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CPAC ‘24: A Platform for White Nationalist and Anti-Democratic Conspiracies and a Space for Nazis and Extremists to Mingle

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Last weekend, CPAC held its marquee annual convention in the Washington DC suburbs, which provided a clear snapshot of the GOP messaging heading into the next election. A telling NBC News headline captured the Republican Party in 2024: “Nazis mingle openly at CPAC, spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories and finding allies.  While open white supremacists roamed the halls of the convention, leading elected Republicans and their prominent hard-right allies repeatedly endorsed the white nationalist and antisemitic replacement and invasion conspiracy to lay the foundation to overturn democracy if election results in November do not go their way. 

As Gabe Ortíz noted, CPAC had previously made more of an effort to keep the nationalist bigots at arm’s length. But now, conspiratorial bigotry is the mainstage booked event. 

CPAC kicked off with a session hosted by the white nationalist Steve Bannon, where Neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec told the crowd, “Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely. We didn’t quite get there on January 6.” Posobiec and his supporters claim his explicit anti-democratic declaration was made in jest, the same way Bannon described Trump’s promise to be a “dictator on day one” if he gets a second term. But these statements do the work of normalizing the idea of an authoritarian dismantling of democracy. Posobiec pulled the critical move for a modern authoritarian in his main stage speech: positioning himself as the defender of democratic values, asserting his opposition is the real culprit, and outlining a conspiracy about a plot to “flood the nation with invaders who will vote” for the opposition. 

Posobiec was referencing the replacement and invasion conspiracy theory, a racist lie that has inspired multiple deadly terror attacks in recent years but was also a consistent throughline for CPAC speakers this year. It’s a shift from two years ago when top GOP operative Charlie Kirk laid out such rhetoric as a litmus test.

Donald Trump asserted this anti-democratic conspiracy in his keynote speech on Saturday, laying the groundwork seven months in advance for the only reason he will lose. That reason, he claimed, is that American democracy is polluted. “If we don’t do well in this next election or if they cheat enough that they can steal it, which is the only way to win,” he said. “Who the hell can win when you have 16 million people pouring into our country from places unknown.” 

For others, like fourth-ranking House Republican Elise Stefanik, the exact white nationalist conspiracy about the plot to subvert the election with immigrant voters was left unstated in her speech (Stefanik is a leading promoter of the conspiracy). However, the false assurances of a stolen election were core to her speech, claiming that Democrats “will stop at nothing to steal this election.” 

Right-wing commentator Michael Knowles, who used last year’s speech to push eliminationist transphobic rhetoric, switched to white nationalist invasion conspiracy this year.  He falsely asserted, “Joe Biden has invited almost 6 million foreigners into our country illegally, at least 3 and a half million were apprehended and intentionally released into the country.” He called it a “Democrat lead invasion.” Knowles continued with a well-worn argument from Pat Buchanan and Sam Francis that “we are not a nation of immigrants,” citing the shift in the 1960s with the elimination of racist immigration policies as the start of the replacement of real Americans.  Knowles thought that the distinction of who is an American was clear and that he knew “the difference between Americans and everyone else.”   

Former Trump administration officials were all over CPAC as well, pushing white nationalist conspiracies and Trump’s extreme immigration agenda. For example, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson warned, “mass immigration and infiltration by foreigners who don’t share our values and culture or even our language.” 

In a panel with former Trump official and white nationalist Stephen Miller, impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and far-right Rep. Don Bishop (R-NC) started an immigration section by falsely claiming Biden was “importing” immigrants “who don’t want to assimilate and don’t share our values,” calling it an “invasion.” The Republicans nodded along with Miller, who outlined a proposed administrative policy that would deploy the National Guard on US soil as a massive roundup and deportation machine that would eliminate asylum and use the military to fully block access to any new immigrants.      

Others, like former acting ICE Director and hate group collaborator Tom Homan, also doubled down and proudly defended Trump’s promise to enact the “biggest deportation in US history.” 

To be sure, transphobic bigotry remains a dominant throughline in CPAC and the GOP, but there was a notable push to ensure that their nativist narrative remains a central focus of their electoral message, particularly on the heels of its failure in the NY-03 special election and following the Republican defeat of a Republican negotiated border bill stacked with stated Republican priorities. House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green (R-TN) succinctly made this point, arguing, “We have to elect in our primaries those who make the border a priority,” naming Cameron Hamilton, a Republican candidate in VA-07. Green said, “he made the border the number one issue. That is got to be the kind of candidates we are supporting, those who say ‘the border is the greatest national security threat to our country, and we are going to make it the number one issue.”

What is reflected on stage is unsurprisingly reflected in a more crass form by those in attendance. This results in the leaders of the Republican Party, including their presumptive 2024 presidential nominee, milling about with Nazis and white supremacists at CPAC.

The reports of Nazis attending this top-level Republican conference produced little concern from CPAC. “Yawn,” Matt Schlapp, who runs CPAC,  posted on X in response to Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling’s reporting from the New Republic.  “At best, it appears that CPAC was willfully ignorant of the Nazi presence inside their walls—at worst, they knowingly allowed it,”  Houghtaling concluded. “But either way, their quiet navigation of the event points to a deeper horror: that Nazis at CPAC have become so commonplace that they simply do not illicit shock anymore. Instead, they are now a banal presence within the conservative conference.” 

The anti-democratic and ethnic nationalist ideas on stage this past weekend at CPAC will charge full steam ahead into GOP 2024 campaigns. The folks pushing these ideas on stage are not marginal cranks with little power; they are the leaders of the Republican Party who will set the agenda for the election cycle. The other speakers were House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, Senator J.D. Vance, Arizona GOP Senate Candidate Kari Lake, and Rep. Matt Gaetz. And what CPAC demonstrated was that the GOP is already seeding the idea that they can win a democratic election but are priming their supporters to the idea that American democracy is too polluted to be trusted. Throughout the hours and hours of speeches, it is clear the right in 2024 believes they represent the sole will of the “real” Americans and that democracy cannot be trusted in a contest with nothing less than the survival of the nation at stake. It’s a volatile mixture that courts more political violence,  and that should be a massive neon warning sign about the dangers up ahead.