RENO, Nev. — Organizations in the conservative “liberty” and “freedom” movements seem to be sorting out bed partners, and there was new evidence of that at the Liberty Political Action Conference (LPAC) held here over the weekend.
For the ultra-conservative and conspiracy-oriented John Birch Society (JBS), which co-sponsored LPAC 2011, the timing of the event couldn’t have been worse. Word surfaced just before the Reno conference that JBS wouldn’t be invited back to next year’s rival Conservative Political Action Conference, which is one of the country’s most important annual gatherings of the political right.
“The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) recently told JBS it would not be eligible for a formal role at the  show, but that individual members would be welcome,” Bill Hahn, JBS’ public relations manager, said in a statement.
The rift between the two conservative organizations – both hustling for bucks and attention from Tea Party supporters and other ultra-conservatives – appears to date back to the days of President Dwight Eisenhower. Back then, JBS’ biggest focus was on the threat of Communism, and it attacked Eisenhower, among others, as an agent of Communism. Today, that fear is virtually forgotten as JBS and likeminded ideologues stick with the theme of “choosing freedom” in their attacks on everything from expanded health care to comprehensive immigration reform.
According to some reports, members of the board of the American Conservative Union (ACU), which sponsors CPAC, have “longstanding” issues with JBS that go back to the early 1960s when Birch Society founder Robert Welch published critical views on Eisenhower in his book The Politician.
After the Birch Society’s participation in CPAC 2011, Hahn said he had a “nice chat” with a board member who said he was happy JBS was there and appreciated its work. That was before the real “Dear John” letter arrived, ending the relationship.
“He did mention that other board members were much more critical of the organization, but did not get into why,” Hahn said in a statement. “We certainly are disappointed with the ACU’s decision and will seek other opportunities to connect with conservatives and Constitutionalists.”
Though dumped by CPAC, the Birch Society used the LPAC gathering Reno in an attempt to establish new conservative alliances by bashing everything from the Southern Poverty Law Center to illegal immigration.
There appeared to be a wide array of political beliefs represented among the attendees, who included anti-war libertarians, JBS members, Federal Reserve bashers, opponents of the IRS, conspiracy theorists of various stripes, Rand Paul supporters, and antigovernment “Patriots”.
There were vendors hawking everything from books by long-time tax protester and anti-Semite Martin “Red” Beckman and others bashing the IRS to libertarian and anti-war websites, from non-government coinage to solar panels.
Inside the LPAC convention hall, conservative granddaddy Howard Phillips, who founded the far-right Constitution Party in the 1990s, led things off and let it be known he’s not in favor of a balanced budget amendment – something a lot of other conservatives, including many in the Tea Party, are pushing. Phillips said a balanced budget amendment, with certain loopholes, would give the president too much power.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who was at the LPAC convention, told the audience he thought the balanced budget amendment would be a good idea. There was strong applause for the freshman senator when he talked about efforts to “audit the Fed” – demanding more disclosure about the dealings of the Federal Reserve System.
He also talked about renewal of the Patriot Act – another hot-button issue that divides many conservatives. The federal anti-terrorism law was enacted under conservative President George W. Bush, but opposed by Sen. Paul and other conservatives, along with an assortment of liberals.
The other co-sponsor of LPAC was the “Campaign for Liberty,” whose vice president Matt Hawes told convention goers that the organization – built around the popularity of the Tea Party – now has 600,000 supporters nationwide.
“We’re not necessarily in lockstep,” Hawes said of the differences between “liberty-loving” conservatives. He said 500 to 600 attended, many apparently eager to hear Rand Paul, who both spoke to an enthusiastic audience.
The Liberty Political Action Conference billed itself as an event intended to attract “freedom activists from across the country, representing conservative, libertarian, constitutional and free-market organizations, activists and businesses.”
It also attracted Rev. Chuck Baldwin, a former Baptist minister from Florida, who moved to Flathead County Montana a year ago and started “Liberty Fellowship” – an organization the weaves together Constitutional conservatism and God.
In his various writings, Baldwin has condemned Islam as a "bloody, murderous religion" and referred to the late Martin Luther King Jr. as an apostate. He has said he believes the South was right in the Civil War — but always adds that he’s no racist. Baldwin also has said there is a “conspiracy by elitists within government and big business to steal America's independence.”
He echoed that theme at LPAC, pounding the pulpit enthusiastically.
Baldwin blasted evangelical Christian ministers who, he said, stand behind “cowardly pulpits” and refuse to use their positions to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
“Our rights don’t come from Uncle Sam,” he said in a fiery voice. “Our rights come from our Creator, God.”
Baldwin also criticized “evangelical Christians” who he labeled “warmongers” for continuing support for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started by President George W. Bush. “The perpetual war is a tool of the globalists to enslave us,” he said, later adding, “You cannot export liberty at the point of a gun.”
He also blasted the Fed: “The Federal Reserve is a criminal cabal that needs to be dismantled.” If Chuck Baldwin was in the White House, he said, “those criminals at the Federal Reserve wouldn’t get a bailout. … [T]hey’ll be looking for a place in the big house.”
Baldwin said those who embrace ideals of the liberty should remember the Constitution and “not worry about being politically correct.”