One of the most unsavoury events on the Trumpist right is CPAC. This is an organisation that stages Conservative Political Action Conferences in America, as well as internationally. CPAC Australia has been operating since 2019 and the 2022 event is due to take place in Sydney this October.
CPAC is the heart of the tribal “war on woke” of the populist right. It’s where the Fox radicalisers combine with other culture warriors to inflame the base into utter implacable loathing of the centre. For this worldview, the centre is indistinguishable from the “socialist” left, entwined with the reviled Black Lives Matter, the fantasy of Antifa, and elite traitors to the American cause.
The previously annual event was created by the American Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom. The first conference took place in 1974, where Ronald Reagan gave the keynote speech during his presidential campaign. Trump’s speech at CPAC 2011 is credited with birthing his political career.
In 2017, Richard Spencer was ejected from the conference for his “repugnant” views. Under Matt Schlapp’s chairmanship, however, it has veered ever further into the ugly right currently unmaking America.
Nick Fuentes, leader of the Proud Boys (labeled a terrorist group in Canada) hosted the even more extreme America First Political Action Conference concurrently in Orlando in February, 2022. Trump-Republicans such as Marjorie Taylor Green and Paul Gosar were able to appear at both the neo-Nazi AFPAC and the marginally less unhinged CPAC.
A lurch even further into authoritarian territory was marked in May, 2022 when CPAC was hosted in Budapest. There Orban illustrated to the wildly-supportive American audience the glories of illiberal democracy. According to the worldview touted, the progressive or liberal world is the existential enemy and must be destroyed by seizing all the structures of power.
News Corp was instrumental in uniting the American MAGA right with Orban’s authoritarian ethnonationalism. He has a fraught relationship with the extremist right around the CPAC world: in 2021, Fox News was targeted at CPAC for insufficient support for Trump’s seditionist lies. It was Fox, however, that brought Orban into the mainstream as a Trumpist right hero.
Tucker Carlson is asserted in a New York Times investigation to work directly with the Murdoch father and son rather than his nominal bosses at Fox News. That same investigation alleges that Carlson’s show is watched by Australian News Corp editors for guidance on the Murdoch line.
It was Carlson who took his top-rating nightly Fox show to broadcast from Budapest for a week in 2021, with an Orban interview as a highlight. (Rod Dreher is believed to have been the connection. This ultra-conservative American intellectual has a number of Budapest-based and visiting peers from Britain and Australia.) Orban’s rabid defence of ethnic purity in Budapest and Christian western civilisation (depicted as dying) is a comfortable fit with Carlson’s messaging. The latter constantly reiterates the Great Replacement idea that (Jewish) elites are replacing white Christians with non-white and non-Christian immigrants in order to destroy western nations.
Fox News names are high profile attendees at American CPAC events, alongside the dolts of congress and the circus around Trump. Marjorie Taylor-Greene appeared in a grotesque tableaux at the August Dallas event mimicking maternal consolation of a performer weeping in a model jail cell over his Jan 6 insurrection “martyrdom.” Orban spoke at this CPAC too, a week after he asserted that Europeans “do not want to become peoples of mixed race.” CPACs are very much Trump’s Republican Party at play. Players test culture war ideas, and attacks on schools are a current hit; the base was responding well to the nonsense accusation that teachers are “sexualising” children.
The Australian version was founded by self-declared libertarian and president of LibertyWorks thinktank, Andrew Cooper. It is currently chaired by Abbott-conservative, Warren Mundine and features a less colourful cast than its American model. The 2022 line-up features many Murdoch employees, particularly from Sky. Domestic veterans of culture war nonsense and fabricators of climate denial “facts” are also listed.
Unsurprisingly, Matt Canavan and Amanda Stoker are amongst the speakers. The latter may continue her efforts to place the winding back of abortion access on the Australian agenda. Tony Abbott was revealed by Crikey to be the likely keynote speaker. Nigel Farage and a couple of Trump’s worse appointments are amongst the dubious attractions.
Farage has tweeted his determination this week that Britain should listen when “the great” Tony Abbott speaks. Abbott’s declaration that Britain must let the world know that “the way is closed” for migrants suits Farage’s continual fear-mongering about immigrant numbers. This fits the pair well for an Australia CPAC that advertised cheap tickets for students using the term “jugend.”
It is easy to mock the Australian CPAC, a tawdry echo of its toxic American model. What is crucial to note, however, is that the lies and distortions inherent in culture wars are the tool that Dutton hopes to use to turn his 17% approval rating into electoral success. The damage done to the US and UK by culture war wielding “conservatives” is inestimable and should not be underestimated. Above all, they foster bigotry and division, creating chasms in the civic space that cannot be bridged by civil discourse. Without an overlapping reality, democracy must fail.
The Australia Institute recently announced that it has found most Australians see being “woke” as a positive or neutral, despite the constant derision from frothing Sky News hosts. CPACs depict themselves as the suppository of wisdom, rather than flailing failures to cope with change. We can hope that CPACs remain sad fringe events in Australia rather than driving us towards chaos too.