Organizers of the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference had to plead with attendees Friday to please wear masks, and were met with loud jeers in response.
The incident, on the second day of the premier annual gathering of the U.S. right-wing, came when American Conservative Union executive director Dan Schneider and CPAC deputy director Carly Patrick took the stage inside the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Orlando in Florida, where the packed conference is being held despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Schneider and Patrick gently and sheepishly asked attendees to put on masks, with Schneider even appealing to the conservative crowd’s love of private property.
“I know this might sound like a little bit of a downer, but we also believe in property rights, and this is a private hotel,” he said, according to live video footage from the event. “And we believe in the rule of law, so we need to comply with the laws of this county that we’re in. But a private hotel, just like your house, gets to set its own rules.”
Patrick took it from there, telling the crowd, “So please everyone, when you’re in the ballroom, when you’re seated, you should still be wearing a mask. So if everybody can go ahead and work on that.”
Perhaps sensing growing anger in the room, Patrick added: “I know, I know, it’s not the most fun.”
“Booooo!” some of the attendees could be heard yelling. “Freedom!” cried others.
The tense moment was demonstrative of a conservative movement in America still awash in denialism of COVID-19, even though the virus has killed more than 500,000 in this country and even though CPAC’s 2020 gathering, held in Fort Washington, Maryland, sparked one of the pandemic’s first big stories after it was revealed that an infected attendee shook hands posed for photos with government officials and GOP bigwigs.
Journalists in Orlando this week have reported seeing many CPAC attendees wandering the hotel maskless.
“Just watched a #CPAC staff member ask an attendee multiple times to put his mask on,” tweeted Bloomberg News reporter William Turton. “He turned toward her, coughed, and kept walking. I’d say about 60-70% of attendees are wearing masks, despite a rule requiring masks.”
Turton also posted photos to Twitter showing mask-less attendees posing for photos with a golden statue of former President Donald Trump.
Matt Schlapp, president of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, was among those spotted mask-less as he posed for a photo with a mask-less attendee.
One of the featured panelists at the conference on Friday was Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter who has made a name for himself over the last year by minimizing the threat posed by the coronavirus, spreading disinformation about the pandemic during appearances on Fox News and elsewhere.
Nearly 35,000 people have died of the coronavirus in Florida, where the conference is being held.
Trump, who had to be airlifted from the White House last fall after growing seriously ill from the virus, will speak at CPAC on Sunday.