DALLAS - “Oh that was very inspirational;” was the response of one CPAC attendee to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s speech on Thursday.
“He’s a great leader, he had a lot of good messages,” continued Linda Ellison, 63. “Some things that we should install here in the United States.”
Ellison, like many other attendees at the GOP’s annual gathering of conservative activists, was well aware that Orban’s appearance at the convention in Dallas, Texas, was mired in controversy. A week prior, he’d given a speech at an annual event in Hungary, in which he stated “we do not want to become people of mixed-race.” In response to his remarks, one of his long-time advisors resigned, calling it a “pure Nazi speech” that was “worthy of Goebbels.”
Orban appeared to reference this controversy when he took the stage at CPAC, before a sea of red MAGA hats and glittering red-white-and-blue cowboy hats, and under this year’s tagline “AWAKE NOT WOKE” to give a speech laden with Christian nationalism.
“I think you managed to confuse a lot of people by inviting me, for example, the leftist media,” Orban said. “I can already see tomorrow’s headlines: ‘Far-right European racist and antisemitic strongman, The Trojan Horse of Putin, holds speech at Conservative Conference.’ But I don’t want to give them any ideas. They know best how to write fake news.”
The crowd laughed.
In his 35-minute long speech, Orban told the crowd they were at war with their fellow Americans. “American Democrats did not want me to be here and they made every effort to drive a wedge between us. They hate me and slander me and my country, and they hate you and slander you and the America you stand for,” said Orban. “Liberals didn’t want me to be here because they knew what I would tell you. Because I’m here to tell you that we should unite our forces.”
Orban’s appearance at CPAC coincides with surging Christian nationalism in the U.S., which casts culture war issues, like LGBTQ rights, pronouns, drag shows, or the 2020 election results, as primordial battlegrounds between good and evil. This framework not only undermines America’s founding philosophy of separation between church and state, but it lays the groundwork to justify bigotry against protected groups in the name of Christianity.
“We have to be brave enough to address even the most sensitive questions: migration, gender, and the clash of civilizations,” Orban boomed from the podium. “Don’t worry, a Christian politician cannot be racist. So we should never hesitate to heavily challenge our opponents on these issues. Our Christian values protect us from going too far.”
When he namechecked George Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and billionaire philanthropist, loud boos rang out across the auditorium. Orban railed against immigration, abortion, gay marriage, and more. “Family ties should be based on the marriage or relationship between parents and children,” Orban said. “To sum up, the mother is a woman. The father is a man. And leave our kids alone. Full stop.” Orban got a big applause then, and when he finished his speech, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Back in the exhibit hall, Daniel Escobedo, 19, the chairman of Young Conservatives of Texas at Baylor University, said that Orban’s speech had been the highlight of his day. “I liked Viktor Orban the most,” said Escobedo. “Very passionate speech.”
Asked about Orban saying he doesn’t want Hungarians to become “peoples of a mixed race,” Escobedo wasn’t too bothered. “Hungary is for the Hungarian people,” said Escobedo. “And I feel like if the Hungarian people have voted in Viktor Orban, then that’s something for the Hungarian people to decide.”
“I can see why the Hungarian people, you know, they just want to have, like, Hungarians around them, people that are like first generation immigrants,” Escobedo continued. “I don’t think that’s really white nationalist. You know, it’s not like they’re killing them on the streets or anything, it’s not like there’s a genocide. I think it’s just a matter of, you know, I guess the people of Hungary know who they want in the country.”
Even before Orban’s speech on Thursday, CPAC attendees were willing to shrug off his “mixed-race” comments. “Ah yes, I did hear that. There was context involved, and as I recall, I heard that from that context, it isn’t that big of a deal,” said Bill Carson, who was attending CPAC for the first time this year. (Here is the translated transcript of Orban’s remarks in full). Carson said that “ in the broader scheme” and “speaking generally” he doesn’t have a problem with “the hybridization of the human race.”
But he thinks it unfair to label Orban’s comments as “white nationalist.” “That is quick for the haters to come up with an idea like that, and then say it, and then I have to defend myself against it,” said Carson. As for Orban’s long-time staffer resigning in response, he saw similarities in former president Donald Trump’s experiences around the violent riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. “Lots of people didn’t believe in him, and stepped down when his problems came about,” Carson said. “People who step down with problems like that maybe benefit themselves. I have no respect for that.”
“Why would that be a controversy?” asked another attendee, Ron Weissman, when asked about Orban’s comments. “They don’t want to mix cultures. Every country should have their own way.”
Only one CPAC attendee that VICE News interviewed expressed disappointment in Orban’s appearance. Barry Bridger, 82, a retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. who fought in Vietnam called Orban’s remarks “utter nonsense.” “Everybody has an opportunity to walk to this table, make their own judgements and decisions,” said Bridger. “It’s not all about them, or individuals, or me. It’s about all of us.”
Asked if he thought CPAC made a mistake by inviting Orban, he replied, “I don’t make that call, but I probably wouldn’t.”
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