NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — If there’s one overarching theme of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, it’s that evil socialism is on the rise in America and must be stopped.
On both Thursday and Friday, CPAC commenced with a 5-minute video that screamed the word “SOCIALISM” in cryptic font across the giant screens inside the Potomac Ballroom at the Gaylord Convention Center. The video featured footage of Democratic Socialists of America members marching in the street, as well as clips of self-identified democratic socialist politicians Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), all set to dramatic music.
The video ends with footage of President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in El Paso, Texas, last month. “America will never be socialist country!” the president said.
The CPAC crowd roared.
On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence warned the audience here that Democratic proposals such as Medicare For All and the Green New Deal are proof of rising socialism in America.
“It was freedom, not socialism, that ended slavery, won two world wars, and stands today as the beacon of hope for all the world,” the vice president said, presumably using the word “freedom” as a stand-in for “capitalism.” He added that it was freedom, not socialism, “that gave us the highest quality of life, the cleanest environment on earth, improved the health and well-being of millions of people around the world.”
Near the end of his speech, Pence added, “The moment America becomes a socialist country, is the moment that America ceases to be America. As the president said 24 days ago, so we must say it with one voice: America will never be a socialist country!”
The crowd said the last bit in unison with Pence, then broke out into a chant of “U-S-A!”
Conservatives, including at previous CPAC conferences, have long smeared their Democratic opponents with the socialist label. But perhaps because in recent years socialism has become less of a scare word in American politics ―and as polls show it’s becoming increasingly popular on the left ― speakers and attendees at this year’s CPAC did their best to drum up support for a new Red Scare.
Sebastian Gorka — an anti-Muslim extremist with ties to the Nazi-linked Hungarian political party Vitezi Rend who previously served as an adviser in Trump’s White House — told a crowd in the ballroom here Thursday that many American millennials would like to live in a socialist America. The crowd booed.
“Yes, indeed, boo,” Gorka encouraged them. “Yes, indeed, hiss.”
He then described the Green New Deal as “a watermelon: green on the outside, deep, deep-red communist on the inside.”
For his part, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) railed against socialism and Marxism in an impassioned speech to a largely empty ballroom.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Friday blamed “a bunch of crazy socialists” in New York for Amazon canceling its plan to build a second headquarters in Queens.
Conspiracy theorist and Blaze TV founder Glenn Beck gave a tortured analogy comparing socialism to the horror movie “Friday The 13th.”
“Stop trying to hook up in some cabin in the woods and prepare because Jason is coming,” Beck said. “He’s right behind you and this time he’s coming with a hammer and a sickle.”
Rick Harrison, the host of History Channel’s “Pawn Stars,” spoke about the “stupidity of socialism,” comparing the economic philosophy to a drug.
“It’s literally like heroin,” Harrison told the crowd. “The first shot is great. For a little bit it’s wonderful, but then the rest of your life is a living hell. And that’s literally what the socialists are doing.”
At one point, when Harrison paused after saying the word “socialism,” a crowd member finished the sentence for him by screaming “sucks!” The crowd laughed and cheered.
Diamond and Silk, the popular far-right vloggers, told the crowd that socialism will “drive us back to the days of slavery.”
Titles of panels and breakout sessions at CPAC included: “How the Left Does It: Money, People, Technology & How They Sell Socialism with a Smile;” “Marketing Marxism: There’s Nothing New about the Green New Deal;” and “AOC’s Green New Deal: Debunking the Climate Alarmism Behind Bringing Full Socialism to America.”
And in the exhibits section at CPAC, the far-right college group Turning Points USA sold “SOCIALISM SUCKS” t-shirts.
One young TPUSA member posed for a group photo holding a sign that featured a Donald Trump quote: “All nations of the world should resist socialism and the misery it brings to everyone.”