wearing a MAGA hat and an orange jumpsuit meant to represent the defendants from January 6 wept at the injustice of his imprisonment. Wearing headphones allowed convention goers to hear genuine, alleged rioters’ testimonies. When Greene noticed the installation in the late afternoon and went into the jail cell to console and pray with the actor portraying the weeping inmate, the already strange event reached its zenith.
Long a political carnival, CPAC is a largely unharmful sideshow. But in its most recent version, it has clearly turned dangerous and more fascist than funny. It presents those who are accused of engaging in political violence as martyrs. It is vilifying its domestic political rivals as internal demons. Additionally, it provides MAGA backers with a militaristic framework for their advance onto the front lines of America’s culture conflicts.
It is essentially playing with fire. But the rest of us could end up getting hurt.