The Breitbart News Network crew didn’t get a big enough room. Actually, let’s rephrase that: They didn’t get enough rooms.
It’s the first Conservative Political Action Conference since the death of Andrew Breitbart, the street-thespian media-wunderkind of the Right whose infatuation with journalism and pop culture made him a bit of a god in some circles. He died shortly before finishing work on Occupy Unmasked, the documentary that would be his swan song.
There’s a showing of the film at CPAC that fills three partitioned rooms in the Gaylord Hotel to standing room only. The film isn’t shy about the violence of the Occupy movement, and the documentary’s creators don’t hesitate to describe their goals using belligerent language. Breitbart’s admirers use the hashtag #War to identify themselves on Twitter, and they’re outspoken about fighting every iteration of the radical Left.
Breitbart found his way to the middle of just about every major political-media episode of the last few years: ACORN, Weinergate, Occupy — he was ubiquitous. Sometimes, it seems like everyone who knew Breitbart thought he was either Jesus or Satan; it was almost impossible to feel lukewarm.
Anyway, at last year’s CPAC — one of his last major public appearances — Breitbart made a bit of a scene by getting into a screaming match with a group of Occupy protesters. The spat culminated with him shouting, “Stop raping people! Stop raping the people!” Naturally, a video went up on YouTube that got all sorts of media coverage — Breitbart’s Crazy Meltdown! Those confrontations, though volatile, drew media attention to the problem of sexual assault in Occupy camps. His confidants tell me that was part of Breitbart’s strategy; he thought his barbs would get the mainstream press to better cover the unruly protesters.
They also say that this year, for them, CPAC is different.
When Brandon Darby, a radical leftist–turned–FBI informant, spoke on a panel after the film, he choked up describing Breitbart’s role in his life. “He promised to make me whole,” he says. Later, he tells me that Breitbart followed through.
Anita Moncrief’s relationship with the man seems comparable. She told the panel’s audience that before she met him, she was facing a lawsuit for her work against ACORN and “was completely alone.” Breitbart was the first person she met at her first CPAC conference, and he helped her settle the suit in six months.
At the panel, the crowd, some members of which are wearing T-shirts with Breitbart’s image, is mesmerized. Lee Stranahan, also of Breitbart.com, tells listeners that as a convert from liberalism (along with Moncrief and Darby) he’s found a new way to hate. “If you’re a lifelong conservative, you think you hate the Left,” he says. “We really hate the Left.”
There’s raucous applause — and indignation. “They were mocking Andrew’s death the day he died,” Stranahan adds. Many nod.
And when the floor opens for questions, attendees clamor to chime in.
“I just wanna say, heroes are ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” says one woman in the front row, “and I want to thank all of you.” The end of her sentence is drowned out by applause.
One man wants to know if there’s any way Breitbart’s death could have been a murder — isn’t there evidence that you can inflict a heart attack on someone? Larry Solov, the president and CEO of the Breitbart News Network and its namesake’s childhood next-door neighbor and best friend, assures the audience that there’s no evidence of foul play. Sometimes people just get heart attacks. Nobody’s satisfied.
Another man wants to know if any of the leftists have a shred of belief, or if they really just want raw power.
Stranahan takes this question: “They’re nihilists,” he says flatly. “They don’t believe anything.”
And when a questioner brings up the arrest this week of Matthew Keys for helping Anonymous hack his former employer, the Tribune Company, everyone cheers. Anonymous, an anarchist Internet group, has deployed its hackers to support some of Occupy’s actions, and Occupy is nihilist, and that’s all you need to know.
There’s little time for more questions, since the event is about to become a cocktail party. But first, a quick announcement: The best way to honor Breitbart isn’t to get wasted, although that’s one legitimate route; the best way to honor Breitbart is to attend a special event on Saturday called “The Uninvited,” featuring speakers who deliberately weren’t invited to CPAC.
Solov, who has an uncanny resemblance to Willem Dafoe, says this is truly Breitbartian — the event will feature Michael Mukasey on civilization and jihad, Peter Schweizer on crony capitalism, Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute, Rosemary Jenks on alternatives to immigration amnesty, Nina Shea on the persecution of Christians, Frank Gaffney on America’s impending denuclearization, Rob Spencer of Jihadwatch.org, and Pam Geller.
“This is gonna be a cage match,” says Steve Bannon, one of the panelists, and a longtime Breitbart friend. The audience is pumped.
“Let’s honor Breitbart the right way!” crows a young guy sitting behind me as the reception starts. But booze doesn’t deter the seemingly unending line of people who want to talk to the panelists on stage. An artist hands Solov a plastic bag of what looks like prints, and Solov waves down Jon David Kahn, whose official title with the Breitbart network is Minister of Culture, to talk with her.
“You’re gonna get in trouble, aren’t you?” says a nearby woman to Bannon, grinning. It sounds like she’s referring to their surprise panel.
“Sure!” he retorts. “That’s Breitbart. You’re not getting in trouble? You’re not having fun.”
Two women approach the stage, and one asks Darby if he’ll sign her chest, pulling her shirt down a bit. He plays along, nodding and putting the end of a pen in his mouth. The women laugh, but they’re serious about getting their forearms signed. He obliges. “I’m never washing it again,” one of them says, admiring the signature.
One would imagine she’s not the only person with a body part signed by a Breitbart acolyte. Breitbart and his merry band may be wistful, but they carry their late friend’s sense of humor, as well as his entrepreneurial spirit.
“Each of us here kind of brings a part of him back,” says Matt Boyle, a reporter for Breitbart News Network. The same can be said for the hundreds of CPAC attendees who huddled in these rooms.
— Betsy Woodruff is an NRO reporter.