This past election cycle has thrown a spotlight on a number of fringe political figures, many of whom have gained a disturbing amount of mainstream acceptance.
Milo Yiannopoulos skyrocketed to fame as an anti-political correctness crusader only to plummet back to earth this month after a video resurfaced in which he apparently defends sexual relations between adult men and teenage boys. CPAC organizers, who originally invited Milo to speak at this week’s event, were okay with his appalling sexism, racism, and transphobia, which were well documented before the video emerged.
Yiannopoulos’ former boss at Breitbart, Steve Bannon, is a white nationalist who – during his keynote speaker slot at CPAC – decried the “corporatist, globalist” media. As the chief policy advisor for Trump, Bannon making use of this antisemitic dog whistle is horrifying. It brings to mind antisemitic stereotypes that Jewish people belong to a nefarious international conspiracy. Consider his track record at Breitbart as well, where we helped foster a comment community that hinged on anti-Jewish hysteria, and it’s not difficult to call Bannon what he is: a bigot.
Many conservatives are okay accommodating Bannon and his ilk into their movement. This is a moral failure. The ascendence of Bannon, a popular “alt-right” icon, to the White House and the recent surge in antisemitic violence are related. With public validation, white nationalists are emboldened and striking out in visible ways.
One figure that the mainstream conservative movement has not welcomed with open arms is Richard Spencer, perhaps best known for being struck in the face on live television by a black-clad anarchist. The white supremacist heads the National Policy Institute, a pseudo-think thank that advocates for a white ethno-state. He was escorted out CPAC, and attracted condemnations from members of the American Conservative Union (ACU), one of whom claimed that Spencer belongs to a “hate-filled, left-wing fascist” group. Clever deflection.
ACU members may pat themselves on the back for kicking out a white supremacist, but Spencer says bluntly what many conservatives conceal in thinly-veiled racism that is propped up by “alternative facts.” Bannon’s war with the media is, in many ways, a war with reality, where facts that don’t support the radical right’s extremist agenda are jettisoned in favor of playing on people’s fear.
Make no mistake, this week’s CPAC welcomed hate, and the fringe has taken a prominent seat at the table.