NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Andrew Breitbart was the coolest thing at the first day of CPAC, even though he's dead. On Thursday, there were three events to celebrate Breitbart, the conservative provocateur who died a year ago, and they were filled with fanboys. There was a screening of the Breitbart-narrated movie Occupy Unmasked, a panel about his legacy, and cocktails to celebrate his legacy. His message is appealing, because it's comforting, but empowering: The left is trying to silence you by calling you racist, sexist, all kinds of -ists. But you're not the racist — they are. Also, you can be cool.
A documentary about the real puppeteers behind the Occupy Wall Street — unions, The New York Times, other Democratic groups — might not seem like the most timely issue for devoted conservatives, given all the important post-election issues like immigration, gay marriage, the budget deficit, and why the GOP lost. But the movie was wildly popular. Many CPAC panels and speeches were held before half-empty rooms — Sen. Lindsey Graham joked that all the attendees at his radical Islam panel were Baptists, because no one wanted to sit up front. But at the Occupy Unmasked screening, it was so packed that they brought in more chairs 30 minutes after the film began — and that still wasn't enough. The crowd was really into it. The movie presents Occupy as another the result of a whole century of nihilistic leftists who justified violence with bogus claims of racism. (The name of a Stalinist New York Times reporter from the 1920s flashes on screen as Black Panthers march; student protesters pull America out of Vietnam, and when the Cambodian genocide happens, the protesters are silent.) Audience members shook their heads as Occupy protesters singled out black police officers for extra abuse. A dad in the audience covered his daughter's ears as a 1960s student radical dropped f-bombs on screen. And they laughed as Breitbart infiltrated Occupy camps and exposed a series of radicals idiots and white elites with trust funds.
"At CPAC last year, I followed Andrew Breitbart around like a puppy dog," William Willenbrock, a 42-year-old from Northern Virginia, told me. "I'm kind of shy, and I didn't talk to him. And now I wish I had." Willenbrock figured out where speakers exited the stage, stood near the door, saw Breitbart giving an interview, but didn't say hello. Now he has Breitbart's face as his Twitter avatar. I suggested that was a good choice, because Breitbart had a really striking face. Willenbrock went further. Breitbart was burly, had longish wavy hair, and a receding hairline. "He reminded me of, like, the Founding Fathers," Willenbrock says. "I viewed him as a Founding Father." He thinks there's a chance the 2012 election could have gone differently if more people had seen Occupy Unmasked, and other Citizens United movies.
"He just had this magnetism and natural charm," Brian Holloman, the 25-year-old chair of the East Carolina University College Republicans, says. "He just was who he was." Holloman came to CPAC for his Spring Break. "Some people go to Florida, some people go to Mexico, I go to where the conservative movement is." He was standing with Josh Kerr, a shy freshman. "The left accuses conservatives "of being terrible awful racists — they use that as a weapon against conservatives," Holloman says. "Civil discussions can't be had if the left labels conservatives as racist, sexist, homophobic — without any proof." Breitbart knew how to get the truth out. Kerr nodded in agreement, eventually asking me if I thought Hitler was a right-winger, his tone implying that he was most certainly not. Breitbart aggressively fought that, but in a fun, positive way, he said. The post-Breitbart Breitbart News, Holloman said, was "honoring his legacy by fighting the narratives of the left."
During the panel to honor Breitbart's legacy, Breitbart News editor-at-large Ben Shapiro was on a separate panel upstairs, and was honoring his legacy. The panel was called, "Stop THIS: Threats, Harassment, Intimidation, Slander & Bullying from the Obama Administration," though the panelists were focused on the bullying of all liberals. Shapiro, who talks very fast, told the audience that they would have to go against their natural instincts to treat ideological opponents with respect if they wanted to win arguments. If a liberal calls you a racist, and you respond by appealing to them as a reasonable guy, then you just lost, because if the liberal is reasonable, then it's reasonable to call you racist. You can't do that.
It's like they're stepping outside the Geneva Conventions, Shapiro said. That means we pick you up and throw you in Guantanamo. When liberals ask why conservatives hate poor black children, Shapiro said, conservatives should respond by asking why they're "keeping millions of children in poverty to pay off labor unions." Shapiro said the audience should feel no guilt by being so aggressive: "When they use those tactics, they are morally deficient human beings on that issue." On Friday, the Tea Party Patriots are sponsoring a panel called, "Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You're Not One?"
Willenbrock doesn't really seem like a Geneva Conventions-violator. He jokes that he's a "zealot," but he doesn't come across as one. He was "more hardline" on immigration, he says, before an immigration panel Thursday made him think. The idea of illegal immigrants' constant fear of being deported hit home. He's not sure he wants full citizenship for all 11 million illegal immigrants now. Still, as for some kind of legalization, "I'm surprised I softened my stance on that." But he clearly wants a not-so-soft conservative icon to stick it to the left. Breitbart News has the spirit of Breitbart, but it's not quite the same. They don't quite have Breitbart's swag.