Efforts at “rebranding” the American right have plunged into still another highly embarrassing pothole at the most anticipated conservative event of the year. Almost as soon as the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicked off just outside Washington, D.C., the event became mired in a controversy over white nationalism.
ProEnglish, the white nationalist-led English-only outfit that created serious headaches for the conference back in 2012, has been quietly allowed to return as an official exhibitor at CPAC 2014, which opened on Thursday.
According to the CPAC 2014 website, the ProEnglish booth is number 538, sandwiched between the booth for a movie about the IRS “scandal” and one occupied by Tradition, Family, Property, a right-wing Catholic organization.
The site lists the ProEnglish contact for CPAC as Robert Vandervoort.
Prior to becoming executive director of ProEnglish, Vandervoort was the organizer of the white nationalist group Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance, while he lived in Illinois. During that period Vandervoort was at the center of much of the white nationalist activity in the region.
While Vandervoort was in charge, Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance often held joint meetings with the local chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens. He also made appearances at white nationalist events outside Illinois, for instance participating in the 2009 Preserving Western Civilization Conference.
Vandervoort was hired by the Tanton-founded English-Only group ProEnglish during the autumn of 2011, after the organization lost three other executive directors in less than a year. Shortly after Vandervoort took the job, ProEnglish hired Phil Tignino as the group’s webmaster and social media coordinator. Tignino was the former head of the Washington State University chapter of the white nationalist college group Youth for Western Civilization.
The Vandervoort problem shouldn’t be new to CPAC staff. After the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights raised concerns over Vandervoort’s white nationalist attachments during CPAC 2012, a significant discussion ensued. The Kansas City Star, the Wichita Eagle and Mother Jones were among the publications to take note of these events. American Spectator, a decidedly conservative periodical, weighed in with the comment that “if Vandervoort indeed organized events for an American Renaissance affiliate … he should explicitly and publicly renounce his old associates; that is a crowd that no one should touch with a 10-foot pole.”
Instead of taking that advice, Vandervoort tried to bamboozle the public by claiming, “I have never been a member of any group that has advocated hate or violence.” No one has accused Vandervoort of advocating violence. But the record clearly shows that he not only acted on behalf of American Renaissance, but that he shared its white nationalist views. Which, as American Spectator aptly noted, should not be touched with a 10-foot pole by CPAC, or anyone else.
White nationalism has become a recurring problem for CPAC. On the eve of last year’s conference, the group responsible for organizing CPAC chose to feature the work of a controversial white nationalist professor on its website. The American Conservative Union (ACU) website featured an article by Dr. Robert Weissberg, a retired University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign political science professor with a second career as a white nationalist. Like Vandervoort, Weissberg has been active with the white nationalist group American Renaissance. Inside the hall last year, CPAC’s problem with white nationalism flared at a Tea Party Patriots workshop entitled, “Trump the Race Card.” White nationalists turned the workshop into a pro-segregation apologia for slavery. There was a speaker who had previously advocated the execution of gays and lesbians. There were birther bigots and Islamophobes.
In 2012, white nationalists had officially broken down the gates to CPAC. That year, the conference featured Vandervoort on stage — twice. He was on a panel with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and he also moderated a panel entitled “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity is Weakening the American Identity.” The other speakers on that panel included Peter Brimelow, editor of the white nationalist website VDARE; Serge Trifkovic, an Islamophobic Serbian expatriate who before becoming the foreign affairs editor at the paleo-conservative magazine Chronicles was a spokesman for the convicted war criminal Biljana Plavsic; ProEnglish board chair Rosalie Porter; and John Derbyshire, once a contributing editor at National Review (until his racism got him fired), who now works with Brimelow at VDARE.
The organizers of CPAC don’t seem to have trouble changing their minds regarding to whom they sell exhibit space. On February 25, after an uproar, CPAC organizers reversed their decision and decided to not allow American Atheists to have an exhibition booth at this year’s event. Will CPAC do the same for a group run by a white nationalist?
Devin Burghart is vice president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. He will be live-tweeting throughout CPAC 2014. You can follow him on Twitter @dburghart