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CPAC to Display the Conspiratorial White Nationalism Rotting the GOP from the Inside Out

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The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual gathering of conservative officials and activists, will hold its conference this week in the Washington, D.C area. While not the event it once was, CPAC still provides a window into the GOP. Where they once attempted to keep the ugly nativism and white nationalism off the mainstage, the CPAC lineup this year reveals how it has now become the core thrust of the party.  

It was ten years ago next month when nativist carnival barkers like Mark Krikorian of the anti-immigrant hate group Center for Immigration Studies complained that they were being shut out of the event. CPAC, apparently, was trying to do a little public relations and shape up its image following Mitt Romney’s “Self-Deportation” loss in 2012. But CPAC’s so-called makeover at its 2014 gathering was short-lived

A decade later, the ideas core to the anti-immigrant cranks that once complained about being iced out of CPAC are running the show – and the Republican Party. In addition to a headlining appearance from indicted former President Donald Trump, CPAC’s convening this week is expected to feature a number of top elected Republicans, candidates, and right-wing operatives that have been instrumental in supercharging the GOP’s downward trajectory on immigration

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a top-billed name from the event, promoted echoes of the same white nationalist replacement conspiracy theory that was eventually cited by a racist mass gunman who shot and killed ten people in Buffalo in May 2022. Her colleague, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), has used his powerful and influential position as House Judiciary Committee chairman to amplify this conspiracy theory

Meanwhile, Vivek Ramaswamy, another top-billed name and former 2024 GOP presidential candidate, explicitly endorsed this white nationalist conspiracy last year, falsely calling it “basic immigration policy for the modern Democrat (sic) Party.” While this was far from the first time Ramaswamy employed this white nationalist conspiracy theory, America’s Voice noted at the time, it was the first time he had done so as explicitly. 

2024’s convening will also feature appearances by right-wing operatives who have helped mainstream this once-fringe conspiracy theory within the MAGA base and Republican Party at large. Invited speaker Steve Bannon, the disgraced white nationalist and former Trump White House strategist who was convicted by a jury on two criminal charges of contempt of Congress in 2022, championed the obscure replacement theory novel “The Camp of the Saints” (noted white nationalist Stephen Miller is also a fan.) 

The conference will also feature Jack Posobiec, a right-wing activist who “has collaborated with white supremacists, neo-fascists and antisemites for years, while producing propaganda that Trump and his inner circle have publicly celebrated,” the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said. In just one example of his toxicity, Michigan GOP state Rep. Josh Schriver recently lost his committee assignments after platforming a conspiratorial tweet from the activist. Posobiec’s “extensive ties to white supremacists should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who hasn’t made the connection between Trump’s MAGA movement and hate,” said SPLC senior investigative reporter Michael Edison Hayden.

While it’s true that CPAC’s popularity has waned in recent years, and the organization has been embroiled in scandal (CPAC has been accused of fiscal mismanagement while its chair, Matt Schlapp, has been accused of sexual misconduct by a male GOP operative), it’s still a place where the agenda for what the GOP is pushing for gets publicly set. 

2022’s convening previewed the disturbing mainstreaming of conspiracy theory rhetoric and anti-democratic values within the GOP ranks when Charlie Kirk, another far-right activist, urged participants to “call what’s happening on the southern border an ‘invasion.’” 2023’s convening would then feature extremist rhetoric “from start to finish,” America’s Voice Political Director Zachary Mueller noted. That gathering contained references to “invasion” and “replacement” rhetoric that’s since been espoused hundreds of times by elected GOP officials this year alone.

“Leading figures in the Republican Party shared the stage with bigots and wanna-be despots with thinly veiled xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry casually woven in from speech to speech,” Mueller wrote following 2023’s conference. “The conference presented a party engaged in an almost entirely self-referential debate boiling with rage, paranoia, and grievance directed at an alleged imminent existential threat posed by migrants, ‘globalists,’ ‘communists,’ and ‘gender ideology.’

These outlandish conspiracy theories, once confined to the fringe right, have been embraced by mainstream Republicans. Research from America’s Voice Political Associate Yuna Oh found that elected GOP members from GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson on down have amplified this dangerous rhetoric, citing it in official hearings at least nine times in these first few weeks of 2024 alone. America’s Voice’s ongoing tracking has found 430 tweets just this year from GOP electeds who have employed the white nationalist and antisemitic replacement and “invasion” conspiracy. 

This year, House Republicans also used “invasion” and “replacement” conspiracy theories to push the sham impeachment of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the highest-ranking Latino official in the Biden administration. But even as we continue to have reminders of the real-world consequences of this rhetoric – like the recent news that a man galvanized by “invasion” conspiracy theory sought to shoot and maim migrants at the border – GOP lawmakers, candidates, and activists continue to pump this language into the dialogue surrounding immigration. CPAC is a major player in this right-wing ecosystem.

“The performance of the absurd may have some trying to dismiss CPAC as a sideshow best ignored,” Mueller continued in 2023. “But this is not marginal kooks spewing hate in the comment section on an obscure internet forum, the speakers spewing the dangerous, dehumanizing rhetoric from the CPAC stage have power and massive megaphones.”