Attendees at this weekends Conservative Political Action Conference — especially those with an interest in diversity within the conservative movement — were greeted this morning with a surprising addition to Saturday’s schedule: sponsor Breitbart News Network announced it would be hosting a panel discussion on Saturday afternoon called “The Uninivited: A series of controversial speakers and panels.” Those who noticed the fliers might have wondered what could be more controversial than the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s late decision to host a (well-attended) panel on gay conservatives and the important of inclusivity featuring CPAC exiles GOProud.
Despite the fact that Andrew Breitbart himself was an enthusiastic supporter of GOProud, the panel held in his honor doesn’t exactly feature a line-up of panelists calling for diversity within the conservative movement. Instead, it features a veritable who’s-who of right-leaning Islamophobic writers and anti-Muslim activists expected to talk about the importance of persecuting and isolating Muslims — especially within CPAC and its parent organization the American Conservative Union.
The Breitbart News Network decision is particularly controversial because no less than three of the speakers — Frank Gaffney, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer — were themselves earlier barred from officially participating in CPAC because of their personal attacks on ACU Board Members Grover Norquist (the head of Americans for Tax Reform) and Suhail Khan (a former Bush Administration appointee) as instruments of global jihad. Such personalized criticism is what was said to have sparked the speakers’ original banishment, but criticizing ACU board members was also behind the banishment of GOProud (which continued in 2013).
In 2011, the then-new head of the ACU Cardenas told the gay conservative group GOProud that they wouldn’t be allowed back as a sponsor or as speakers after co-founder Chris Barron called ACU board member Cleta Mitchell “a nasty bigot” for her efforts to have the group barred from the conference. Though Barron apologized, Cardenas said he didn’t plan to welcome them back in 2012 and that he would instead focus on racial diversity at the conference, adding “There are not enough African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities here. That diversity is critical.”
But after a controversy erupted over Spencer’s receipt of an award from the Tea Party News Network (TPNN), a new major CPAC sponsor, Cardenas reportedly personally called Geller to invite her to dinner and then both she and Spencer were suddenly added to the CPAC schedule at the personal invitation of CPAC sponsor Breitbart News Network.
The controversy began over the TPNN’s annual Blogger Awards, which is administered by Right Wing News’ John Hawkins (who made waves with liberals when he tweeted derisively about white women’s support for Obama during the 2012 debates). In an online poll for the Reader’s Choice Awards, Spencer’s blog Jihad Watch came out the clear winner after a campaign by Spencer and his followers. The winner of the award was promised a plaque, a short speaking slot at the awards ceremony (a CPAC sponsor event) and links at the main TPNN site.
On two things, bothsides now agree: after the results were in, Hawkins called Spencer and asked him to refrain from blasting the ACU or its board members as part of his acceptance speech, and Spencer refused. Hawkins told Raw Story he asked it of Spencer as a “personal favor,” but Spencer wrote and told Geller that he would be denied his plaque as a result of the controversy.
Hawkins denied that TPNN was going to withhold the award, or that he was motivated by political correctness or any connection to what Geller called “Islamist supremacists.” Instead, he told Raw Story he thought it would be rude to both the TPNN and the ACU to turn an awards ceremony into an opportunity to blast the host organizations and thought Spencer would agree.
He was wrong, and Spencer — though he’ll get his speaking slot on Saturday afternoon courtesy of Breitbart News Network — didn’t show to pick up his plaque. Hawkins told Raw Story that he wasn’t upset, though: “As long as it’s not me involved with it and someone else is stuck with them, I’m happy.”
He added, “I didn’t know you could fundraise off claiming the people who give you awards are flacking for the Muslim Brotherhood, but it appears you can.”
Megan Carpentier is the executive editor of Raw Story. She previously served as an associate editor at Talking Points Memo; the editor of news and politics at Air America; an editor at Jezebel.com; and an associate editor at Wonkette. Her published works include pieces for the Washington Post, the Washington Independent, Ms Magazine, RH Reality Check, the Women's Media Center, On the Issues, the New York Press, Bitch and Women's eNews.
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