(L) U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, December 2017. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images. (R) EPA head Scott Pruitt during his confirmation hearing, January 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images.
By Alex Kotch
At least two Trump administration cabinet members will be speaking on Friday at a conservative summit cosponsored by the John Birch Society, the notorious right-wing group that became one of the leading organized forces in modern American history advocating for systemic racism.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, additional Republican politicians, and numerous right-wing firebrands from conservative media and advocacy networks will come together on Friday for what The Denver Post calls “the largest gathering of conservatives outside of D.C.”
Sessions, who famously prosecuted black voting rights advocates in 1985 and recently announced a federal policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, is speaking on Friday night along with Pruitt. The scandal-ridden EPA administrator has been swiftly dismantling environmental regulations, which endangers people of color disproportionately.
The John Birch Society is a far-right, anti-Communist organization known for its fierce opposition to the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The society advocated impeaching Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren after he issued the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that desegregated public schools.
Far less prominent today, the group is making a comeback. Some Texas state lawmakers have allegedly joined the group in recent years, and society members are fired up about President Donald Trump, whose positions on immigration and anti-government conspiracy theories align with the organization’s ideology.
The Western Conservative Summit—with the theme of “Fortifying Freedom”—will take place in a Denver convention center and is hosted by the Centennial Institute of the conservative Colorado Christian University.
The Centennial Institute “sponsors research, events, and publications to enhance public understanding of the most important issues facing our state and nation,” according to its website. “By proclaiming Truth, we aim to foster faith, family, and freedom, teach citizenship, and renew the spirit of 1776.”
If the summit’s lineup is any indicator, Niche has it right. Among the speakers are David Horowitz and Frank Gaffney, both labeled as anti-Muslim extremists by the Southern Poverty Law Center; and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who frequently expresses nativist, anti-immigrant views and support for European, white-nationalist politicians.
Speaking and receiving an award at the summit is Edwin Meese, the former attorney general under Ronald Reagan. Meese was formerly president of the shadowy Council for National Policy. In 2014, Michael Peroutka, a former board member of the neo-Confederate League of the South, was on its board of governors, and Gaffney was listed as a member. Morton Blackwell, who is president of summit sponsor the Leadership Institute, is a director.
Also set to speak: actor Kirk Cameron, who has said homosexuality is “unnatural” and “destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization,” former Colorado politician John Andrews, who called Islam “the existential threat to the United States of America,” and Michael Farris, president and CEO of summit sponsor Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as an anti-LGBT hate group. The Alliance most recently defended before the Supreme Court a baker’s right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
In addition to the John Birch Society, a notable sponsor is the far-right campus activist group Turning Point USA, led by Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, both of whom are speaking at the conference. The organization has a history of hiring racist, upper-level employees. The former national field director once texted a colleague, “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all…I hate blacks. End of story.” Her replacement is a woman who has repeatedly used the n-word in tweets and says she “love[s] to make racist jokes.” Owens is black, and over the past two years she has gained fame for frequently denying that anti-black racism exists.
Harvard will host its first ever “black only” graduation ceremony
This is racist and a disgrace to all racial progress made over the last 60 yrs
MLK would be disgusted at this
By the way, if you are a black person that goes to Harvard, you are the furthest thing from oppressed
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) May 21, 2018
Several other sponsors have provoked serious allegations of hate and racism.
The David Horowitz Freedom Center is also a sponsor. “No people have shown themselves as so morally sick as the Palestinians,” Horowitz said in 2011. The only foreign nation involved in the summit is Israel, with the Ministry of Tourism serving as a sponsor. Israel has drawn international outrage after its troops killed dozens of unarmed Palestinians at recent protests near the Israel-Gaza border.
Another sponsor, the Leadership Institute, once donated $500 to ProEnglish, a white nationalist and anti-immigrant organization. The institute produces the blog Campus Reform, which attacks allegations of campus racism and “PC culture.”
Sponsor American Lands Council, which wants ownership of Western public lands transferred to the states, has ties to anti-Native American groups, according to the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
Providing additional sponsorship are the Colorado branch of the Koch brothers’ political nonprofit Americans for Prosperity; the National Rifle Association; conservative think tanks the Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Institute; conservative media outlets The Weekly Standard, the Washington Examiner, and The Washington Times; and aerospace company and military contractor Boeing.