Dan Schneider had a message for the thousands of conservative activists gathered on Thursday in the Potomac Ballroom at the Gaylord Convention Center, in an anodyne suburb of Washington, DC. “We’ve been slapped in the face,” he told the attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference. “There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks.”
This year’s CPAC has shown the conservative movement in the United States is facing a crisis of its own making, as the white supremacists it has nourished since its inception are emerging from the shadows and demanding a seat at the table. But that wasn’t what Schneider said. Rather than acknowledge and take responsibility for the extremists their movement has birthed, conservatives are feigning ignorance and blaming a familiar boogeyman for their problems, all while continuing to celebrate the fringe positions they claim to decry.
Schneider, the executive director of the American Conservative Union, the organization behind CPAC, was delivering a speech titled: “The Alt-Right Ain’t Right At All.” Initially, it seemed he was going to denounce the collection of neo-Nazis and white nationalists who have adopted the euphemism “alt-right” to rebrand their bigotries as new and edgy. Instead, he offered an implausible explanation for their rise that left the room largely silent—either due to confusion or lack of interest. The alt-right wasn’t the inevitable outgrowth of decades of right-wing politicians stoking racist animosity through coded language, he argued, but rather a mysterious leftist false-flag operation.
“Just a few years ago, this left-wing, fascist group hijacked the very term ‘alt-right,’” he said. “They are not part of us. They stole the term specifically to confuse us.” He added, for emphasis: “They are nothing but garden-variety, left-wing fascists.” Schneider specifically referenced an incident from November during which prominent white-supremacist Richard Spencer—famous online for getting punched in the face—gave a Nazi salute to then–President-elect Donald Trump. To claim Spencer is a leftist, rather than the culmination of decades of movement conservatism, takes staggering levels of delusion, paranoia, and self-pity. Ignorance about the alt-right is dangerous, as hate crimes against Muslims and Jews continue to rise—including on Wednesday when a white man in Kansas shot two men he believed to be from the Middle East, killing one of them, and injuring a bystander who attempted to intervene.
Outside the ballroom, Spencer was surrounded by members of the media desperate for a quote. After about 45 minutes, he was ejected from the premises, despite having purchased a ticket. “His views are repugnant and have absolutely nothing to do with conservatism or what we do here,” said CPAC spokesman Ian Walters, according to NPR.