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The eight most bizarre lines from CPAC 2023

Criticism of President Joe Biden’s administration, the Chinese surveillance balloon, attacks on transgender Americans and “wokeness” were recurrent themes at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, a four-day gathering for right-wing activists and Republican officials from across the US.

These are some of the most bizarre and downright horrifying lines from the conference.

‘I would never advocate hunting the media for sport’

In a panel titled “Don Lemon Is Past His Primetime,” right-wing media personalities criticised the CNN anchor and mocked what they characterised as an unfair liberal media, a frequent target throughout the week despite most of the panellists and guests on the CPAC stage being media personalities themselves.

Panelist L Brent Bozell III, the founder of conservative watchdog group the Media Research Center, said journalists have “never held a real job”.

Town Hall columnist Kurt Schlichter said journalists are “too dumb to do anything else” and “the enemy”.

“They want to be gatekeepers. They want to set the agenda,” he said.

At one point, he mentioned serving in the Gulf War – “when America won wars and the Pentagon knew which bathroom to use” – and recalled a service member asking if he could kill journalists.

“‘Sir, if we have any reporters around, can I shoot ‘em?’” he said as the panellists laughed, before adding: “I would never advocate hunting the media for sport.”

‘Sports built this country’

Former college football coach turned Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville was interviewed on a panel called “Sacking the Woke Playbooks,” where he rejected both transgender athletes being allowed to compete and inclusive efforts to perform honest teachings on race, racism and LGBT+ people in the classroom.

He listed off a string of right-wing targets in a series of baseless statements against trans athletes and US education.

“All this woke, transgender athletes, CRT, 1619, they don’t teach reading, writing or arithmetic,” the senator said.

He said that sports must be “protected” because “sports have built this country”.

Former Trump official: ‘I don’t give a s***’ about lawsuits over Trump’s family separation policy

Former ICE director Tom Homan repeatedly and falsely suggested that there were fewer acts of violence against people crossing the southern border under the Trump administration.

Human rights watchdogs uncovered “massive human rights violations against migrants and asylum seekers” after Trump implemented the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy in 2019. Nearly 70,000 people were impacted by the policy, but fewer than 53,000 people – less than one per cent – were granted relief.

Advocates and government agencies also uncovered chaos from the Trump-era Title 42 policy, which prevented people from seeking asylum under US and international accords, and a family separation policy that removed hundreds of children from their families at border crossings.

“I’m sick and tired of hearing about the family separation. And I’m still being sued about that. I don’t give a s***,” he said.

“No one did more, bottom line” on immigration than Trump, Mr Homan claimed. He said he offered to work for free because he is so “p***** off”.

‘Pick up a dollar, and it’s got fentanyl on it, and you’re dead’

In a panel on US-Mexico border security and the import of fentanyl, Republican US Rep Mark Green revived a familiar and false trope about the synthetic opioid.

News outlets have repeatedly picked up local police warnings about dollar bills laced with fentanyl, and police agencies have repeatedly claimed that officers have experienced overdoses or faced some kind of exposure illness after coming in contact with the drug.

Multiple assessments from toxicologists, public health experts, drug policy researchers and law enforcement agencies’ own guidance when it comes to fentanyl have debunked those claims, which continue to make headlines despite their spurious contents.

“Pick up a dollar, and it’s got fentanyl on it, and you’re dead,” Mr Green. That is false; it is not possible to experience such a reaction from merely touching the drug.

“Every American,” he claimed, “is at risk” from fentanyl.

‘I think vindication looks pretty good on me’

Four-term far-right Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, who was under federal investigation connected to a sex trafficking probe, will not be charged by the Justice Department, the agency announced earlier this month.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) (Getty Images)
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) (Getty Images)

His first words on the CPAC stage: “I think vindication looks pretty good on me.”

‘Wokeness is a virus more dangerous than any pandemic, hands down’

2024 contender Nikki Haley said she wants to “stop America’s downward spiral towards socialism” with an agenda to make America “strong and proud, not weak and woke”.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) (Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) (Getty Images)

“The Democratic party is now a socialist party,” she said, pointing to Bernie Sanders, who is not a Democrat, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has overwhelmingly won elections for her New York district three times.

Ms Haley condemned the Biden administration with a false claim that troops are forced to take “gender pronoun classes.” In contrast, US military policy actually provides instruction for respecting trans service members.

“That disgusts me,” Ms Haley said. “This woke self-loathing has swept our country. Wokeness is a virus more dangerous than any pandemic, hands down.”

‘Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely’

Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire sparked alarm on 4 March with his anti-trans rhetoric during his Saturday speech at CPAC.

“Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” he said.

John Knefel of Media Matters called it “eliminationist, genocidal rhetoric”.

Adam Vary of Variety urged people to “pay attention. This is genocidal. That is not hyperbole or alarmist; this rhetoric is calling for the eradication of a group of people for who they are”.

“‘Transgenderism’ is people. He’s talking about eradicating people. When newspapers print scare stories about kids transitioning too early, when podcast hosts whine about girls’ sports, when politicians snark about the definition of ‘woman,’ this is what they’re talking around,” Raphael Bob-Waksberg said.

“It would be great if non-trans people would start paying attention to this, because the quiet part is getting shouted at this point,” Jaclyn Moore added. “If only there was a word for when they want to ‘eradicate’ a kind of people. A word trans people have said these people were talking about but people called us hyperbolic. Hmmm I guess my vocabulary just isn’t good enough.”

Writer Parker Molloy said, “hey, this is really scary s***, and I wish that the a***holes who keep insisting that there aren’t major legislative attacks on trans people of all ages happening right now ... would stop lying about that. Things are getting very bad”.

“The GOP could not be more clear about their intentions: they want to eradicate trans people. They are saying this out loud,” Charlotte Clymer said.

Mr Knowles has said in the past that his rhetoric isn’t genocidal because he doesn’t believe trans people exist, Jezebel noted.

“There can’t be a genocide,” he said on his programme last week, adding that “it’s not a legitimate category of being. They’re labouring under a delusion. And so we need to correct that delusion”.

Biden admin is ‘trying to tell us paedophilia is normal’

Tulsi Gabbard, a former Democratic House Representative and presidential candidate said during a speech at CPAC that the Biden admin “are trying to tell us paedophilia is normal because minor-attracted people are acceptable”.

She drew applause from the crowd when she said “I am no longer a Democrat” and she called Hillary Clinton “the queen of warmongers”.

She went on to claim that Democrats are “betraying Dr King’s dream” and that “they’ve become the racists they claim to hate”.

“The White House [lists] off proudly all of these statistics and quote-unquote diversity in the Biden administration by talking about gender and race and sexuality but not talking about capabilities and accomplishments,” she said. “They’re directly betraying Dr Martin Luther King’s dream … judging us purely based on the colour of our skin rather than on the content of our character. They become the racist that they claim to hate.”

She has recently claimed that the Democrats have an “agenda of identity politics”.

“Let’s be clear how serious of a problem this is. It’s based on genetics, race, based on your blood, your genes; and where do we see that connection? Well, these are the very same geneticist core principles embodied by Nazism and Adolf Hitler,” she said on Fox News.