COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — You might have thought that a conference with the title “Conservative Call to Action” would feature lots of talk of small government, of Ronald Reagan, of the need to defend traditional values and a capitalist economy. But that would be yesterday’s conservatives.
Instead, at the event held Saturday in this famously conservative town that is home to the nation’s biggest concentration of Christian Right organizations, rabid Florida pastor Terry Jones, whose televised burning of Korans set off riots overseas that left several people dead, claimed that he didn’t hate Muslims at all — and then went on to rant that Islam “makes Nazism, fascism look like charity.” He was joined by other “conservatives” who warned that the universities are brimming with “commies,” that all liberals are evil, that President Obama only won re-election through “massive voter fraud,” and that the president’s health care plan is “Marxism to the core.”
Symptomatic of the shift of a broad swath of the conservative movement to outright paranoid fantasy was the appearance of Dinesh D’Souza, who was once a respected commentator on the right. D’Souza began to run off the rails with a 2010 Forbes magazine article that he expanded into a book and then into a 2012 film, “2016: Obama’s America.” The article was pilloried by more old-fashioned conservatives, including Daniel Larison, who described it in The American Conservative as “the most ridiculous piece of Obama analysis yet written.” The article, book and film argue that Obama is motivated by a dream of undermining Western power.
D’Souza told attendees, in effect, to get over Reagan and turn to the tasks at hand — battling the media (wholly “liberal” since Richard Nixon, he argued), all museums (they’re “liberal,” too) and “95%” of elite universities (whose professors, D’Souza said, are “anti-American”). “Obamaism” is theft, he said, the president does not care about the country, and in any case is aiding Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Jones was something of a star at the conference, whose audience topped out at 50 or 60 and was hosted by a group of the same name, Conservative Call To Action (CCTA). In this crowd, it probably boosted his credibility that he’s been banned from entering Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom because of his anti-Muslim hate speech, as his appearance as No. 2 on a “10 Most Wanted” list published by Al Qaeda certainly did. Jones described how he returned to the United States from missionary work abroad in 2008, only to be “horrified” by the country’s finances and the spread of teen pregnancies, abortions and homosexuality.
Jones offered the crowd red meat, saying that Americans need to unite, to recruit more true believers to the far right — and to be willing to die. Then he told his fans that he was off to South Carolina, one of the nation’s most conservative states, to talk to a Republican ally there about a run for an office he didn’t identify. He added that Islam was “evil,” “dangerous” and the “greatest violator of human rights.”
The conference was hosted by CCTA President Jennifer WarHawk, a self-described former atheist who also founded a group called Moms’ and Dads’ Associated Society Helping to Educate Conservative Constitutionalists. Leading off the event’s speakers, WarHawk said she was inspired by two things to organize the gathering: the death of right-wing commentator Andrew Breitbart (whose facts-be-damned website infamously and without any basis attacked former Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod as a black racist) and her work in Colorado campaigning for Rick Santorum (who, after quitting his run for the GOP presidential nomination, started writing a column for WorldNetDaily, a far-right website that once ran a six-part series claiming that eating soy beans causes homosexuality).
WarHawk’s Facebook page features the new radical call from opponents of gun control — “Molon Labe,” ancient Greek for “come and take.” The phrase, attributed to King Leonidas I of Sparta as he defied Persian armies at the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, has been popularized by the Oath Keepers, a radical antigovernment “Patriot” group. The Oath Keepers is made up of present and former military and law enforcement personnel, and is obsessed with government plots aimed at taking Americans’ guns and imprisoning all who resist in concentration camps.
Another speaker typical of the new “conservatives” was Marine Corps veteran Bill Finlay, a former deputy sheriff and U.S. marshal known on the right-wing speaking circuit as “Wild Bill for America.” Describing himself as a “liberalologist,” Finlay said the ultimate goal of liberalism is to install a totalitarian government. He said the universities are full of “commies.” He said liberals will use the mental health system to attack gun owners. And he proposed to create small “special forces” teams to “invade liberal territory,” “expose the liberal agenda,” and “sow chaos” among liberal groups.
Up next was Colorado-based activist Michelle Morin, whose website features links to Muslim-bashing groups like Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs blog (where Geller has published claims like the assertion that President Obama is the “love child” of black radical Malcolm X and that the president’s mother was a “crack whore”). Morin went through a litany of complaints, saying that Obama’s health care plan was “Marxism to the core,” that “illegals” were bad for America, that same-sex marriage was damaging the nation and its freedom. If the left gets its way, Morin warned as have others on the far right, the first people targeted will be people of faith.
What CCTA hoped to accomplish with its conference was the building of a “worldwide Conservative movement that is highly networked and connected.” But the more important thing that came out of the gathering may have been more evidence of the increasingly unhinged rhetoric of many of those on the political right. In an emblematic moment, as WarHawk tried to end the conference with thanks to her volunteers, she was interrupted by the shrieking of a fire alarm that drove the entire crowd out the comfortable hotel and into the frigid outdoors.