Last weekend, at an airport hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, hundreds of aging Caucasian conservatives gathered for a three-day long conference attended predominantly by Republican white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and European neofascists. The event was co-organized by Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum Education & Defense Fund—a militantly anti-feminist, anti-choice, paleoconservative organization founded in 1981—and The Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog that peddled so many anti-Clinton hoaxes during the 2016 election that it obtained a White House credential.
The collaboration drew together many strains of right-wing extremism that have taken root in the conservative movement. In doing so, it illustrated how the Trump presidency has managed to consolidate them into a semi-coherent whole. And while it billed itself as something like an “ideas festival” for conservatives, there was only one idea that mattered, articulated a dozen which ways: that white America is under threat and its defenders must do everything they can to preserve it.
The fact that Donald Trump is the president, that the Republican Party has full control of the federal government, and that the Democratic Party is in a state of disarray did not seem to matter. Nor did anyone seem to sense a contradiction between railing against “snowflakes” and “victimhood” on the one hand, and the narrative of privileged white grievance on the other.
“The media wants to portray us as stupid, lower class people,” one attendee told me. “But we’re not.”
I offered that most of the Trump supporters I’ve ever met have been small business owners.
“Yeah!” she said. “I have my own business.”
On the first day of the conference, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was presented the Major General John K. (Jack) Singlaub Award for Service to America. In his acceptance speech, Flynn positioned himself in the legacy of Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan. “My pledge will never waver,” he said, not noting that his own downfall came as a result of his political activity on behalf of another country. “It’s time to buckle down, listen up, and get ready to fight,” Flynn went on. “We should not fear the Judeo-Christian values our nation was founded on. We should cherish them.”
Later, Pamela Geller, a virulent Islamophobe whose admirers include mass murderer Anders Breivik, proclaimed that “Truth is the new hate speech.” Jim Hoft, the Gateway Pundit himself, described Mike Cernovich, Pizzagate conspiracy theorist, as a “legend” and said that accused cult-leader/vlogger Stefan Molyneux was a “giant” of the conservative movement.
Former Trump aide Sam Clovis, who has been called to testify before a grand jury in the Mueller investigation, told stories about the campaign trail, and claimed the president is being undermined by both media and Congressional Republicans.
“If some of them weren’t in Congress,” he said, “I really think they’d be homeless.” This got a big laugh—but not at the expense of Steve King (R-IA), who was present on Saturday to receive the “Phyllis Schlafly Award for Excellence in Leadership.” King reportedly came to Schlafly’s attention when he helped pass a bill making English the official language of government in his home state of Iowa.
One of the Schlafly clan at the event introduced Rep. Steve King by referring to a tweet of his from last year that stated, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” This was met with thunderous applause. When King took the stage, he repeated those words, and the crowd cheered again. He elaborated on his original statement, lamenting low birth rates, annual abortion numbers, and immigration from Mexico: “We have lack of conception; we have abortions in any number—950 thousand or more that we’ll see this year; then on top of that, we’re watching what’s happening in this country and across Europe: the immigration question.”
“Whenever you import a person from another country or another culture—even one person—you’re importing the culture as well,” King continued. “You transfer the culture, and you transfer also the crime rate.”
The crowd ate this up. King then took them on a bizarre hypothetical about moving everyone in Mexico to Japan, and everyone in Japan to Mexico, to illustrate his belief that people from different countries have innate, immutable characteristics that must be measured and controlled. “You’re transferring the cultures,” he said. “The Japanese would bring their technology and their science and their work ethic. And the Mexicans would bring their crime rate to Japan.”
“When you import young men from a country like that, that are 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, you’re importing the most violent demographic from any civilization” he added. “No matter how peaceful they are, and you’re transferring that into the United States.”
King declined to respond to my questions about the deaths in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and whether he disputes descriptions of himself as a white supremacist.
On Friday night, then again on Sunday, emcee Ed Martin began to warm up the crowd for Sunday’s keynote from Joe Arpaio. “There’s no Donald Trump without Sheriff.” Arpaio accepted these compliments with a rambling, aggrieved speech. “I loved running a jail,” he said, “but I took a little heat.” The crowd applauded his obvious references to Obama’s birth certificate (which he maintains, incorrectly, is fake), anecdotes about inmate abuse, and a story about starting a chain gang for women.
“First one in the world,” Arpaio said. “I’m an equal opportunity guy.”
Arpaio dismissed his abysmal performance in last month’s Republican primary for US Senate, blaming the Obama administration, George Soros, and biased federal judges. “We have to get rid of the Ninth Circuit—the appellate court,” he said. To that end, he’s started a political-action committee, Protect America First, that will support pro-Trump candidates around the country.
The Trump People
Rose Tennant, a Pittsburgh talk-radio host, wanted to talk about the economy. “Blue-collar workers and white-collar workers are happy, and they’re happy with each other,” she said. “Central planners didn’t get that done; capitalism got that done.”
“None of this is talked about in the media,” Tennant noted, before introducing Stephen Moore, a Trump advisor who regularly appears on CNN. “Liberals have no sense of humor,” Moore said. “We’re more fun than they are!”
Moore, an animated and erratic speaker, griped about how he hates his millennial kids because they’re stupid and like socialism, but nothing upsets him like accusations that the president is racist. “I met so many black and Hispanics!” he said, recalling campaign rallies in 2016.
He went on to show some graphs about the economy. “Trump doesn’t really like to read,” Moore advised us, “so we figured out the way to convince him of things was to show him pictures.”
Next came James O’Keefe, the dark money–funded propagandist and sex pest whom the crowd met with a standing ovation. He strongly implied that his next Project Veritas campaign will identify the author of the anonymous New York Times op-ed writer in a broader effort to root out the “deep state” undermining Trump. He was followed by Charlie Kirk. “Charlie has the president’s ear. Charlie offers him advice,” Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit said.
Kirk said conservatives were waging a war against not just liberals but leftists, which he defined as someone who believes in destroying the idea of Western civilization. “For them, there is no such thing as one culture being better than another,” Kirk explained.
“There should be unanimous consensus that America is the greatest country in the world,” Kirk demanded. The fact that there isn’t is due to conservatives’ having “sacrificed” public schools to “Marxists,” from kindergarten through universities, where they are undermining the “Judeo-Christian values” that the United States was founded on.
Later on Friday evening, rape apologist and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich screened his new movie about fake news, Hoaxed. The film opens with news footage about the Pizzagate conspiracy and a reenactment of Edgar Welch’s preparation of assault weapons. (It’s clear Cernovich still thinks Pizzagate might be real.) Interviewees include Alex Jones, Anthony Scaramucci, James O’Keefe, Tim Pool, Gavin McInnes, Lauren Southern, Ryan Holiday, and Jordan Peterson. It concludes with dramatic music and a Stefan Molyneux monologue horribly misinterpreting Plato’s allegory of the cave.
“I’ve laid a trap for the media knowing people are gonna watch the movie who don’t know anything about me,” Cernovich said. “I like foreign films,” he continued, “films that are ambiguous. Is Cernovich a good guy? A bad guy? That’s by design.”
Now, he wants to appeal to the left. “I tend to know what’s hot,” Cernovich said. “Economic populism.”
Cernovich skipped out on the rest of the weekend after his screening, but his friend and collaborator Stefan Molyneux made several more appearances. Few of the speakers were more insufferable than Molyneux, a podcasting charlatan who provides a pseudo-intellectual sheen to middle-class ideology with all the wisdom and rigor of a Facebook meme.
On Saturday, in a lecture on “Liberty and Philosophy,” he retold the allegory of Jesus Christ’s temptations in the desert, interpreting it as a story about the welfare state. “If you protect and maintain property rights, you get the free market,” Molyneux preached. “If you reject temptation, you get paradise.”
Over the course of the weekend, several speakers sought to criticize feminism while also reassuring attendees that there is room in the conservative movement for women. On Saturday, Later, DeAnna Lorraine, a conservative dating coach, gave a talk on “How Feminism Is Failing Men, Women, and the Country.”
“Women are no longer men’s safe spaces, where men can go for love and care and support,” Lorraine said. “Women are men’s enemies now.” In her account, feminism emasculates men, which leads them to transition genders. “We need to wake people up to the destructiveness of feminism,” she implored.
Rose Tennant moderated a panel including Cassandra Fairbanks, a Gateway Pundit staffer, and Laura Loomer, who used to work for Project Veritas, on the subject of “Women Warriors.”
“You feel empowered, right?” Tennant asked Fairbanks.
“Yeah!” Fairbanks replied.
“And you feel empowered too, right?” Tennant asked Loomer.
“Yeah,” Loomer said. “I feel empowered.”
Loomer is so empowered that she was previously seen asking the president to make Jack Dorsey reverify her on Twitter.
On Saturday night, Ed Martin presented Dominik Tarczynski and Petr Bystron with two of the council’s Eagle Awards. “We had Hitler and the fascists. We had Stalin and the communists. And now we may have the radical Islamists,” Tarczynski said, accepting his award. Tarczynski is a member of parliament with Poland’s far-right Law and Justice party. “Dominik makes Steve King look like a moderate!” Martin had joked earlier. Bystron is a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
“I will never, ever let any Islamist kill my son or grandson. I will never, ever let any second or third generation of Islamist kill my son or daughter. I will never let any Islamist rape my daughter. This is what is happening,” Tarczynski said.
Both he and Bystron blamed Angela Merkel for accepting so many immigrants and refugees. Tarczynski said that Merkel was stupid, naive, and inexperienced in politics—unlike George Soros, he said, who was experienced with his money: “He pays for it. Everyone knows it, but we have to say it out loud.”
“It has nothing to do with prejudice,” Tarczynski said. “It has nothing to do with Islamophobia. It’s all about logic. It’s about our experience, our European experience. It’s about this madness that was started by the leftists. And this madness will be stopped by Poland.”
Tony Shaffer, an advisor to Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, offered the conference a similar analysis, introducing them to his idea of “invasion by immigration” in a presentation titled “Trump Is Winning On Immigration and Europe Agrees.”
“This migration, this sublimation of culture, is not a good idea, and it’s part of a wider effort to destabilize Western culture,” Shaffer said. (He attributed that effort to the “global left.”)
Tarczynski would repeat himself Sunday morning. “We cannot be great in theory; we must be great in practice,” he said. “We must fight for our identity.” At the core of that identity, according to Tarczynski, are Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Christian faith.
“Do we want Roman law, or Sharia law?” he asked the conference. “They can call me a fascist. I don’t care. I care about my family and my country.”
“I’m an MP, so I have to be distinguished,” Bystron said as he received his Eagle Award. “I’ll just say: Let’s kick leftist ass.”
An earlier version of this article did not distinguish between the Eagle Forum Education & Defense Fund, a 501(c)3, and Eagle Forum, a 501(c)4, both of which were founded by Phyllis Schlafly.