Considering the circumstance, you would have expected the overarching theme of the Conservative Political Action Conference held late last week outside Washington to have been one of triumph. For the first time in more than a decade, Republicans hold both houses of Congress and the White House, with a solid chance of maintaining that grip on power for at least four years.
But while there was plenty of back-slapping and congratulations over the results of the November elections, the theme that ran through the conference like a major artery branching off into panel after panel was not happiness, but fear.
On Thursday and Friday, speaker after speaker, on panel after panel, warned the audience of political activists and college students that they should be very, very afraid. The message came from the very top of the Republican Party when President Trump appeared Friday to attack the media as the “enemy of the people” and talk up his executive orders on immigration and deportation.
“We’re getting bad people out of this country. People that shouldn’t be [here] whether it’s drugs or murder,” he said. “We’re also going to save countless American lives. As we speak today, immigration officers are finding the gang members, the drug dealers, the criminal aliens and throwing them the hell out of our country.”
Speaking about terror attacks in Europe, he said, “Take a look at what’s happening to our world folks. We have to be smart. We can’t let it happen to us.”
But a lot of speakers on the agenda seemed to think it was already too late.
CPAC organized not one, but two panels on the topic “When Did WWIII Begin?” giving a forum to people like Clare Lopez of the Center for Security Policy, who insisted that the US is already riddled by shadowy Islamist infiltrators affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Islamist front groups, she said, are operating in our high schools and middle schools, and US courts are already being converted to Islamic Sharia law.
“Our government and national security are...so deeply penetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood,” she said. “The Muslim Brotherhood and some of its front groups are training our local police and sheriff’s departments and some of those police and sheriff’s departments are turning around and training local Muslim Brotherhood front groups. How’s that going to work out?”
She urged attendees to take action against the plot to “insinuate Sharia gradually, stealthily into our society.”
Another speaker, author Trevor Loudon, warned that the people protesting the Trump administration are part of a vast Muslim-Communist conspiracy that dates back to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
“The people behind these movements are professional revolutionaries they are allied to the Cubans, they are allied to Iran, they are allied to the Palestinian radicals and some of them are even allied, to this day, to Putin’s Russia,” Loudon said.
The executive director of the American Conservative Union, which puts on CPAC, even warned that the movement itself has been penetrated by dangerous outsiders.
In a speech rejecting the philosophy of the “Alt-right” political movement, Dan Schneider warned, “There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks. We must not be duped; we must not be deceived.”
Calling the movement a “hate-filled left-wing fascist group” he said they have hijacked the term “Alt-right” “because they want to deceive the media and they want to deceive you all about what they stand for so that they can try to become normalized and we must not allow them to become normalized. They are not a part of us. They stole that term specifically to confuse us.”
But the pièce de résistance of fear-mongering arrived when National Rifle Association front man Wayne LaPierre took the stage Friday afternoon. It’s something of a CPAC tradition to have LaPierre come to the microphone and try to scare the hell out of everybody, and he did not disappoint.
Beginning with a riff on the protests that followed Trump’s election victory, LaPierre plunged into a paranoid narrative of coming violence against conservatives, delivered just a decibel or two lower than a shout.
“The left’s message is absolutely clear,” he said. “They want revenge. You’ve got to be punished. They say you’re what’s wrong with America and now you’ve got to be purged.”
“Right now we face a gathering of forces that are willing to use violence against us. Think about it. The leftist movement in this country right now is enraged. Among them and behind them are some of the most radical political elements there are. Anarchists. Marxists. Communists and the whole rest of the left-wing socialist brigade. Many of these people literally hate everything America stands for.”
“They’re angry. They’re militant, and they’re willing to engage in criminal violence to get what they want.”
Making matters worse, he said, is a “national media machine” that “dumps gasoline on simple political disagreement to turn it into cultural IEDs.”
A particular highlight was when LaPierre pined for the days when people who leaked information to the press could be hunted down and executed. “A hundred years ago, if you eavesdropped and published the affairs of the head of state you would have been tracked down and hanged for treason,” he said.
Judging from the crowd’s reaction, the summary execution of a journalist or two would have been just fine with some of them.