At CPAC, Trump Presents a Violent Blueprint for Taking PowerBreaking News
tags: conservatism, far right, CPAC, Donald Trump
“Are you going to call Trump a domestic terrorist?” the woman asked. It was Saturday afternoon at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, and I had just identified myself as a reporter to two attendees eating lunch in the food court. The woman, who looked to be in her fifties, told me she had traveled to the influential political convention from out of state. She declined to give her name or occupation. “We’re just so sick of the media telling lies about us,” she said.
The man sitting across from her, an eighty-year-old Vietnam veteran named Frank Dirnbauer, was more forthcoming. Dirnbauer, who works as a retail electricity broker, had driven to the conference from his home in Wylie, a half hour’s drive northeast of Dallas. This was his first CPAC. “I said to my wife that we have to go,” Dirnbauer told me while snacking on pretzels. “We picked today because President Trump is going to be speaking.” He had seen countless Trump speeches on TV but had never attended one.
The woman interrupted our conversation to repeat her question. “So are you going to call him a domestic terrorist?” I handed her my business card and said I would quote Trump accurately and fairly. This did not seem to comfort her. And perhaps for good reason—after all, one of CPAC’s afternoon panels was titled “We Are All Domestic Terrorists.” One of its participants, Texas state board of education candidate Julie Pickren of Houston, began by claiming the title was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. “Nobody in this room is a domestic terrorist,” she assured the thousand or so right-wing activists in the Hilton Anatole’s Trinity Ballroom. The panelists spent most of their time criticizing public schools for supposedly indoctrinating children. Ian Prior, a senior adviser at America First Legal, claimed he was put on a “hit list” for speaking up at too many school board meetings.
What Pickren said about that room might have been technically true. After all, the two uniformed Proud Boys in attendance at CPAC had last been spotted in the exhibition hall, just outside the ballroom. But given the number of January 6 plotters or participants who were granted speaking slots at the conference, I had my doubts. There was Brandon Straka, a “Stop the Steal” activist who filmed himself from the steps of the U.S. Capitol building during the insurrection and later pleaded guilty to a count of disorderly conduct. There was Steve Bannon, who helped plan the Stop the Steal rally and was recently convicted of contempt of Congress. And there were congressmen Matt Gaetz of Florida and Andy Biggs of Arizona, who reportedly asked Trump for pardons for their roles in organizing the insurrection. (I reached out to CPAC to ask if they had allowed the Proud Boys to attend. The organization did not respond.)
Then, of course, there was Trump himself, who won the CPAC presidential straw poll with 69 percent of the vote. (Florida governor Ron DeSantis, despite having skipped the convention, came in second with 24 percent.) During his nearly two-hour keynote address on Saturday evening, Trump defended the January 6 insurrectionists and continued to insist that he had won the 2020 presidential election. “Look at all the people who are in prison or whose lives have been destroyed on January 6,” he lamented, describing the attack on the Capitol as “a protest over a rigged and stolen election that nobody wants to look at.” Indeed, “election integrity” was the number one issue for most CPAC attendees, according to the straw poll.
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