The 37th annual Conservative Political Action Conference kicked off today in Washington DC. This year’s event is featuring big players in the conservative movement, but more concerning, the extreme right are also prominent. During my first eight hours at the event I heard examples of Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, anti-Semitism and some flat out racist and extremist comments coming from both speakers and attendees.
The first session I attended was entitled “Student Activist Workshop” was sponsored by the Leadership Institute and the Alliance Defense Fund, a group that defends students freedom on college campuses. The discussion centered around students’ concerns about religious and conservative groups being targeted on college campuses. As the discussion came to an end, the main speaker, Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, finished his remarks with a bizarre Islamophobic rant – warning students that if they aren’t careful the United States will be taken over by Muslims like Western Europe has. While still trying to wrap my head around Lorence ’s bizarre statements, I headed to “They Want Us to Shut Up: Saving Freedom and the First Amendment,” a discussion featuring Dr. Kevin Roberts, Ronald Kessier, J.D. Hayworth and Doug Giles. Giles’s remarks during his part of the discussion were the most disturbing. He boasted about his two children and praised daughter Hannah Giles, who collaborated with James O’Keefe’s attacks on ACORN.
After praising his daughter, he turned his attention to Keith Olbermann, telling the crowd that Olbermann was a “bachelor for life” while using his fingers to make quotation marks, which brought loud cheers and fits of laughter from the crowd. Before ending his speech, Giles again implied that Olbermann is a homosexual by repeating his “bachelor for life” comment which brought even more laughter from the crowd. Instead of using his allotted time to rant about immigrants, J.D. Hayworth instead attacked his opponent in the upcoming Senate race, John McCain. Hayworth did bring up immigration at the end of the panel discussion when Chad McDonald, Director of Social Media Marketing for the anti-immigrant organization NumbersUSA asked a question directly to Hayworth about the border. Hayworth said something to the affect of “our borders are about as secure as we are close to finding another galaxy.”
I headed over to the main ballroom to see a very interesting speech by house minority leader John Boehner. After speaking about jobs and attacking Obama, Boehner moved onto a very interesting subject, the tea partiers. He urged his listeners in the room to listen to the tea partiers, embrace them and to stand amongst them. This call to stand with the tea partiers comes one day after the Huffington Post reported on a tea party event in Washington where one speaker called for the hanging of Sen. Patty Murray. After leaving this event I ran into Hannah Giles and the now infamous James O’Keefe, who was arrested recently for attempting to wiretap Sen. Landrieu’s phone. After his arrest, reports surfaced about O’Keefe attending a white nationalist forum in 2006, featuring Jared Taylor, the head of white nationalist organization American Renaissance. After brushing past O’Keefe and Giles, I headed back to the main ballroom to listen to a speech by Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the NRA. LaPierre, who has previously been published in the anti-Semitic newspaper American Free Press used his speech to attack Bill Clinton and boast about the ever increasing number of NRA members throughout the country.
The final workshop of the evening I attended was perhaps the most disturbing. It was a screening of the film Border War which looks at immigration on the southern United Sates border. J.D. Hayworth introduced the film in which he plays a major role before promptly leaving as the movie started. About 5 minutes in the film showed some undocumented immigrants attempting to cross the border. As this scene went on, a man sitting to my left said “shoot them” loud enough for the people around him to hear. Instead of eliciting condemnation or shock, the other attendees merely continued to watch the film. If this had happened just once I would have given the other attendees the benefit of the doubt of not hearing him, but the man went on to say it two more times during the film!
As someone who has come to the Conservative Political Action Conference to observe the current and possible trends of the conservative moment, I am extremely alarmed by what I witnessed on day one. It seems as if the right is moving closer and closer to the extreme right, something that clearly doesn’t seem to bother the Republican leadership or rank-and-file conservatives.