I’m standing on the sidewalk outside CPAC when two suited gentlemen begin making a scene. “Oh my god,” one shouts. “Is that JFK? It’s JFK Junior!”
The man toward whom they’re gesturing does not remotely resemble John F. Kennedy Jr., the former president’s son who died in a plane crash off Martha’s Vineyard in 1999. He’s not a reanimated corpse, nor does he have that Kennedy flair—his hair is overgrown, and he’s wearing a bright blue plastic suit over an Ashli Babbitt T-shirt, with a bedazzled “Trump” pin on his lapel. Honestly, it would be easier to believe he was John Lennon.
Nonetheless, the men surround him and bellow, “JFK Junior! We haven’t seen you since back in Orlando. How are you? You’re JFK Junior, right?”
“No, you are,” he replies, before stepping into an RV—a vehicle lavishly wrapped in images of soldiers, American flags, and Jesus Christ himself—which must be at least 30 feet long.
Craig Hudgins, the RV’s grandfatherly owner, looks at me apologetically and explains that while he personally doesn’t “get too deep into that crap,” some people believe that JFK Junior is still alive. “Like, he’s been brought back to life?” I ask, and Hudgins replies, “Yeah, I think that’s the whole thing.”
The JFK Junior guys are suddenly in our faces, and I say to one of them that he died in a plane crash. “That’s what they want you to think,” he triumphantly replies. Behind them, a man with an iPhone is filming the scene, and I can’t figure out what’s going on—are they YouTube provocateurs or true believers? Are they drunk?
For what it’s worth, Hudgins and his friend seem to think they’re for real, but I’m not sure whether to trust them: just minutes ago, they were discussing Satanic cannibalism, the Rothschilds, and the imminent overthrow of the South African government, a coup allegedly backed by God. On the other hand, who else can help me make sense of this situation? I’m outside CPAC, up is down and down is up, and these are the only people in a fifty foot radius who seem fairly confident that JFK Jr. is dead.
My original plan was to cover the scene at CPAC—the outfits, the speeches, the overheard remarks—but it was too late to get a press credential, and honestly, that was probably for the best. Looping a “journalist” sign around my fragile neck and parading among throngs of testy Republicans didn’t sound so great, particularly after American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp recently threatened to “go a little bit Hungarian” on us.
Without a media badge, the closest I can get to CPAC is the sidewalk outside the convention center. When I arrive on Saturday afternoon, Jair Bolsonaro’s speech has just ended, and a gaggle of Brazilians draped in green flags is spilling out the doors. Some women in red dresses totter by on stilettos, rushing to escape the cold, and I watch from the street as they pass through the metal detectors into a crowd chanting “We love Trump!” Am I bummed not to be there? To miss the speechifying of such luminaries as Lauren Boebert, the MyPillow guy, and Donald John Trump? Sure—but all is not lost. I figure I’ll chat up the folks at the smoking benches instead, asking them what they think of DC.
Predictably, the people of CPAC like DC’s monuments and hate its miasma of lies. One woman says she thinks DC is “fantastic.” She’s petite with graying auburn hair, a smear of red lipstick, and a Q pin adorning her white “question lockdowns” shirt. “It’s my first trip,” she says, bubbly and sweet. “I’m so excited—this has been a dream of mine. Tomorrow I’m going over to the Capitol and I’m going to go terrorize the gulag.”
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“Oh, you know, where they’re locking up men that they pushed into the Capitol on J6. And then they imprisoned them with no warrants and no charges and they’ve been there for two years, some of them in solitary. So I’m going to visit that site, and I’m going to visit the monuments.” Awkwardly, I tell her that I’m glad she could come, and she shrieks, “I love it! Thank you for asking. I’m really mesmerized!” before walking into the hall.
Needing a break, I head to the parking lot where I’m told I may find Sebastian Gorka’s ride: a black Mustang, probably poorly parked. I don’t see it, but there’s other interesting stuff. Circling the lot is a “mobile cigar humidor” decorated with images of presidents, and I pass an Escalade wrapped with pictures of various Vietnamese Americans posing with members of the Trump family. A black GMC cruises through the drop-off area blasting the song “Fuck Donald Trump.”
Toward the back of the lot is a car that looks quite slept in—the dash is littered with rumpled clothes, coffee cups, and some kind of Catholic magazine beside an empty box of Robitussin. Nearby is a pickup on whose rear window is the scrawled message “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” Then I come upon a disheveled man live-streaming from the passenger seat of a van, a QR code taped to the window. I ask if I can photograph the car and he tells me that of course I can—that’s the whole point.
I’m returning to the smoking benches when I discover the General Lee—a replica of the blaze orange car from the Dukes of Hazzard, the number “01” on both sides and a Confederate flag painted on the roof. But this General Lee has some bonus details. Below are some images for your perusal, but I will point to the disconnect between the Andrew-Cuomo-in-jail decal and the front novelty plate that reads “I <3 Cooter.”
Of course, the convention’s splashiest vehicles are the two hulking RVs parked just outside the hotel doors—one of which will soon become a refuge for JFK Jr. when he’s accosted by the two suited men. Initially, I assume that these vehicles belong to a CPAC honcho—they’re so elaborate, and they got such primo parking—but Craig Hudgins turns out to be just a guy from Virginia Beach.
“I can only attribute it to God’s grace, God’s favor,” he says of how he got this parking spot. Apparently he didn’t get a special permit, and he didn’t even arrive that early—but a valet just let him do it. “It’s like a hot knife going through butter,” he says of the marvelous things that happen whenever he travels in his loud, patriotic RVs.
Hudgins is an older guy—gray hair under a tan “Semper Fi” ballcap, Ray Bans with rose ombré lenses, and a black leather bomber jacket with “USA” embroidered up the sleeves. For a while, I think we might inhabit the same factual universe. He explains his plan to create a fleet of wrapped RVs to spread his message across America, and talks about his days as a commercial pilot and how pissed off he is that the US government killed Pan Am.
But then his friend pops over, a middle-aged guy with a fedora and a press pass, and quickly things get weird. The first thing I notice is the fedora guy talking rapidly about Enron—about prices per kilowatt hour and energy deregulation—then he either says “they control weather,” or he was cut off while saying “they control whether—” While I’m trying to discern if we’re still on solid ground, the conversation abruptly shifts.
“All of this is diabolical,” Hudgins says. “Truly. Everybody tends to blame George Soros, you know, he’s the common whipping boy.”
“He’s a fall guy, though,” the fedora guy replies.
“Well, he is,” Hudgins says. “There’s no network or mind that could actually orchestrate all of these things that are going on—”
“Yeah,” the fedora guy interrupts, “it’s called the World Economic Forum.”
“Not even that. I’m telling you. There is no way, given how we operate as human beings. This mind is orchestrated by Satan himself. And these are all his minions at work.”
The guy in the fedora replies with talk of funding the wall, explaining that large corporations are spurring mass migrations so that they can take over emptied-out parts of the world. “I think it’s more now, but every year over 800,000 kids go missing at the border,” he says. “Why? I mean, cannibalism is real. It is no joke. These Satanic people are literally eating [children]. They consider it the rejuvenation of life.”
“Allegedly,” the other guy interjects.
“It really is Satanic,” the fedora guy insists. “This stems down to the Rothschilds of the world.”
It’s at this moment that JFK Jr. appears. There’s brief chaos. I eye the man with the iPhone and wonder desperately what’s going on. Could these guys possibly believe that this man is JFK Jr.? Given where I am, I conclude that they could.
Right after JFK Jr. hops into the RV, someone begins to quote Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Hudgins pulls me away. We walk to the back of the RV where he points to Jesus’s face, blown up to the size of a large hog, superimposed on a hillside of crosses. “As a Catholic, I was going to put a crucifix back there,” he says, but then one of the women he was working with felt that the mutilated body of Christ might be kind of graphic for her daughter.
For a half an hour, we stand there chatting about war and Christ and election integrity. He says he knows an ex-NSA guy who “was part of a group that designed software to intrude on election processes in foreign countries to be able to sway the outcome in the CIA’s favor, or the NSA’s favor, or whatever.” Hudgins claims the guy “got a conscience” and quit when he saw that the NSA was using that software here in America. During a tangent about how statistics used to be reliable, I interrupt to ask who his 2024 candidate is.
“That’s a hard question,” he says. “On the one hand, Ron DeSantis has exhibited some very impressive decisionmaking processes. But I supported Donald Trump all through his presidency. I see a lot of good values in what he’s done, but I also see the inconsistencies.” He says he knows that Trump loves America, but “I think there is a relationship with God that Donald Trump hasn’t come to yet that I feel is extremely important.”
Just then, we hear sirens on the main road outside the resort. “Oh, this is probably him!” Hudgins cries. President Trump—who has spent the day gloating about the Kellyanne and George Conway divorce, mocking the crowd size at Nikki Haley’s speech, and crowing to reporters that he’ll still run for president even if he’s criminally indicted—is scheduled to address the crowd in an hour. And there he is; a motorcade of SUVs and police cars has taken over the road, heading toward the back of the resort.
At this point, I have been at CPAC long enough that my parking is about to spike in price, and I do not want to pay an additional six dollars for this dispiriting sideshow. So I excuse myself and snake through the parking lot while Googling JFK Jr., trying to figure out what the bejesus just happened to me.
I learn that there’s a Q-adjacent theory that the president’s son survived that plane crash off Martha’s Vineyard—which was orchestrated by the Clintons to lock him out of the New York Senate seat that Hillary wanted—and that he has recently resurfaced to become Trump’s 2024 running-mate. In one of these articles, I encounter a video of the same suited guys at a different conservative event, accosting the same blue-suited man while screaming “it’s JFK Jr.”
JFK Jr. turns out to be Vince Fusca, a Trump devotee and fixture at Q events. The suited men are a comedy duo from New York.
Oh, thank God, I think—that was just a joke. If only the rest of CPAC were, too.