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Even without Donald Trump—who backed out Friday--the Conservative Political Action Conference is rolling ahead in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. The annual convention of right-wing activists and policy wonks is emphasizing racial diversity this year.
At the same time, the conference is bubbling with resentment toward Muslims, Latinos, blacks, and other minority groups.
The Republican Party’s crisis over race could not be more clear.
Thousands of people attend CPAC. While exact racial breakdowns for the convention are not available, the conference is overwhelmingly white. Huffington Post politics reporter Tyler Tynes unscientifically estimated on Friday that the number of black people here is “about 30.” Or, as Tynes tweeted Friday morning: “Day 2 at #CPAC2016. Seen more bowties and cowboy hats (bout 53) than I've seen black people (bout 6) this morning.”
Considering that white men are a minority in the United States, the list of convention speakers skews heavily toward the aforementioned demographic. But a handful of non-white conservative stars—including Representative Mia Love (Republican of Utah), media mogul Michelle Malkin, and Senator Tim Scott (Republican of South Carolina)—have speaking roles at the convention. Presidential candidates Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio also have scheduled appearances.
CPAC organizers want to present a diverse face. While their intentions are laudable, it’s not clear that all attendees are on board with changing the racial makeup of the GOP, or even the concept of ethnic diversity in the United States.
Minority voters: Does the GOP want them?
CPAC featured two sessions on moving the Republican Party beyond its traditionally white electorate: “The Latino Vote: The Beginning or the End of the Conservative Movement” (45 minutes long); and, “Talking to Minority Voters: Making the Case for Conservatives Nationally” (30 minutes long). The presentations were conducted entirely by one guy: Mike Madrid, a Latino political consultant from California.
In both sessions, Madrid made the case that for the Republican Party to win elections, Republican candidates have to do a better job communicating with minority voters. Both presentations focused almost exclusively on the Latino vote, although it seemed Madrid would have gone on to talk about other demographic groups in the second session if he’d had more than half an hour.
Audience members in both sessions took Madrid to task for his analysis of diversity and a broadening GOP. One attendee proposed restricting immigration as an alternative to appealing to Latino voters, arguing that if states had fewer Latinos in them overall, there would be fewer people disproportionately predisposed to vote for Democrats.
Another attendee, sporting a Donald Trump t-shirt and a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, exclaimed indignantly that “illegals” are voting in the United States, and complained that he saw a woman at the bank the other day who was “illegal as can be.” He described watching the bank teller hand back the woman’s driver’s license after she completed her transaction, apparently upset that Spanish speakers in the United States are legally able to drive vehicles.
Madrid cut off another audience member, a woman from Arizona, who had begun a rant about how she’d “seen the problems of illegal immigration firsthand,” and how the immigrants she’s observed espouse values that are contrary to America, family, and capitalism.
During Madrid's second session, Tynes, who is black, asked if Republican rhetoric might play a role in alienating minority votes. Madrid answered emphatically in the affirmative.
Tynes later reported that after the session a man from Texas “came up to me & referred to me as ‘troubled’ + ‘a black’ + a representative ‘for the blacks.’”
Anti-black sentiment pops up often at CPAC. Dinesh D’Souza, conservative luminary and frequent opiner on black inferiority, is a speaker at CPAC this year. So is James O’Keefe, who has a long history of white supremacist activism. And the CPAC exhibition hall features a booth for “Enemies Within,” a movie about communist infiltration inside the U.S. government. The movie, scheduled to come out in May, is being produced by Trevor Loudon, a New Zealander whose website regularly disparages black people in the United States as criminals and subhuman, immoral beings.
“Disproportionate arrests, incarcerations, and shootings of blacks should come as no surprise,” reads an article on trevorloudon.com. “Their 40 percent representation among the prison population fairly reflects the proportion of crimes committed by blacks in the U.S. This is not evidence of institutional racism, but rather a social pathology evident within the black community.”
In an interview Friday, Loudon claimed the Black Lives Matter movement is being masterminded by the Freedom World Socialist Organization and the World Workers Party, which he says also prop up oppressive regimes in Iran and North Korea. Black Lives Matter did not arise as a widespread, spontaneous response to systemic racism and police brutality, according to Loudon, but as the project of “two hardcore communist parties” to “destabilize police,” expand the left-wing voter base, and undermine American democracy.
While Madrid did his level best to convince several dozen Republicans that minority votes matter, other CPAC exhibitors and speakers were busy peddling white supremacist propaganda to eager audiences.
White nationalists make their case
The Center for Security Policy (CSP), which the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a hate group, had four hours of scheduled sessions on Thursday related to “migration jihad.” Led by Frank Gaffney, who was once banned from CPAC after accusing two organizers of being agents for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Center brought white nationalists to the CPAC stage this year to warn of Shariah law, immigrants generally, and an Obama Administration beholden to (or perhaps controlled by) a global network of Muslim terrorists.
Among the Center for Security Policy’s sessions was a panel, led by Gaffney, called, “The Global Jihad Movement in America and the Counterjihad Campaign.” Speakers included European nativist Paul Weston, (who once declared, “I am a racist.”), Lars Hedegaard, a Dutch historian who warns that radical Islam is taking over the West, and Jim Hanson, who has accused black prosecutors of racism for indicting police officers.
The counterjihad session called for immigration bans, accused Attorney General Loretta Lynch of ceding U.S. legal sovereignty to the Muslim Brotherhood, and warned of coming violent civil war in Europe and the United States between whites and non-whites. Unlike in the CPAC sessions focused on minority voter outreach, the Center’s anti-migration panel drew frequent applause and cheers from audience members.
Toward the end of the counterjihad session, an audience member rose to speak at length on the national security threat posed by “political correctness,” which he said prevents us from adequately keeping Muslims out of the United States, and called for the United States to stop “namby-pambying around” with immigration policy. Another attendee complained that the “mainstream media” gives the Council on American-Islamic Relations too much “credibility”—a line that received much applause—and asked why Islam isn’t perceived as a more dangerous force in the media.
Agreeing with the questionner’s analysis, Gaffney explained that the American media has fallen victim to a “civilization jihad.”
Joan Shipps has spent over a decade researching and writing about economic and political trends. Her writing has appeared on Alternet, The American Bee Journal, The Hill, and The Huffington Post as well as The Progressive.