CPAC at 50: white nationalism • deportations • war on ‘wokeness’

By Searchlight Team
By Devin Burghart

Previously billed as “the most influential gathering of conservatives in the world,” this year’s 50th-anniversary gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was a diminished version of the pre-Trump glory days. Corporate conservativism has been replaced with MAGA conspiracy-mongering and acceptance of white nationalism.

CPAC 2024, dubbed “Where Globalism Goes to Die”, cloaked a transnational MAGA message: the dangers of socialism, immigrants, trans people, election theft and “wokeness”. Collectively, CPAC speakers painted a picture of Biden’s America as a godless, deviant, dangerous, fentanyl-drenched hellscape.

The conference was mired in controversy even before the doors opened in suburban Washington, DC, on 19 February. The longtime chair of the organisation faces a sexual assault lawsuit and it is emerging board members and donors.

Instead of corporate sponsors of years past, this year the sponsors included long-ostracised far-right groups such as the John Birch Society. At the same time, CPAC’s core drifted off to the concert-like atmosphere of MAGA-friendly Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest.

The CPAC vibe was encapsulated in a line by white nationalist-friendly TV host Jack Posobiec: “Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely. We didn’t get all the way there on Jan 6, but we will endeavour to get rid of it.” The event reflected the priorities of Trump and the MAGA movement.

White nationalism

CPAC has long been contested terrain for white nationalist mainstreamers. White nationalists such as Richard Spencer and Nick Fuentes garnered attention by getting kicked out of CPAC, using it to establish their movement bona fides.

CPAC 2024 was different. This year, there was an unchallenged white nationalist presence of leaders such as Jared Taylor of American Renaissance and Ryan Sanchez, a former member of the violent Rise Above Movement.

Militarised politics

As the governor of Texas defied the US Supreme Court over immigration policy, and the far-right “Take our Border Back” convoy was drawing national attention, anti-immigrant politics took centre stage at CPAC 2024.

The highlight of the proceedings was an address from Trump himself. The ex-president repeatedly demonised immigrants: “They’re destroying our country.” He vowed to carry out the largest deportation in American history: “They’re killing our people. They’re killing our country. We have no choice.”

Former Senior Advisor to Trump, Stephen Miller, foreshadowed Trump’s speech earlier in the conference with the outlines of a militarised anti-immigration plan with proclamations that included “Seal the border. Deport all the illegals … establish large-scale staging grounds for removal flights … depute the National Guard … deploy the military to the southern border”.


Just behind anti-immigrant messaging in prominence at CPAC 2024 was anti-trans bigotry labelled as an attack on the so-called “woke” agenda.

Terry Schilling of the American Principles Project warned of a “transgender leviathan”. According to Schilling, “this is about control and, ultimately, it’s about the destruction of gender and biological sex”. He called them “perverted”. Other speakers demanded the arrests of “woke” doctors.

Anti-abortion politics remained at CPAC this year. In a session entitled “Babies-R-Us”, Concerned Women for America leader Penny Nance told the crowd: “One of the most amazing moments in my entire life…was standing on the steps of the Supreme Court and hearing the words that there is no Constitutional right to abortion.”

Transnational nationalism

While national influence waned, CPAC spent much of the Trump era expanding internationally. Since 2017, CPAC has expanded to Australia, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Hungary and Brazil.

Nigel Farage and Santiago Abascal of Spanish nationalist party Vox (right and second right); the UK’s catastrophic former Prime Minister Liz Truss was spotted just behind them (credit: Vox España)

CPAC 2024 speakers reflected these transnational advancements. CPAC veteran and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage declared the international efforts “quite extraordinary”, noting that he had met officials from Hungary, Poland, Romania, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, France and Germany at CPAC. He closed with a call for “strong leaders”.

Tory MP Liz Truss, the UK’s shortest-lived prime minister, adopted the US rhetoric to blame the “deep state” for sabotaging her time as Prime Minister. She stressed to the half-empty CPAC room that conservatives needed to regain power to “save the West”.

Santiago Abascal, a founder of the Spanish nationalist party Vox, echoed others with an attack on socialism and universities: “‘They have declared war on common sense, truth, language and biology.” He concluded with a call to join forces: “We have a great battle ahead of us to make the West great again.”

This year’s CPAC also spotlighted growing ties to far rightists in Central and South America . Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s president, fixated on hidden forces working to undermine the United States, with a nod to international conspiracy theories about the deep state and worldwide cabals. Also at CPAC this year: Javier Milei, President of Argentina; and Eduardo Bolsonaro, Member of the Brazil Chamber of Deputies (and son of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro—who, like Trump, is facing scrutiny over an attempt to overthrow Brazil’s 2022 election).

Devin Burghart is President and Executive Director of the Institute for Research and Education of Human Rights,

This article was first published in the Spring 2024 issue of Searchlight

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