Last weekend the Family Research Council, an SPLC-certified anti-gay hate group, held its annual "Values Voter Summit" here in Washington, D.C. The VVS is the nation's largest gathering of conservative activists from the religious right; over 2,200 people (mostly white middle-aged and older evangelicals) registered for the conference this year. Nowhere is the religious right's alliance with the Republican Party more readily visible: literally dozens of that movement's biggest stars turn out, along with senators, representatives, and future GOP presidential hopefuls seeking to burnish their social conservative credentials.
The Values Voter Summit is also heavily attended by members of the media and progressive activists, both because it's important to keep tabs on one's political and ideological opponents and because the event is a veritable gold mine of insanity.
I went to the Values Voter Summit myself for the first time this year, and let me tell you: it did not disappoint in the batshittery department.
When I entered the Omni Shoreham hotel in northwest D.C., I was greeted by a slightly effeminate high-school boy wearing a FRC T-shirt and holding a Values Voter Summit sign. I winced inside when, in a high, lilting voice, he directed me to the registration table -- not out of scorn or derision, but at the thought that he just might be a terrified, deeply-closeted religious gay kid, much like I once was.
I pondered that thought as I went through registration (exchanging in friendly banter with two ladies from Michigan who were just so excited to be there for the first time) and then security, which has been stepped up ever since last year's shooting at FRC headquarters.
Finally I arrived in the ballroom, where for the next two days I watched with both amusement and horror at the cavalcade of crazy that unfolded in front of me.
The civil war currently roiling inside the Republican Party between its rabidly extreme Tea Party wing and shrinking crowd of marginally-less-crazy political pragmatists was in full view, with open partisan bickering and speakers taking potshots at other, less conservative Republicans. It was clear right from the beginning whose side these so-called "values voters" were on: the first person to speak after FRC president Tony Perkins delivered his opening remarks was Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee, one of the primary architects of the Republican shutdown of the federal government.
And then came the shutdown's chief proponent and public face: Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Ted Cruz: the Religious Right's New Golden Boy
Cruz was introduced by Fox News pundit, conservative activist, and Catholic League board member Brent Bozell, who whipped the crowd into a frenzy by repeatedly slamming Sen. John McCain (an outspoken critic of Cruz and his shutdown strategy) as intellectually dishonest, a "whiner," and a "faux conservative." "Will you stand with Ted Cruz?" Bozell asked. The crowd roared its approval.
And then the Senator took the stage. The crowd leaped to its feet, cheering and whooping with delight; costumed Tea Partiers in the front row waved their fancy hats in the air. Before Cruz could even begin his remarks, an adoring female fan in the audience shouted to him: "If God is for you, who can be against you?" "I receive that blessing," Cruz responded. It felt like an old-fashioned religious revival.
Cruz fed the crowd the red meat they wanted, rattling off talking points peppered with Biblical references, and nearly every sentence he uttered met with shouts of affirmation. When pro-immigration reform activists from the group United We Dream interrupted him, Cruz didn't miss a beat, suggesting that President Obama had sent "paid political operatives" to derail his speech. At least half a dozen other hecklers interrupted Cruz, but the crowd drowned them out with shouts of "shut up!" and chants of "USA! USA!"
By the time Cruz's speech was finished, it was clear that the religious right had found its new golden boy. If he survives this shutdown fiasco, expect him to be the Michele Bachmann/Rick Santorum crowd's choice for president in 2016.
Bachmann and Beck: the Height of Delusion
Perhaps no two speakers personify the delusional world in which the GOP's insurgent right flank operates than Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck. Both spoke at the Values Voter Summit, and both spewed out all kinds of crazy.
Only in the conservative alternate universe could Michele Bachmann -- one of the Tea Party Republicans who happily shut down the government -- stand up in front of a room full of people and with a straight face, claim credit for reopening national monuments like the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial... which she voted to close.
Yet that's just what Bachmann did for the first eight minutes of her nineteen-minute speech. To hear Michele tell it, the evil tyrannical president Barack Obama maliciously kept World War II veterans from visiting the memorial they paid for with their blood, sweat, and tears. But then she and fellow shutdown proponents Steve King and Louie Gohmert heroically swept in, charged through the barricades, and liberated the site for her fellow American heroes.
She similarly boasted, in military terms, about ripping down the police tape in front of the shut-down Lincoln Memorial: "600 Americans took the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday," she shouted. "We took that hill!" Bachmann held up some police tape she'd saved, and the audience sprang to its feet and roared.
The rest of her speech was mostly devoted to attacking health care reform, which she called "Deathcare." She said she was "weeping" the night the Affordable Care Act passed the House, and she wondered if in a future shutdown, our horrible socialist president would stop C-sections and kidney transplants in progress or "place padlocks on a private clinic" like the ones she and her husband Marcus owned. (As you can imagine, I got quite the kick out of that reference.) And she even managed to tie in the Benghazi non-scandal.
Did Bachmann's allegations have any factual basis whatsoever? Nope, but as usual, that didn't stop her.
Glenn Beck spoke on Saturday, and although Bachmann set the crazy bar high the day before, Beck managed to clear it with room to spare. His speech was nuttier than a fruitcake, full of wild-eyed, Brave New World-style allegations. These included a claim that the Common Core state educational standards would eventually be used to scan people's eyes and figure out what corporation they should work for, as well as an assertion that President Obama somehow controls the movies, television, and universities. Come to think of it, Beck didn't like universities at all: in Beckworld, Ivy League educational institutions teach "Marxist principles." Besides, who needs a diploma when you have the Internet?
He also completely mangled and totally rewrote history. For example, did you know that the founders of the United States helped bring electricity to France? I didn't either. But it's true, Glenn Beck said, before admitting to the crowd, "I have nothing to back that up... but I betcha I'm right." (If that isn't the perfect summation of this man's entire career, nothing is.) In other news, America is exceptional because before the advent of our great nation, "the whole world was reading everything by candlelight and wiping themselves with leaves." And the story of Topsy, a turn-of-the-century circus elephant on Coney Island, is one of the "most important stories in American history." Seriously.
Gay Holocaust Victims: A Laughing Matter?
Perhaps the most revealing moment of Beck's 50-minute rant -- and for this listener, certainly the most disgusting -- came when he whipped out a binder full of concentration camp badges from his extensive collection of Nazi memorabilia. (Yes, Glenn Beck has an extensive collection of Nazi memorabilia. Let that sink in for a minute.) Beck flipped through page after page of these gruesome artifacts, explaining which group wore which symbol.
He then asked the crowd if anyone knew what group wore purple triangles. (The correct answer is Jehovah's Witnesses.) One member of the audience guessed gays, to which Beck replied that no, gays' concentration camp badges were pink. And how did the crowd of so-called "values voters" respond? With laughter.
Incidentally, VVS attendees also heard neurosurgeon, anti-LGBT activist, and African American Dr. Ben Carson claim that Obamacare is "the worst thing to happen to this nation since slavery," and Joel Rosenberg, a messianic Jew, equating abortion with the Nazi Holocaust.
The world these Tea Party, religious-right, mostly white, middle-aged and elderly conservatives thought they knew is evolving all around them and rapidly morphing into something they no longer recognize -- and it scares the hell out of them. But instead of challenging their preconceptions and growing along with the rest of America, they've chosen to dig in their heels, wrap themselves in the Gadsden flag, climb up onto crosses of their own making, and fight desperately to cling to their prejudices for as long as possible.
And yes, that includes anti-LGBT bigotry. Stay tuned for my second and final report, where I'll go into detail about homophobia and transphobia at the Values Voter Summit.
UPDATE: Right Wing Watch has the video of Glenn Beck's remarks and the crowd laughing at gay Holocaust victims. I'm embedding it below; head over to their site to read their full report.
UPDATE 2: Here's the second report.