Parkland, Fake News, Trump and Pence Headline Annual CPAC

President Donald Trump spoke at last year's Conservative Political Action Conference and will be a speaker this year as well. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque


The sun is barely up over a D.C. suburb, and the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on the shores of the Potomac is already bristling with men with wires in their ears, black bulletproof Secret Service vests and bomb-sniffing German shepherds. Having obtained the red lanyard and my ID for the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference, I approach the magnetic arcs, where uniformed women from the Transportation Security Administration inspect bags, coat pockets and cellphones.

Other uniformed people with wands wait on the other side, the better to body-check for the kind of metal that the boys over at NRATV, setting up shop in a prime corner of the broadcast media hallway, would like everyone to carry everywhere.

A woman carrying a mink coat mistakes my lanyard and me for CPAC staff. She asks me whether I can help her upgrade from silver to gold—she wants to attend the Ronald Reagan dinner Friday night, where Fox TV prosecutor Jeanine Pirro will be the keynote speaker. Alas, I cannot, but I lead her to a registration desk. On the way over, we chat. She's from New York, from the Upper West Side, like me, and thus that rara avis: the Manhattan conservative. "Yes, I'm hiding in plain sight," she says.

I leave her pleading her case for access to the Reagan dinner and stake out a power strip and chair in the media pen inside the Potomac ballroom, where Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking later this morning, and where the president himself will appear tomorrow. The three-day event, billed as "A Call to Action" for conservatives, also includes appearances by everyone from White House counsel Don McGahn, taking a break from his round-the-clock Trump scandal duties, to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Senator Ted Cruz.

They'll be joined by Euro ethno-state heroes Nigel Farage and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. Two of the participant groups, the Family Research Council and the Center for Security Policy, are listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups for their stands on gays and Muslims.

Special sessions today are planned on fake news, liberals turning campuses into Kim Jong Un "re-education camps" and how conservatives can win back women. The full agenda is here.

As attendees file in, Pink's "Raise Your Glass" is pumping, the refrain a sort of encouragement to brave conservative youth whose abiding unpopularity on college campuses has arguably contributed to the movement's deep sense of aggrievement and insecurity, even in its moment of total government control.

So raise your glass if you are wrong,

In all the right ways,

All my underdogs,

We will never be never be, anything but loud

And nitty-gritty, dirty little freaks

Outside the ballroom, the acres of conference hallways are festooned with the words "FREEDOM" and "LIBERTY" bearing down from screens everywhere and priming the brain for the rhetorical flourishes to come from Donald Trump and Pence and the lesser lights of the movement ascendant who will be here. The event's "platinum sponsor" is Liberty HealthShare, a health cost sharing company that bills itself as "a community of health-conscious people who practice longstanding Christian principles" and an alternative to government health care. Its social media motto is #ExerciseYourFreedom.

Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party's ex-leader and a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland this year. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Files

The company name is today's media Wi-Fi password. Another sponsor here is the Heritage Foundation, one of Washington's most influential conservative think tanks, founded by beer tycoon Joseph Coors. Its president, Kay Cole James, appears in a pre-prayer advertisement on the jumbo screens flanking the main stage, to warn that "across America we see where liberalism has left its devastating mark." The Heritage Foundation, she says, is "not just a bulwark against the left! We are a battleship for liberty!"

The ballroom is barely half full as the event commences. We rise. Cadets from the Citadel, the South Carolina military academy, present the colors. We pledge allegiance to the flag. They strike up the national anthem. And then Fox commentator and conservative activist Kira Innis takes the stage to invoke the Lord, a supernatural male entity who supports free markets. "Father, we thank you for the right and the liberty and the freedom to be here."

And we're off. Right away, a panel on fake news takes the stage to compare CNN to a "Trotskyite" panel that silences gun owners who disagree with the pro-gun control upsurge following the Parkland, Florida, shooting.

Updated to clarify that Liberty HealthShare is a health care cost sharing company, not an insurance company.

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