The American Conservative Political Action Coalition, better known as CPAC, will be hosting another of its international conferences this coming weekend in Sydney, Australia. Once a bastion of relatively normal conservative politics, CPAC has become increasingly extreme while building an overseas network with outposts in Japan, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea, and Israel. Already the Australian event has sparked controversy as one American speaker, Elijah Schaffer, has reportedly been pulled for hosting a neo-Nazi on his podcast.
Many other far-right extremists remain on the bill. Pauline Hanson, leader of the anti-immigrant One Nation Party is slated to speak. She is best known for her bigotry against multiple communities. In 2017, Hanson arrived at the Australian Senate dressed in a burka and demanding this type of clothing be banned. In 2018, her party’s members tried to pass a senate motion endorsing the white supremacist slogan, “it’s ok to be white.” And she made disparaging remarks about Indigenous Australians in a letter published in the Queensland Times. It read, “How can we expect this race to help themselves when governments shower them with money, facilities and opportunities that only these people can obtain no matter how minute the Indigenous [sic] blood is that flows through their veins and that is what is causing racism.” Incidentally, CPAC Australia is running a petition on its website against a proposed expansion of Aboriginal rights.
Michelle Pearse, CEO of the anti-LGBTQ+ Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) will also be on hand. The group’s anti-LGBTQ+ positions have been widely denounced by influential Aussies. For example, in 2012, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, canceled a speech at the ACL’s annual conference after the organization’s managing director, Jim Wallace, argued that the health effects of homosexuality on individuals were worse than smoking. That same year, Australian Green Party leader, Christine Milne, said that the ACL’s “whole focus is to attack the gay community.” Among the issues ACL is opposed to are various LGBTQ+ rights including same-sex marriage, and prior to that civil unions, LGBTQ+ surrogacy and adoption rights, the existence of transgender people, and they have campaigned to allow religious schools to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. ACL views these issues as “rainbow ideology.”
Other speakers include Heather Wilson, co-founder of the American crowdfunding site GiveSendGo, which notoriously allows its platform to be used to raise funds for white supremacists, including members of the Capitol-storming Proud Boys. GiveSendGo is a “gold sponsor” of this weekend’s conference. It is particularly troubling that Australia’s former Prime Minister Tony Abbot and several shadow ministers are also slated to speak at the event.
CPAC has become increasingly and openly extreme since Trump won the presidency, while simultaneously building out its international footprint and influence. The LGBTQ+ community frequently serves as an attack vector for CPAC speakers, with one speaker calling for the complete eradication of “transgenderism” from American society at a March 2023 CPAC conference in Washington, D.C. And May 2023, CPAC Hungary featured a “who’s who” of anti-LGBTQ+ and far-right extremists. That conference included former Pennsylvania senator and anti-LGBTQ+ activist Rick Santorum and a notorious American conspiracy theorist with white supremacist ties, Jack Posobiec. Also on the agenda were former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, who is rabidly anti-LGBTQ+. The former president’s regime was notable for attacks on the LGBTQ+ community and Indigenous people.
CPAC repeat speakers have even spread terrorist-inspiring ideas. Just before the 2022 Hungarian CPAC conference, that country’s far-right leader, Viktor Orban, specifically referenced the white supremacist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which claims there is a liberal plot to dilute the white populations of the US and European countries through immigration. That same idea motivated terrorist attacks at mosques in New Zealand, a Pittsburgh synagogue and a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., among many others.
Events like CPAC are yet another example of the transnational nature of extremist movements that further deepen relationships among far-right actors waging campaigns against our democracies and targeted communities across the world. As Pamela Shiffman wrote in The Hill this past May, American far-right figures are taking a playbook from figures like Orbán. “News coming out of Florida has clear echoes in Budapest and Warsaw. Just this month, Florida’s Board of Education approved a proposal to forbid classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades, a dramatic expansion of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” ban that originally applied only to kindergarten through the third grade. In 2021, Hungary’s parliament passed a law banning gay people from being featured in school educational materials or on television shows for kids under 18. Expect more sharing of these terrible, rights-restricting ideas this weekend in Sydney.
image: CPAC Australia website