From April 5 to April 12, people around the country watched as Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, backed by often armed supporters, stood in defiance of federal court orders to remove cattle he had illegally grazed on federal lands since the 1990s. Bundy supporters cast the drama a David versus Goliath clash between a Constitutionally-minded rancher and an out-of-control federal government. A closer look reveals a more complex story, offering insights in to the ability of the far right to engage in armed mobilizations on behalf of activists whose federal law violations get them into legal trouble. When the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) backed off from enforcing Bundy’s long-standing grazing violations, far-rightists claimed victory for their ideas and paramilitary tactics, threatening to embolden those would use violence to advance far right political goals.
In the vast Potomac Ballroom of the Gaylord hotel in National Harbor, Maryland, the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held March 14-16, started as a well-choreographed effort to present a softer, more diverse, conservative movement. Beyond the main hall, however, the carefully crafted façade melted away. In the many conference rooms that the Tea Party dominated, events featured blatant racism, homophobia, sexism, and Islamophobia. Despite the efforts of organizers to sweep it all under the rug, this year’s CPAC showed a conservative movement riddled with white nationalists, and others long a pillar of the farthest edge of the far right. The conservative sense of white dispossession at the core of this new conservative movement, bore little resemblance to the high and mighty elites of the Reagan and Bush years.
For decades, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has been a barometer of the different political tendencies inside the right-wing. In the 1980s, Reagan administration officials and Reaganite New Rightists dominated the podium. Pres. Reagan spoke at CPAC in both 1984 and 1988. In the 1990s, culture warriors like Pat Buchanan and the Rev. Pat Robertson joined Republican regulars such as Sens. Bob Dole and Phil Gramm. At this years’ CPAC13, Tea Party leaders and Tea Party-supported politicians will dominate the proceedings. The result is an agenda filled with bigots, conspiracy mongers, and publicity hounds.