DALLAS — Fringe right-wing political groups converged on the Hilton Anatole in Dallas this weekend for the Conservative Political Action Conference, where some attendees openly boasted of participating in events that led to the Jan. 6 riot and speakers gleefully peddled anti-semitic conspiracy theories. Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, QAnon adherents, and a number of colorful characters with conspiratorial beliefs were in attendance.
“I’m here to instigate freedom like I did on the lawn on January 6 when I climbed the media tower while they shot tear gas at my feet,” said Duane Schwingel, who dresses up as a patriotically themed character he calls Uncle Jam.
Several members of extremist groups were in attendance, including Stewart Rhodes, a leader of the infamous Oath Keepers. On July 9, it was reported that Rhodes had sat down with the FBI after 16 members of the group were charged with conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 riot.
Rhodes himself did not enter the building and has not been charged with a crime, but a conspiracy case against other members of the Oath Keepers cited messages Rhode allegedly sent in a group chat days before the riot encouraging others to bring armor and batons.
Rhodes declined to speak with The Daily Beast when approached for comment.
Two members of the Proud Boys were also spotted: Alexander John Bouzakis and Rabbi George Meza.
Meza, a controversial rabbi known for his YouTube videos and offering mass conversions in North Miami Beach, announced his intentions to become a Proud Boy in a Zoom class in October 2020, according to the Tribe Herald news site. “I may be a future proud boy. I already went to 2 meetings,” he said during the class. It appears he followed through.
Meanwhile, QAnon themed shirts were on sale at a merchandise booth in the exhibition hall, despite previously being banned from Trump rallies. A number of the speakers over the course of the three-day CPAC conference have ties to the QAnon movement. Some were even featured at a recent QAnon conference in Dallas, Texas, including Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, and Former Chairman of the Texas Republican Party Allen West.
These overlaps appear to send a clear signal that once fringe right-wing elements are now comfortably embraced within the mainstream conservative movement, even if some are still kept at arms-length.
Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist, was denied access to the conference. On Saturday, Fuentes and his cadre paraded through the lobby of the Hilton Anatole as a show of protest, only to be shown the door by security.
When asked why Fuentes was denied entry, a CPAC spokesperson did not reply.
Fuentes’ ban from the event didn’t prevent the ideas he represents from making their way to the stage, however. Some attendees even expressed admiration for Fuentes.
“He’s a thought leader,” Uncle Jam said. “He signed my megaphone.”
The main event on Friday opened with a speech from Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. During his speech, Patrick espoused ideas with roots in anti-semitic and white nationalist conspiracy theories that have also been vigorously promoted by Fuentes and his associates.
“The left is on a path of chaos that started with George Soros spending millions of dollars to elect DAs all over the country, so when there would be violence in the streets, they would be let out,” Patrick said.
Since at least 2017, Gov. Patrick has used Soros as a boogeyman. Following the murder of George Floyd, there was a noted surge in Soros related conspiracy theories, which the Anti-Defamation League has called “a gateway to anti-Semitism.”
During the “Million MAGA March” in November 2020, Fuentes named George Soros and other Jewish individuals in a speech railing against “the satanic globalist elite.”
In the same speech, Lt. Gov. Patrick also promoted a version of the “Great Replacement” theory, a key facet of neo-Nazi ideology that has become increasingly mainstreamed by individuals like Fuentes.
“What’s happening on the border today is not an accident. It’s purposeful. It’s a designed plan,” Patrick said. “Why are they letting millions of people pour across the border? Because they want to turn them into citizens, turn them into voters, and take over the country.”
When asked about their beliefs, several attendees indicated they too had come to accept some facets of the theory.
Mayra Gutierrez, who heads up Latinos for Trump in Texas, said as much. “It was planned,” Gutierrez told The Daily Beast. “I see the invasion. I live at the border.”
Gutierrez is a Mexican immigrant herself who recently became a citizen. She says she’s seen an increase in border crossings after Joe Biden became president. When asked if she’s concerned that such rhetoric could encourage extremist violence, she suggested that such violence is a mental health issue, not a political one.
Texans living on the other end of the state, however, would likely dispute that.
In 2019, Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old Texan man from Allen, shot and killed 23 people and injured 23 others at a Walmart in El Paso. Minutes before the shooting, he published a manifesto that said the attack was in response to a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Dr. Dwayne Collins, a Tea Party activist from East Texas who takes part in volunteer border patrols, also agreed that the wave of immigration at the border is by design. For his part, Collins believes it is due to an international Communist plot to destabilize the country.
And Collins is not alone. Dozens of the speakers echoed Collins’ fear that a Communist or Marxist plot of one form or another is threatening the very fabric of the United States. “News flash to all those haters. Socialists, Communists, Marxist, throw it all in. We are here to save America,” Kimberly Guilfoyle said shortly after criticizing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
While these fringe political ideas seem motivating for many CPAC attendees, they appear likely to deepen the already growing rift in the conservative movement.
“There is nothing conservative about this,” Norm Ornstein, emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, tweeted in response to the presence of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers at CPAC. “This is radical, lunatic insurgency.”