CPAC 2020 was all about worshiping Trump, hating socialism, and feeling victimized by media and the left

Anthony Fisher/InsiderTwo CPAC attendees pose with cardboard cutouts of Mike Bloomberg and Donald Trump. February 28, 2020

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  • The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was once a place of vigorous debate among right of centre intellectuals. This year, however, philosophical diversity was almost non-existent.
  • Heretics like Mitt Romney were slammed at every opportunity, and uncritical worship of Trump was everywhere.
  • This year’s theme was “America v. Socialism,” but looming just as large was a feeling among the speakers and attendees that they and the president are under constant attack by the media and “the left.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

NATIONAL HARBOUR, Maryland – The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual DC-area gathering, once epitomized Ronald Reagan’s vision of “big-tent conservatism.” That meant vigorous debates among right-of-centre intellectuals representing the neoconservative foreign policy hawks, socially conservative evangelical Christians, non-interventionist free market libertarians, and any other reliable Republican voting bloc.

In 2020, philosophical diversity was almost non-existent at CPAC.

Save for a panel focused on tech companies’ deplatforming of certain right-of-centre voices – where audience members fumed at some of the panelists’ suggestions that government intervention might actually be worse than “big tech censorship” – there was almost universal agreement on the big themes of the conference.

These major themes of CPAC 2020 included:

  1. Donald Trump is the greatest president in modern history, and the way he’s been treated by Democrats and the media is unprecedented and abhorrent.
  2. Socialism is evil, and the moderate 2020 Democratic candidates are barely less socialistic than Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vice President Mike Pence actually said “there are no moderate Democrats in this field” in his Thursday CPAC speech).
  3. The “left” is comprised of snowflake crybabies, who are also authoritarian bullies systematically silencing conservatives and indoctrinating the younger generation through the media and culture.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw at CPAC 2020Alex Wong/Getty ImagesU.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) speaks on “The Fate of Our Culture and Our Nation Hangs in the Balance” during the CPAC Direct Action Training, February 26, 2020.

The right’s young stars attacked their culture war enemies … and Mitt Romney

Kicking off this year’s conference, which was titled “America v. Socialism,” was Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a freshman member of Congress with a rising national profile.

In his Wednesday speech, he warned of “this culture war” which he said “is going to be the battle of our times.” He added that this would be a “battle between those who believe America is good and those who believe in the notion of socialist revolution who believe we are inherently bad.”

Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, an influential conservative youth activist group with strong ties to the White House, helped set the “small Republican” tent tenor of the proceedings. At the first mention of Mitt Romney’s name, the audience booed, and Kirk responded, “Every time his name is mentioned you should react this way.”

“Blexit” founder Candace Owens spent much of her Thursday speech attacking former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a “race hustler.” In particular, she referenced a tweet Kaepernick sent last Thanksgiving about the U.S. government’s appropriation of land from indigenous people, which she countered with a long diatribe about Aztec cannibalism and human sacrifice.

On Thursday, the main ballroom featured “FBI Lovebirds,” a play starring “Lois and Clark” actor Dean Cain and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” actress Kristy Swanson as ex-FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The play consisted almost entirely of the Strzok and Page’s texts to each other, but was meant to demonstrate a “Deep State ” conspiracy against Trump from before the time he took office.

Naomi Seibt, a 19-year-old German Youtube activist who had been invited by the Heartland Institute to speak about “climate realism” was billed as “the anti-Greta Thunberg.”

During a Q and A session, Seibt told Insider that she was “absolutely” still a fan of far-right YouTuber Stefan Molyneux. She also argued that an extended statement where Molyneux expressed sympathy for white nationalism had been “taken out of context.”

CPAC attendees feel like they have been victimized by “the left,” and so has Trump

Donald Trump hammocks at CPACAnthony Fisher/InsiderAna Villalobos and Steve Merczynski, the creators of MAGA-themed hammocks. CPAC, February 26, 2020

Most of the CPAC attendees Insider spoke with said they feel like they’re under a constant state of unfair attacks from “the left,” just like President Trump.

Jeffrey Lord, a Trump supporter and former CNN contributor, told Insider, “I just think people are seriously enthusiastic about the president on top of which they’re also angry at the way he’s been treated.”

At CPAC Central, the event’s main gathering hall, vendors sold T-shirts and hats emblazoned with phrases like “Freethinkers Only,” “Kiss Me I’m a Capitalist,” and “This is Trump Country: Where on a Quiet Night You Can Hear a Snowflake Melting.”

Elizabeth Najjar, an 18-year-old student at the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University, told Insider that administrators at her Virginia high school had called her parents to compel her to take down a pro-Second Amendment video she had posted to her private Facebook account. She also said she had been spat upon at her school because of her political views.

Najjar said she doesn’t care for “CNN and MSNBC fake news.” Instead she likes to get her information “from a broad amount of sources,” including Fox News, the pro-Trump One America Network (OANN), and conservative YouTubers like Ben Shapiro – whose show her family will sometimes watch together after family dinners.

Steve Merczynski, a 53-year-old from New York, and his partner Ana Villalobos, a native of El Salvador, are proprietors of an embroidery business. They came to CPAC to show off their MAGA-friendly hammocks.

Mercyznski told Insider he just wanted to make “a present for Trump. After all that hell he was getting from the media and the Democrats and impeachment. I thought, let me make a nice hammock for him.”

He added that he sometimes disagrees with Trump but “I feel he gets so much abuse, I’m not gonna add to it because it’s not fair. I want to see equal treatment on the other side. Cause no one’s perfect.” Mercyznski says he has voted for both parties in his life and went to the famously liberal Oberlin College. Still, Mercyznski added, he “hates political correctness” and found in Trump “a tough guy with a sense of humour.”

Villalobos told Insider that prior to 2016 she had exclusively voted Democratic since becoming a US citizen. But she went for Trump in 2016 because she agreed with his message that “the Clintons took all the jobs so way to China.” She added that she wasn’t offended at all by Trump’s 2015 campaign launching speech where he disparaged Mexicans.

Insider spotted Joyce Michaels, a 57-year-old from New York, wandering through the “CPAC Central” vendor area late Friday wearing a Project Veritas-branded hat reading: “Epstein Coverup.”

Michaels told Insider that “most thinking people” believe Jeffrey Epstein’s death was a murder and not a suicide. (There is no evidence that Epstein’s death was anything other than a suicide, despite conspiracy theories involving the Democratic Clinton family signal-boosted by President Trump himself.)

She added that “it seems to have international connections” and “the Clintons have their hands in everything. We all know that.”

“Cancelled” conservatives held their own shadow conference, and some were thrown out of CPAC

Alex Jones at National File eventAnthony Fisher/InsiderAlex Jones at National File event, Washington, DC, February 27, 2020

For all the complaints at CPAC about being “silenced” by “the left,” there were some conservative voices who felt even more aggrieved.

At a private event Wednesday night titled “Emergency Save the First Amendment Summit” held at a hotel in Washington, DC, several “cancelled” conservatives spoke before a group of about 80 attendees. Most of the speakers had either been kicked off of major tech platforms, and some were explicitly banned from attending CPAC.

Emceed by InfoWars’ conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the speakers included white nationalist “Groyper” leader Nick Fuentes, Vice and “Proud Boys” co-founder Gavin McInnes, and current Proud Boys chair Enrique Tarrio. Ex-Breitbart writer Lee Stranahan also spoke at the event, giving a call-and-response speech where he repeatedly exhorted the audience to shout the name of the alleged Ukraine whistleblower.

Speakers railed against “mainstream” conservatives like Ben Shapiro and Charlie Kirk, repeated the baseless conspiracy theories about Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide, and lamented “globalist” elements that they see as hell-bent on destroying Western civilisation.

McInnes was kicked out of CPAC the next day after being accused of threatening to assault an attendee. He denied the accusation.

CPAC’s undercard events served up “culture war victim” read meat

The conservatives-as-victims-of-the-left narrative continued late into Friday with a breakout panel, “Because Trump: How the Left Justifies Acts of Violence.”

Controversial journalist Andy Ngo said at the panel “what we are seeing is the normalization of political violence, that’s being encouraged not just by media but by politicians, leaders, people who really should know better.”

Scott Presler, a millennial Republican activist who made a name for himself in conservative circles for picking up trash in places like San Francsico and Baltimore and putting videos of it online, also spoke on the panel. He said “the left wants to intimidate, bully and silence us,” but he added, “I’m not going to let threats of domestic terrorism stop us.”

Rob O’Donnell of the police advocacy non-profit group “Brothers Before Others,” warned that Trump supporters soon wouldn’t be able to “go to a grocery store wearing a red hat because somebody doesn’t like that red hat.”

O’Donnell argued that a solution to avoid such an ominous future was to allow police to use more aggressive force during volatile public protests with groups like Antifa – the radical and often violent anarcho-communist collective – but also with groups like the one that staged a massive demonstration at New York’s Grand Central Station in January protesting the NYPD’s plan to add 500 new officers to patrol the subways.

Specifically, O’Donnell cited the “demilitarization of our police,” an apparent reference to the May 2015 order issued by the Obama administration ending the Defence Department policy of giving surplus military equipment to local police departments.

President Trump reversed Obama’s ban in August 2017, but O’Donnell says “progressive mayors that hire these progressive police chiefs” won’t let their officers use “this equipment.”

“If we weren’t dealing with the things we’re dealing with here at home, we wouldn’t need that equipment,” O’Donnell added.

Kayla Epstein contributed reporting.

This post has been updated to provide greater context to O’Donnell’s statements.

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