News & Politics

How CPAC 2019 Has Gone for Reporters Who Cover the Far Right

Photograph by Evy Mages

Every year dozens of reporters descend on CPAC to see where the conservative movement is heading—and, of course, cover all the weird and wacky stuff that happens around the conference in National Harbor. Generally, they’re welcomed, but CPAC can be fraught for journalists who regularly cover the fringes of the right. On Friday, for example, right-wing conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer pestered journalists from mainstream outlets. We asked some of the reporters present about their 2019 CPAC experiences.

Christopher Mathias 

Outlet: HuffPost
Years on the right-wing beat: Two.
How does this CPAC compare to others? “I haven’t covered CPAC before. From what I heard, [CPAC] can be kind of contentious. There are different factions, and they’re arguing over things. But this basically feels like a four-day Trump rally. I’m not nervous or tense; I’m used to them.
Any weird run-ins? “I was going down the escalator and there was a group of guys going up the escalator and one of them screamed ‘Hey Chris Mathias, I hope you don’t make it through the next round of job cuts at HuffPost.’ He was wearing a blue suit and a cross; I couldn’t place him. But then I saw a photo…the guy that screamed at me ended up being one of [white nationalist] Nick Fuentes‘s crew. That’s been it as far as harassment.”

Jared Holt

Outlet: Right Wing Watch
Years on the right-wing beat: Two.
How does this CPAC compare to others? “I’ve been attending CPAC for multiple years now, the one before Trump was elected and every one since then. Every year, CPAC is both predictable and unpredictable. There’s a predictable element, which is the conservative think-tank side, which is going to talk about stuff like energy production and think tanks. The unpredictable element is who’s going to show up, which is always the more interesting story. This year has felt relatively calm, especially compared to last year. Last year, there was still a lot of animosity between people who were ushered in through the Trump era: The social media stars, blogs, publications that are popular with enthusiastic Trump supporters who felt that they should have a seat at the table. There’s still that separation, but it feels a little less standoffish. I also think because Republicans lost the House, they’re feeling a little humbled. Last year, the tone was pretty extreme at times.
Any weird run-ins? “Sometimes people recognize me at this stuff because this is what I cover full-time instead of three days a year. Yesterday someone called me a Judeo Communist—I’m not sure what that means; it was an anti-Semitic thing. Aside from a few bad actors, people are generally pretty polite here, and even random conference attendees, even if they aren’t a fan of the work you do, they at least appreciate that you’re interested. But because there are some bad actors, I definitely have to be situationally aware.”

Molly Jong-Fast

Outlet: The Bulwark
Years on the right-wing beat: About one.
How does this CPAC compare to others? “This is my first CPAC, and I’m super excited to cover it for the Bulwark because they’re the Never Trumpers. So they really get under people’s skin in a way that other places don’t. In fact yesterday someone was saying that Bill Kristol was the true enemy of Trump. So I think they are very focused on the Never Trumpers. I’ve heard that last year was more nutty.”
Any weird run-ins? “I was impressed; people have been really nice to me. Some people have recognized me. With other journalists, you definitely feel like there’s a bond because there’s a certain level of hostility towards journalists here. But I’ve been treated nicely. I think in some way there are those fringey characters like Loomer, and it’s interesting to me to see that these people are so obsessed with media reporters. They have this fixation.”

Caleb Ecarma

Outlet: Mediaite
Years on the right-wing beat: Two-and-a-half.
How does this CPAC compare to others? “I’d say this year is more boring because you see less infighting than years past. For instance, when Ron Paul people were here in 2012 they walked in and were dressed differently and made a big stink. This year everyone’s united against the left and socialism. I think under Trump it’s gotten less exciting.”
Any weird run-ins? As far as the Gorka thing (Ecarma had a viral altercation with conservative commentator Sebastian Gorka last year) people will come up to me and ask if I am the Gorka guy. Young conservative teens will come up and shake my hand and say, “that’s awesome.” So, I appreciate that sense of humor. I don’t feel unsafe. But with Laura Loomer, it shows how desperate the grift has gotten, following any reporter with ten thousand followers on Twitter just to badger them. I don’t know, it’s just sad, and we shouldn’t cover it. But I’ve been left alone.”

Staff Writer

Brittany Shepherd covers the societal and cultural scene in political Washington. Before joining Washingtonian as a staff writer in 2018, Brittany was a White House Correspondent for Independent Journal Review. While she has lived in DC for a number of years now, she still yearns for the fresh Long Island bagels of home. Find her on Twitter, often prattling on about Frasier.