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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.

Consider the inclusion of publicity-seekers such as Gov. Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, and Tea Party standard bearers like Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. The exclusion of popular GOP figures like Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Bob McDonnell is one sign that Tea Party politics holds sway.  Another is the exclusion of LGBT Republican groups like GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans. A more exacting gauge of Tea Party influence is revealed, however, in the CPAC conference sponsors and workshops. Tea Party and Tea Party-aligned groups make up a sizable majority of the partners and sponsors for the event, and a big percentage of the co-sponsors and exhibitors. Four different Tea Party national networks have a presence.

Tea Party Patriots has the biggest footprint. It is listed as one of nine official CPAC 13 top-level “partners” (a $50,000 + contribution level). Co-founder Jenny Beth Martin will be busy speaking, signing books, introducing movies, and much more. Tea Party Patriots is also, like a Trojan horse, bringing ideas and personalities long cast out to the margins, back into “respectable” conservative circles through the workshops.

One such presentation sponsored by Tea Party Patriots is by Richard Mack, entitled “How a Constitutional Sheriff can Protect Your Second Amendment Rights.”  A former Graham County, Arizona sheriff (1987-1997), Mack became prominent in gun and militia circles after he filed suit in 1994 against the Brady Bill, a Clinton-era gun control measure.  Mack claimed the five-day waiting period for criminal background checks was an unwanted imposition on local law enforcement.  Mack became popular in white supremacist, militia circles and among Buchananites.  He spoke at a so-called Christian Identity Bible camp in Arizona in 1996 where other speakers preached the notion that Jews are Satanic, and people of color an inferior creation.  One other speaker at that event, Richard Kelly Hoskins spoke about “Vigilantes of Christendom,” and how God favors racist murder. The same year he served as an Arizona state “leader” for Pat Buchanan’s run through the Republican Party presidential primaries. Indeed, he spent so much time outside his own county, that he was defeated in a primary election in 1996 and lost his office.

Mack also co-authored two books during that period.  He argued that, “proponents of the New World Order are entrenched and moving forward aggressively with their plan,” a view widespread in militia circles.  Further Mack contended that “Satan” is acting through conspiracies every day. Like other Christian nationalists, he declared that “The court-imposed separation of church and state is a folly, a myth, a lie.”

In language reminiscent of segregationists in the 1950s, Mack wrote about the NAACP: “The Reverend Jesse Jackson types and the NAACP have done more to enslave Afro-Americans than all the southern plantation owners put together.”

In the current period as a board member of Oath Keepers, Mack still presents himself as a defender of the Constitution in terms similar to that he used in 1990s.  Like the Posse Comitatus of the 1980s, Mack claims that the county sheriff is supreme over all other law enforcement agencies, for example. He isn’t talking at Tea Party events about fiscal policy, taxes or health care, yet he is one of the most popular speakers on the Tea Party circuit.

Tea Party Patriots is also sponsoring a workshop entitled “The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution,” led by Bill Norton, the Tea Party Patriots National Support Team Constitutional Coordinator.  He also serves as a “Master Instructor” for the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS), founded by W. Cleon Skousen–a former FBI agent and long-time John Birch Society supporter.  Skousen’s 1985 book, The Making of America, will be the basis of the CPAC workshop.  Therefore it deserves some examination.

The book noticeably includes an essay on slavery by Fred Albert Shannon that argued that, “abolitionist delay[ed-ed] the emancipation process,” and that slave “families [were-ed] usually sold as a unit,” and that the standard of treatment was “humane.”  Such Confederate-friendly arguments are augmented by the idea that if the Civil War and emancipation had been avoided, “it likewise seems reasonable to believe the Negro might have escaped the revulsion of feeling against him that resulted from forcible emancipation and the carpetbag regime.” Further, a graphic in the 1986 edition of the book claims, “The economic system of slavery chained the slave owners almost as much as the slaves.”

If this is the history that Tea Party Patriots learn at the knee of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, it is no wonder that they also hold workshops such as the one at CPAC entitled: “Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You’re Not One?”

Other Tea Party Input

Tea Party News Network (TPNN) is also one of the nine official partners at CPAC. This is the web outfit run by Todd Cefaratti, the man behind the, the group that organized the armed “Day of Resistance” gun rallies last month. TPNN will be holding workshops on how the Tea Party can dominate social media. They’re even providing free Wi-Fi for all the CPAC attendees this year.  

One of the initial Tea Party networks, Tea Party Nation is an official exhibitor. Its founder Judson Phillips will be holding a reception at CPAC. Phillips and Tea Party Nation gained national attention when their 2010 conference featured Sarah Palin. On the white side, Phillips’ proposal to deny voting rights for those citizens who do not own property and for promoting anti-gay bullying, was previously reported by IREHR. He is also on record defending the now defunct and indefensibly racist National Origins Act of 1924. He even published a piece on the Tea Party Nation website claiming that "American culture" will soon perish since the "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) population is headed for extinction."

Not to be left out, Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer is as a featured VIP across the street at the CPAC 13 Blog Bash. Like Tea Party Nation’s Phillips, and newly announced CPAC speaker Donald Trump, Kremer is also a birther.

The conference also spends an entire day commemorating the life of Andrew Breitbart. His attacks on ACORN and the NAACP are well known, as well as deceptively edited video that forced the resignation of USDA official Shirley Sherrod.  Breitbart’s actual legacy is one of race-baiting and the successful monetization of racialized attacks in the YouTube era. is also an official sponsor of CPAC 13.

The other CPAC top-level partners include Judicial Watch (which has been busy working with the Tea Party voter suppression group, True the Vote), the National Rifle Association, the websites NewsMax and HotAir, a radio program syndication company that supports the Tea Parties, and two local radio stations.

For those who believed that the Tea Parties were dead after the election, CPAC offers a stunning confirmation that the movement—if not all the organizations—is still alive and dangerous.  And CPAC 13 points to where some in the Tea Party movement are headed. They will be less often outside on the streets, and more likely to be inside acting as an institutional force driving a significant sector of the far right.

Devin Burghart

Author Devin Burghart

is vice president of IREHR. He coordinates our Seattle office, directs our research efforts, and manages our online communications. He has researched, written, and organized on virtually all facets of contemporary white nationalism since 1992, and is internationally recognized for this effort. Devin is frequently quoted as an expert by print, broadcast, and online media outlets. In 2007, he was awarded a Petra Foundation fellowship. more...

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