Race, Racism, and White Nationalism

Jul 22, 2014, 12:44
At CPAC 2014, Ann Coulter (left) called for nativist death squads, while white nationalist Robert Vandervoort (right) was allowed to bring his nativist English-only outfit back to the conference.
At CPAC 2014, Ann Coulter (left) called for nativist death squads, while white nationalist Robert Vandervoort (right) was allowed to bring his nativist English-only outfit back to the conference.
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The Unbearable Whiteness of CPAC

21 March 2014

For years, white nationalists found themselves on the outside looking in, faces pressed against the glass to get a glimpse at the movement happenings at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). But the times they are a changing. Not since Pat Buchanan’s racially-tinged insurgent campaign at the 1992 conference have white nationalists found a more hospitable environment in the halls of CPAC.

With the rise of the Tea Party, the doors to CPAC flew open wide in 2010. The same year that CPAC gave the “Ronald Reagan Award” to the Tea Party movement, the far-right John Birch Society, a group kept outside for decades, was allowed to co-sponsor the event for the first time. Others on the far-right were welcomed into the fold, and racist rhetoric about president Obama was allowed center stage. Just like that, CPAC became a white nationalist friendly zone.

Despite a more tightly controlled platform this year, the annual conservative confab did little to disabuse white nationalists of the notion that they were at home, particularly when leaders expressed racially-charged rhetoric and calls for nativist “death squads” were met with raucous cheers from the floor.

Even before the official kick-off of the most highly anticipated conservative event of the year, for the third year in a row CPAC was embroiled in a controversy involving white nationalist participation in the event.  

As IREHR first alerted, the nativist English-only outfit, ProEnglish, led by a white nationalist, Robert Vandervoort, was allowed as an official exhibitor for the fourth year in a row. This despite the considerable controversy that erupted in 2012, when Vandervoort  moderated a panel entitled "The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity is Weakening the American Identity" which also featured Peter Brimelow, editor of the white nationalist website VDARE; and John Derbyshire, a former contributing editor at National Review fired for racist columns, who now writes for VDARE.

Last year, CPAC not only included Vandervoort’s ProEnglish, it gave a platform to birthers, Islamophobes, nativists, and militia heroes. It even included a panel meant to teach conservatives how to defend themselves from charges that they are racist that devolved when the room shouted down a liberal black woman, and a white nationalist in the audience stood to demand justice for white voters and to argue that the slaves should have been grateful to slave owners for food and shelter. Repeated inclusion of these groups and the conservative sense of white dispossession popularized by the Tea Party beckoned white nationalists to CPAC like moths to a flame. 

After the uproar of the last few years, the 2014 CPAC agenda was more tightly controlled. There were no panels attacking multiculturalism, no militia advocates like Richard Mack giving lectures, and most of the controversial Islamophobes and nativists weren’t invited back.

The main stage inside the vast Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor, Maryland was dominated this year by potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates: Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Gov. Scott Walker, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Gov. Rick Perry, former Gov. Sarah Palin, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Rep. Paul Ryan, and even Donald Trump. Much has been written about these speeches, little has been written on the deepening racial fault-lines and sense of white dispossession inside conservative circles.

One year after the GOP autopsy of the 2012 election pointed out the need to reach out to people of color, there was a panel on courting minorities at this year’s CPAC. The re-branding effort failed completely. As Brookings Institution Fellow John Hudak tweeted, “Most important #CPAC2014 panel. Topic: minority outreach. View: largely empty room.”

CPAC minority Outreach Panel

For all the talk of the so-called “civil war” between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, there were few signs of this alleged split on display at CPAC. A rifle-wielding Mitch McConnell shared the same stage as Tea Party Patriots leader Jenny Beth Martin.

Tea Party and Tea Party-aligned groups dominated the CPAC 2014 sponsor list. Tea Party Patriots paid $110,000 to be one of just five top-level sponsors (along with the NRA). The Tea Party News Network, the news site of the newer faction, TheTeaParty.net, was a $25,000 supporting sponsor, as was the Heritage Foundation. And the Tea Party-aligned Americans for Prosperity was one of thirty different $9,000 participating sponsors. Even FreedomWorks, which had been invisible at CPAC for the last few years had a presenter at this year’s event. Tea Party themes, including opposition to the Affordable Care Act, guns, the war on the poor, and attacks on union rights were among the unifying themes of the conference.

Attendance at this year’s CPAC seemed down from previous years. Declining participation was reflected in the number of participants in the much-discussed CPAC presidential straw poll. This year, just 2,450 cast a vote. By comparison, 2,930 attendees cast ballots in 2013, 3,408 in 2012, and 3,742 in 2011. Significant ticket price increases may have been one reason that the participation of young people (under age 25) dropped from 54% in 2013 to 46% of the crowd this year. Also, the continuing conservative war on women may have contributed to the gender gap, with 63% of participants being men at CPAC 2014.  

Clash over Nativism

One schism on full display at CPAC this year was over the issue of immigration. The American Conservative Union, the group responsible for CPAC, made sure that the only official panel on immigration exclusively featured immigration reform activists. Nativist groups were left off the agenda.

Mark Krikorian, of the nativist Center for Immigration Studies told the Washington Post, “You don’t have to read the tea leaves. Immigration skeptics have been pushed out by Al Cardenas, it’s right there out in the open.” While Rosemary Jenks of the nativist group, NumbersUSA, complained that the increased involvement of the business community in the annual conference has made CPAC a “kind of the corporate elite’s playground instead of [about] conservative principles.”

Despite the best efforts of Al Cardenas and the ACU to keep nativism out of the hall, anti-immigrant sentiment repeatedly reared its ugly head from the platform.

Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the groups that led the charge to block immigration reform last year, introduced Rep. Michele Bachmann.  A roaring applause greeted Bachmann when she warned conservatives against seeking a bipartisan immigration plan. “The last thing conservatives should do is help the president pass his number-one goal, and that’s Amnesty,” she said.

Birther conspiracist Donald Trump took the main stage to blast Marco Rubio for wanting to “let everyone in.” He added, “Immigration. We’re either a country or we’re not. We either have borders or we don’t.”  Echoing Trump was another who has nodded to birther themes. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin declared, “No Republican lawbreaker can get elected promising… rewarding lawbreakers—Amnesty.”

None of these could compare to Ann Coulter, who used much of her debate with Mickey Kaus of The Daily Caller to lash out against the “browning of America.”

Coulter told the crowd that the reason Democrats favor immigration reform is “because they need brand new voters, just warm bodies, more votes," she said. "Amnesty goes through, and the Democrats have 30 million new voters. I just don't think Republicans have an obligation to forgive law-breaking just because the Democrats need another 30 million voters."

Coulter reached a crescendo of nativist bigotry when she declared, “Amnesty is forever, and you gotta vote for the Republicans one more time, but just make it clear, ‘If you pass Amnesty, that’s it. It’s over. Then we organize the death squads for the people who wrecked America.’’’

Coulter reached a crescendo of nativist bigotry when she declared, “Amnesty is forever, and you gotta vote for the Republicans one more time, but just make it clear, ‘If you pass Amnesty, that’s it. It’s over. Then we organize the death squads for the people who wrecked America.’’’

Circling Vultures: the Uninvited and the Unconference

After experiencing his own problems after a 2012 CPAC appearance, VDARE’s Peter Brimelow complained from the sidelines that “’Official’ CPAC topics are tellingly bland,” and that the conference was under “much tighter ideological control. But also price-gouging.” Brimelow noted that “ideologically, the result is secession” and pointed people to two shadow conferences: “The Uninvited II: National Security Action Conference” organized by Breitbart.com; and a National Policy Institute “Unconference.”

With the sponsorship of Breitbart.com, nativists and Islamophobes excluded from CPAC 2014 held their own summit at a hotel around the block at the Westin Washington National Harbor.
“The Uninvited II” featured Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney, nativists like Jenks, Krikorian and Phyllis Schlafly, and convicted criminal James O’Keefe, alongside a slew of Tea Party legislators including Congressmen Steve King, Mo Brooks, Louie Gohmert, Jim Bridenstine, and Trent Franks, and Senators Ted Cruz and David Vitter.

Rather than moving to a different venue like the Breitbart.com event, the green-light given to ProEnglish appears to have encouraged white nationalists to hold their own rump event at the same facility. As Josh Glasstetter first noted, the NPI “Unconference” was organized by the National Policy Institute (NPI), a white nationalist “think tank” whose stated mission is to “elevate the consciousness of whites, ensure our biological and cultural continuity, and protect our civil rights.”

NPI director, Richard Spencer, noted that “for years, supporters have urged NPI to make an appearance at CPAC. This year, we’re doing it.”

The rationale, according to Spencer, “people don't really attend CPAC for what happens on stage. They go to meet people. And CPAC is a captive audience of individuals who self-identify as conservative. Our ideas resonate with many of them; and most all of them, I would guess, have a gut feeling that something is terribly wrong with America.”

Hoping for revolt over immigration, Spencer added “At the very least, CPAC is an opportunity for us to demonstrate to attendees the necessity of choosing a different path than the ‘Taxes Cuts Will Solve Everything’ agenda that has defined the conservative movement for decades.” Spencer told Lauren Fox of U.S. News and World Report that he is confident there are plenty of folks at CPAC who sympathize with his cause. He’s even planning on doing a little recruiting. “I won’t reveal their identities, be we have many moles in the system. A lot of them live in D.C.” Spencer added.

Spencer attended panels he felt were “relevant to our movement,” and on the second day of CPAC, May 7, he hosted a “private gathering for friends, supporters, and interested attendees” at the Old Hickory Steak House located within the Gaylord facility. The Unconference featured a special guest, Jared Taylor of the other white nationalist “think tank,” American Renaissance. (The same group for which Robert Vandervoort created a Chicago chapter). 

Like his white nationalist cohort Peter Brimelow, Jared Taylor was unimpressed with the proceedings at CPAC this year. “CPAC organizers seem to think the country can turn into a multi-culti hash and still be the United States,” he noted. There was one voice that Taylor applauded, however, Ann Coulter. Taylor praised Coulter’s vision of “death squads” if immigration reform passed, calling it “remarkable.”

Spencer’s National Policy Institute also loved Coulter’s speech, tweeting “Ann Coulter channeled @VDARE at #CPAC2014 and she's, apparently, the conservatives's heart and soul.”
Whatever nominal efforts the American Conservative Union staff made to narrow the frame and keep the troublemakers out of CPAC this year, clearly it failed. White nationalism, nativism, Islamophobia and other bigotry found new ways in.

Therein lies the problem. You can’t passively brush bigotry aside. It must be confronted. White nationalists have found a voice and an audience in the conservative movement. Until CPAC organizers, and the leaders they put on-stage, publically stand up and wholeheartedly reject the politics of bigotry, panels on minority outreach will continue to be empty, and white nationalists will roam the halls looking for new recruits to join Ann Coulter’s death squads to enforce their hegemony.

Last modified on Friday, 21 March 2014 15:44
Devin Burghart

is vice president of IREHR. He coordinates our Seattle office, directs our research efforts, and manages our online communications. He has researched, written, and organized on virtually all facets of contemporary white nationalism since 1992, and is internationally recognized for this effort. Devin is frequently quoted as an expert by print, broadcast, and online media outlets. In 2007, he was awarded a Petra Foundation fellowship. more...

Follow him on twitter: @dburghart

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