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Last weekend, the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, was held in Orlando, Florida, showcasing the dominant themes and actors in the modern conservative movement. As the events of the weekend unfolded, several things became clear.

First, “Stop the Steal” has not stopped.  CPAC featured five different panels on “Protecting Elections,” which revolved around the 2020 election being stolen and the latest measures to suppress the vote. The panels featured Stop the Steal leaders such as U.S. Representatives Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Mo Brooks (R-AL), former Act for America activist Scot Pressler, and former Georgia State Representative Vernon Jones. CPAC panelists’ repeated admonitions about the need for “election integrity” made clear that the spurious claims of electoral fraud are solidifying a seamless transition from Stop the Steal to voter suppression efforts as a core movement goal – something already visible in the more than 165 voting restrictive bills in at least 33 states underway by early February.[1]

Second, the Capitol insurrectionists still have friends at CPAC. The place on the CPAC stage for the likes U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO), known for photos ops with Three Percenters and declaring “I am the militia,” U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), known for defending Proud Boys performing security at his event, and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) who spoke at a white nationalist conference the evening before his CPAC appearance, makes it clear that there is a place in the movement for not just far-right nationalism, but for those who ally with those very varieties that engaged in the January 6 nationalist insurrection.[2]

Friends of Far Right and White Nationalists Appear at CPAC: Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert and Paul Gosar

Third, repeated praise for Donald Trump, and the elements of his keynote speech signaled that both the reality-TV celebrity and his core issues will remain a central part of the movement represented by CPAC. This includes the push for the rapid reopening of schools and businesses (and China-bashing connected to the COVID-19 pandemic), safety be damned; immigrant and Muslim bashing, and attendant policies; law and order rhetoric in the service of impeding the institutional change necessary to address racism in policing and the criminal justice system; the Second Amendment as a tool for ginning up far-right mobilization; gutting environmental regulations and slashing taxes for the wealthy; and the continued use of spurious claims of persecution of conservatives as a battering ram against the autonomy of social media platforms to set standards addressing rampant misinformation, bigotry, and calls for violence.

Another lesser noticed feature in speeches by both Donald Trump and Senator Josh Hawley is that the conservative movement in the United States is continuing its transformation into something other than a conservative movement. That is, it is increasingly being organized around a particularly-structured nationalist ideology that pits so-called middle Americans against Democratic “globalists” and “oligarchs” “above” them and hordes of violent and “rapist” immigrants, Muslim “terrorists” and BLM “rioters” “below” them. That is, it increasingly exhibits a middle American nationalism whose basic structure can be seen, in varying forms, in the ideologies of white nationalists, Christian nationalists, far-right paramilitaries, groups like the Proud Boys, and so-called “constitutionalists” who build a narrow view of Americanness out of distorted “interpretations” of the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) brings middle American nationalism to CPAC

In addition to being of concern as an ideology that will continue to fuel racism and violence, the presence of this middle American nationalism at the core of a transforming conservative movement will continue to create political space for a range of far-right and nationalist movements and organizations whose political goals include a radical, anti-democratic re-structuring of the American political economy in the service of white domination and entrenched economic power.


[1] Brennan Center for Justice. Vote Laws Roundup: February 2021. February 8, 2021.

[2] Staeger, Steve. New Colorado congresswoman has a history of associating with militia. 9News. January 18, 2021.; Castor, Rebekah. ‘Proud Boys’ provide security at pro-America rally in Milton. 3WEAR-TV. October 23, 2020.

Chuck Tanner

Author Chuck Tanner

Chuck Tanner is an Advisory Board member and researcher for the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. He lives in Washington State where he researches and works to counter white nationalism and the anti-Indian and other far right social movements.

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