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CPAC’s Flirtation With the Alt-Right Is Turning Awkward
CPAC’s Flirtation With the Alt-Right Is Turning Awkward
Conservative conference organizers just cannot decide how to feel about the white nationalist movement
By Sarah Posner
February 24, 2017
The Rolling Stone
A shorter URL for the above link:
Late the night before the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Richard Spencer, the de facto leader of the white nationalist movement calling itself the Alt-Right, texts me to say he’ll be there not to disrupt, he insists, but to ask questions after the “Anti-Alt-Right speeches on [the] main stage.” The next day, at the Gaylord Convention Center just outside of Washington, D.C., there is no Q&A, but Spencer, who gleefully attracts a throng of reporters everywhere he goes, holds forth outside the hotel ballroom. Dan Schneider, the executive director of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the conference, has just decried the Alt-Right as a “sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks.” Spencer denounces the speech as “stupid” and “pathetic.”
Inside the ballroom, four Republican governors are speaking about how they are “reclaiming America’s promise,” something reporters might have covered in years past to glean glimmers of presidential ambitions. But Trump and his success at electrifying the Alt-Right has changed all that. Instead, dozens of reporters cluster around Spencer, who most recently made headlines for eliciting Nazi salutes at a conference he hosted in November, and becoming the butt of a meme about whether it is acceptable to punch Nazis.
Surrounded by media, Spencer persists for so long that organizers eject him from the conference. No matter: His mission is accomplished.
Schneider, rather than provoking a serious discussion of the conservative movement’s relationship with the Alt-Right, has thrown up a straw man. The Alt-Right, he says (correctly) are “anti-Semites,” “racists” and “sexists.” But, he adds (incorrectly), they do not emerge out of conservatism’s own trenches. Instead, he maintains, “they are garden variety left-wing fascists.”
That is, as one of the morning’s other speakers, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, has said, an “alternative fact.” The origin story of the Alt-Right is one of far-right, authoritarian white nationalists who broke with movement conservatism, and toiled in relative obscurity until Trump’s campaign elevated them to the national stage.
Schneider insists to Rolling Stone that the term Alt-Right originated with “a Jewish man” who sought a break from George W. Bush’s foreign policy, but that the racists have “wormed their way in, stolen the term intentionally so they could deceive people about who they are.” (Schneider did not name the Jewish man, but Paul Gottfried, who is credited with coming up with the term “Alt-Right” with Spencer, claims that “America is no longer a republic or a liberal democracy,” a view for which he “was banished from the mainstream of political discourse,” according to a profile in Tablet.)
Spencer says the Alt-Right “was always about a right wing that was against the conservative movement, it was against George W. Bush in its origins.” In other words, the Alt-Right’s opposition to conservatism was not confined to foreign policy. Spencer mocks Schneider, derisively saying he is unaware that “garden variety left-wing fascists were so numerous,” and insists that the ranks of the Alt-Right are. As if on cue, a CPAC attendee pops in to ask Spencer for selfie while saying, “Praise kek,” the Alt-Right’s homage to its “god” of “meme magic.”
Like conservatives’ baseless claims that protesters at marches or town halls are paid leftist protesters, Schneider’s effort to depict the Alt-Right as a creature of the left is a denigration of anything that disrupts their mirage that Trumpism is a spectacularly successful restoration of America’s greatness. But even attendees at CPAC see through Schneider’s characterization. Nick Gricus, a student at DePaul University, calls it a “deflection mechanism.” The Alt-Right, Gricus says, “is bigotry. That’s not a partisan definition.”
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