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The roughly 4,000 Republicans who flocked to the Conservative Political Action Conference confab in Dallas over the weekend got a heckuva bang for their buck: not only a star turn by featured keynoter Donald Trump but also an illustrious lineup of insurrectionists, extremists, and conspiracy theorists.
Members of extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers strolled the halls of CPAC alongside mainstream Republican leaders, while vendors sold QAnon merchandise. One group of attendees even handed out cards that listed a seven-point plan for returning Trump to office within days.
The conference was dominated by the Big Lie, the conspiracy theory that the November election was somehow stolen from Trump and, despite no evidence, the claim that Democrats had perpetuated widespread fraud.
“There’s so much evidence,” Trump said, without presenting any. “There’s bad things going on in this country... It’s a disgrace to our nation, and we are truly being scorned and disrespected all over the world.”
A straw poll taken at the event showed that 70% of attendees would like to see Trump as the Republican candidate in 2024. Before the results were announced, Trump admitted he’d spin the findings depending on what they said.
“If it’s bad, I say it’s fake. If it’s good, I say that’s the most accurate poll ever,” Trump said.
Here are the wildest things that happened at CPAC 2021, from the extremists to the extremely absurd.
Proud Boys and Oath Keepers
CPAC attracted many big names from the mainstream Republican world, including Trump, but it also attracted many Trump supporters who are not—yet—part of that group.
One of those was Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of right-wing militia group the Oath Keepers, who was first spotted roaming the halls of CPAC wearing an official pass on Friday afternoon, by Salon reporter Zachary Petrizzo.
So far 16 members of Rhodes’ group—though not Rhodes himself—have been charged with their involvement in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
When approached by Petrizzo, Rhodes became aggressive and told the reporter to “fuck off.” CPAC has not commented officially on Rhodes’ attendance, but an official told Salon that conference leaders have been in touch with federal law enforcement authorities to assess whether Rhodes was considered a threat to attendees’ safety and well-being.
The Daily Beast also reported that two members of the Proud Boys, Alexander John Bouzakis and Rabbi George Meza, were seen attending the conference.
But not all extremist groups were welcomed with open arms.
Nick Fuentes, the white nationalist leader, was denied entry to the conference by CPAC officials. Fuentes and his friends paraded through the lobby of the hotel when the event was taking place on Saturday morning, but they were quickly shown the door by CPAC security officials.
Fuentes and his followers call themselves the “Groyper army,” which the Anti-Defamation League describes as “a white supremacist group.”
QAnon merch for sale
In recent months, QAnon conspiracies have become part of the core orthodoxy of the Republican Party, and while most GOP lawmakers will deny QAnon is part of the party, there was plenty of evidence at CPAC of a significant overlap between QAnon and the GOP.
There was QAnon merchandise, including T-shirts, for sale, and some attendees proudly walked around the conference wearing QAnon shirts—though at least one attendee didn’t like attention being drawn to her QAnon attire.
Several prominent CPAC speakers also spoke at the major QAnon conference that took place in Dallas at the end of May, including sitting Congressman Rep. Louie Gohmert and Allen West, a former head of the Texas GOP who is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott in next year’s GOP primary.
Matt Gaetz showed up uninvited
The Florida lawmaker was in attendance at CPAC this year but was not granted a speaking slot, highlighting that many within the Republican Party remain wary of Gaetz, who is currently under investigation for paying a minor for sex.
But Gaetz did speak at a different event held in the same hotel where CPAC was taking place but not sanctioned by CPAC.
The event, organized by a group called Look Ahead America, saw Gaetz in conversation with West, who as Texas GOP chair recently changed the party’s slogan to a QAnon phrase.
CPAC officials confiscated several signs inside the conference which pointed to the unofficial event that took place upstairs in a different ballroom in the same hotel.
Look Ahead America denied CPAC’s claims that the event was unsanctioned, saying it was a sponsor of the conference.
Someone bought a $25,000 Trump painting
Last year a viral photo of Trump hugging the American flag became one of the enduring images of the conference. This year, a painting of that image was auctioned off and raised $25,000.
A Trump supporter who doesn’t believe the Big Lie
They were the rarest of creatures at CPAC this weekend, but CNN correspondent Donie O’Sullivan managed to find one of the few attendees who wasn’t willing to sign on to the conspiracy that the election was stolen just because Trump and his acolytes said so.
“If you tell me you're going to release the kraken, show me the freaking kraken, for crying out loud… And don't tell me to go to Mr. Pillow man's website,” the unidentified attendee said.
The 7-point plan
A card being handed out to attendees listed seven steps that need to be taken to get Trump returned to office within days, not years.
The steps are a mishmash of various conspiracy theories that have been swirling around QAnon channels for months, and are not based on reality.
It’s unclear who created the card, though it could be an effort to trick CPAC attendees, as the website listed at the bottom of the card goes to an Abortion Care Network website.
Glenn Beck showed off a KKK hood
Conservative radio host Glenn Beck showed off a KKK hood on stage before going on to compare the Ku Klux Klan to antifa.
Backstage after his speech, Beck was showing off other pieces from his extensive collection, including Nazi armbands worn by victims of Hitler’s Germany.
Trump eulogized Ashli Babbitt
Hours before Trump took the stage at CPAC, he called in to Fox News from Dallas to continue his recent effort to turn Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt into a martyr.
Babbitt was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer as she attempted to gain access to the Speaker’s Lobby on Jan. 6. In his interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox News, Trump once again demanded the name of the officer be released, though there is no legal requirement for the force to do that.
During the interview, Trump praised Babbitt, an Air Force veteran and QAnon follower.
“Who shot Ashli Babbit? Why are they keeping that secret?” he asked, adding, "Who was the person that shot an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman, a military woman?”
He then repeated his claim from last week that he knew the name of the officer involved, before spreading more wild allegations without providing a shred of evidence to back up his claims.
“I’ve heard also that it was the head of security for a certain high official—a Democrat—and we’ll see. It’s gonna come out,” Trump said.