CPAC Turns Me Away…Yet Again

Longtime supporters and followers of my work are acutely aware of the ongoing problems with the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. For years, I have wrestled and wrangled with and cajoled the CPAC organizers to allow me the same privilege they routinely extend to other conservative groups: the right to host events at the largest gathering of conservatives in the country. Every year I faced roadblocks, delays, and lame excuses -- all stemming from the crippling cowardice of the CPAC leadership and its adamant refusal to grapple honestly with the jihad threat. This year, with jihadis threatening the whole world, it hasn’t gotten better -- it has gotten worse.

Back in October, I contacted Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which puts on CPAC. I informed him that my organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), wanted to be a full-fledged sponsor of CPAC, so that I could host an event, “How Liberal Ideology Is Crippling National Security Capability.” Being a CPAC sponsor is not some honor that CPAC organizers confer; any conservative group can buy sponsor status.

Thinking our money was as good as anyone else’s, we invited the internationally renowned Dutch freedom fighter Geert Wilders, who just won the “Politician of the Year” award in The Netherlands. We also invited British politician Paul Weston of LibertyGB, who was arrested for quoting Winston Churchill’s words about Islam; Swiss freedom fighter Oskar Freysinger; Israeli political analyst Caroline Glick; and DHS whistleblower Philip Haney.

I followed up with Schlapp, ACU Executive Director Dan Schneider, and the ACU’s Director of Events & Conferences, Carin Walters, regularly. I was put off, put down, jerked around, and made to go jump through hoops -- which I did. I followed up for months while they “studied the issue.” They were concerned about security because of the death threats I have received since my free speech conference in Garland, Texas last May was attacked by Jihadis. I assured them that my entire security apparatus, a seasoned team of the top professionals in their field, would be in place (at our expense, not CPAC’s), and that several of my speakers who are European politicians would also be coming with their own secret service protection.

This should have been adequate. I would hardly have been the first person to be at CPAC after receiving death threats. And even after receiving death threats in the past, I have been at CPAC many times. There was a time I was asked to speak, or at least introduce, notables at CPAC. At CPAC 2008, I introduced Mark Steyn. I also once introduced David Horowitz. But once I started to criticize CPAC, the ACU’s David Keene, along with members of the ACU board such as Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan, those invitations quickly stopped coming.

Still, I have hosted several independent events during CPAC -- by having other sponsors secure a room for me somewhat clandestinely -- but we succeeded in bringing much-needed coverage of the jihad threat that CPAC was resolutely ignoring. Apparently because they were determined to continue ignoring it, I’ve had problems with the ACU leadership for years, as they have steadfastly refused to address the jihad threat and related issues adequately, and have continuously marginalized the most courageous voices.

At CPAC 2009, I was one of the first to give Geert Wilders a platform in America, after I fought fiercely for months trying to get Wilders on the official CPAC roster. They should have been clamoring to have him. He represents the fight for the idea of American freedom, our unalienable rights as endowed by our creator. After much conversation, David Keene was planning to give the Courage Under Fire Award to Wilders at CPAC for his fight for free speech (the very bedrock of conservative principles).

Yet within 24 hours of the decision to give Wilders the Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire award, it was withdrawn. Keene canceled the decision to honor Wilders because of an article in Newsweek in which David Horowitz and my AFDI colleague Robert Spencer criticized CPAC for its Norquist-mandated refusal to deal with the jihad or Islamic supremacism in any meaningful or effective way. Upon their refusal, I raised the funds and I brought him myself. Imagine having to battle with the head of the American Conservative Union to have the future prime minister of the Netherlands, who continues to be persecuted for speaking the truth, address an audience at CPAC.

At CPAC 2010, I hosted AFDI’s inaugural event: “Jihad: The Political Third Rail,” featuring former Pentagon Islamic law expert Stephen Coughlin, Allen West, and other important voices -- thanks to the David Horowitz Freedom Center (DHFC), which booked the room under its name. The following year, the DHFC came through for us again, and CPAC was the site of the world premiere of our acclaimed documentary, “The Ground Zero Mosque: The Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks.”

Then at CPAC 2012, I hosted a panel on Islamic Law in America, featuring Justice Department whistleblower J. Christian Adams, Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center, and others. By this time, David Horowitz was no longer a sponsor of CPAC: the Norquist/Khan cabal was deeply problematic to many others besides me. We partnered with the Tea Party. Despite our being under the official umbrella of the Tea Party, CPAC put that event in a tiny, windowless, sweltering room -- which was packed to the rafters with people, as CPAC knew it would be, given the urgency of the subject and the fact that it wasn’t being discussed in any official CPAC event. It was openly vengeful, and yet another indication of how petty the ACU leadership is.  

At CPAC 2013, I appeared on Breitbart’s “Uninvited” panel -- after being banned by the ACU. During that conference, I met with Al Cardenas, who was then the ACU’s chairman. He admitted to me that I had been banned by the ACU board and apologized for this, assuring me that I would be on the official CPAC roster of speakers the following year. On June 1, 2014, however, Cardenas resigned -- so he almost certainly knew when he made that promise that it was an empty one. Schlapp took over, and when I applied in January 2015 to secure a space, I was told that I had asked too late. “If only I had asked earlier,” they said.

So this year, I asked in October. During the many long-winded discussions we had after that about security, I had to promise that if I came to CPAC, there would be “no cartoons.” So I had to surrender on the point where free speech is most challenged in order to speak out there for free speech. They also told me I could not publicize my event beforehand. My past events at CPAC were always SRO, but if I couldn’t publicize it, how would people know to come? Nevertheless, I agreed to every request.

Then, after telling me for months that they were concerned about security despite the extensive arrangements I planned to have in place, and delaying until there was almost not enough time for me to put together the event, Schneider told me Tuesday that they were not allowing AFDI to be a sponsor – not because of security concerns, but because I have criticized them in the past for not paying adequate attention to the jihad threat.

When Schneider told me that I was being denied because of the “negative press coverage” I had previously given them, after months of saying that they were hesitating because of something else, I responded that I had reported on what happened. I reported what was true and accurate. Back on our first phone call, Schneider had even admitted that I had been right about CPAC: that in previous years the conference had gone to great lengths to avoid the subject of jihad and sharia. And yet now that was why they were denying me an opportunity to host an event there. It looks as if Schneider’s new and improved CPAC is the same as the old, broken CPAC.

The ACU is so small and thin-skinned over the negative publicity that I gave them in the past for ignoring the jihad that they’re doing it again, and barring what would have been a significant discussion of the most important issue of our time. For that is what I did for years, and would have done again this year: I have done what CPAC refuses to do, and given CPAC attendees opportunities to become knowledgeable about covering the issues that ought to be center stage, prime time at CPAC.

It is apparently official CPAC policy at this point to avoid and ignore the greatest national security threat to our country -- or at best to feature speakers whose analysis is hamstrung by political correctness and ignorance of the subject. Year in, year out, the ACU has managed to keep jihad and sharia off the CPAC schedule. The ACU is the right’s largest and most influential grassroots umbrella organization, and yet it has abandoned conservative principles and morphed into a fleshy, ambiguous, compromised political machine doling out money and favors for cronies -- when it is doing anything at all.

The Middle East is on fire. ISIS has vowed to commit a jihad attack larger than 9/11 and called on Muslims to murder American civilians. The country is deeply concerned about the jihad issue, and yet it is hardly anywhere on the CPAC schedule, and they’re not allowing me space because I criticized their weakness and flabbiness on this very issue in the past.

The work my organization and I do is critical and singular. It addresses the most serious issue of our time. CPAC should be inviting us, not banning us. The latest annual Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) points to 2016 as being perhaps the worst year in history for terrorism, and the Muslim migrant invasion presents an unprecedented threat to the West.

CPAC doesn’t deserve the name “Conservative.” It should be called the “Cowards Political Action Conference.”

Pamela Geller is the President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), publisher of and author of The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America and Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance. Follow her on Twitter here. Like her on Facebook here.

If you experience technical problems, please write to