American Conservative Union (ACU) chairman Al Cardenas once said “CPAC is like an ‘All Star’ game for conservatives.” Watching it unfold, however, is less like a ball game and more like surveying the line-up at a Moscow May Day parade during the times of the Soviet Union, if you can push the political ideology out of the picture for a moment. Or like monitoring a north Georgia Klan Labor Day Klan rally in the 1980s. You see who is in and who is out. In that regard, seeing the Tea Party emerge at CPAC 2013 is a little like watching the first time white power skinheads showed up at the Gainesville, Georgia Kluxer event in 1989.
Out this year is Pamela Geller. Long time IREHR readers will remember our description of Ms. Geller and her obtuse and outlandish notions about the birthplace of President Obama. Now she is more prone to Islamophobic ranting, and recently described Grover Norquist, he of Americans for Tax Reform and the board of CPAC, as a “Jihadist operative.”
Geller’s defenestration did not exclude all anti-Muslim speakers at CPAC, however. As the Right Wing Watch project of People for the American Way noted, “While Geller might be absent this year, CPAC still is hosting a number of anti-Muslim speakers.” Who needs Pam Geller when you’ve got former Congressman Allen West, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Senator Rick Santorum, or current Senator and Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz speaking at CPAC. All of these personages have trafficked in Islamophobia, according to Right Wing Watch. Who needs Geller and her “Jihadist operative” accusation?
Still Out is the John Birch Society. They made a brief appearance as a sponsor at the 2010 CPAC. And this venerable organization of conspiracy mongers, racists and generic bigots has continued to grow on the edges of the Tea Party movement. But they didn’t make the cut at CPAC for the third year in a row.
Out, but in. Cardenas announced that “for reasons of civility,” he has to keep conservative LGBT groups like GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans out of the event. But the Washington Post reported that the Competitive Enterprise Institute announced that it would turn its session over to conservative gay organizations.
Still In is white nationalist Robert Vandervoort, founder of the Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance. (It is a political pedigree much like Robert Weissberg’s.) Vandervoort participated in two panels last year. One panel on multiculturalism—they were against, and one on immigration—against also. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Florida Congressman David Rivera shared the stage with Vandervoort, and neither one of these two politicians said a word about Vandervoort’s white nationalism.
American Spectator, a decidedly conservative periodical had more moral weight. “If Vandervoort indeed organized events for an American Renaissance affiliate,” it argued, “he should explicitly and publicly renounce his old associates; that is a crowd that no one should touch with a ten foot pole.”
So what was the result? This year, Vandervoort’s ProEnglish organization will be allowed to have exhibitor status at CPAC13.
There is more, much more to all this. Stay tuned. IREHR will report on the parade grounds.
Leonard Zeskind is president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. Devin Burghart is IREHR vice president.