I should cosplay as the characters from Undercover Brother or The Spook Who Sat by the Door. I have parachuted in to report at just about every single right-wing, alt-conservative confab you can think of over the last few years. Red State, the NRA convention and GOP conventions. If the Fox News, “Make America great again” crowd is there, I find a way to slip in. However, the Conservative Political Action Conference was different. CPAC is where the rightest of the right meet up to booze and party like it’s 1965 (sans the segregated bathrooms—I think). Stories about CPAC’s legendary debauchery literally brought down an entire magazine in the ’90s.
I was there because, according to The Root Editor-in- Chief Danielle Belton, “I told you not to go!” which in my mind means, “You should totally go to a convention filled with people who slavishly follow an explicitly anti-black white nationalist president.” So there I was at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center off Washington, D.C.’s harbor on a murky, overcast Friday. The crowd was about as white and moody as the weather that day.
“You’re Jason Johnson, right?” a 30-something black woman asked as she let me know that I was CPAC-famous. “I gotta talk to you! There was video of you onstage—it was part of Trump’s introduction with Matt Schlapp!”
I was used as part of an introduction for Donald Trump?
Look, this isn’t my first run-in with President Putin Puppet; back in 2016, I was told by several black friends at the Republican National Committee that Trump referenced my “Suicide Squad” column for The Root. I almost gave up writing. It’s like finding out the cute cartoon frog you drew is now the Digi Pet of alt-right social media. Yet this was more disturbing.
Last year I got into a viral slap fight with CPAC Director Matt Schlapp on MSNBC. I had the audacity to tell Schlapp he didn’t have the authority to say what is and isn’t racist, and he had a borderline “MAGA” meltdown on TV about it. A highly edited version of our exchange was included in a big video montage (at the 1:31:59 mark) for Schlapp’s introduction of Trump’s speech at CPAC on Friday. The crowd went from laughing to cheering to awed silence. It reminded me of the auction scene in Get Out—with thousands of colonizers raising their bingo cards saying, “I’ll take the black guy who shamed Matt Schlapp on national television for $1,000, please!”
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. The room wasn’t all white conservatives; there was a smattering of Asian and Latino conservatives milling around as well. They were noticeable because the convention halls were half-empty, like a grocery store on the day after Thanksgiving.
“I’ve been to, like, seven of these,” a colleague of mine said. “This CPAC is dead.”
“Last year was like a party. Nigel Farage was running down the halls taking shots from everybody,” a former College Republican activist said. “This year, there’s no enthusiasm. Everybody is just tired of winning, I guess.”
This was my first taste of CPAC logic. Lousy attendance means conservatives are tired of winning? Nobody gets tired of winning. No one has ever said, “Damn. Jackpot again?! I’m going home!” I scoured Google for hours and still can’t find the remix of “All I do is win, win, win, so now I’m bored.” Maybe I was just looking in the wrong places (maybe Martin Shkreli has it). But the truth is, CPAC attendance is down because only 40 percent of Americans like this president.
I walked down the main radio row lined with right-wing talk shows and ran into an old friend. Well, not really a friend—more like a spirit guide, a totem of the hell that was coming to America: the “Blacks for Trump” guy. I literally didn’t know his name, but I called him the “Blacks for Trump” guy and he responded because we met at a presidential debate in Missouri, when he was the only Blacks for Trump guy, known as “Michael the Black Man.”
That was before all that other stuff about double-murder indictments and death cults started to sully his image. Before long, we were joined by conservative radio host Kevin Jackson and blogger Wayne Dupree. We talked about what Trump was doing for blacks folks and whether that was even a good question.
Oh, and “nigger.” Did I mention nigger? Nigger was said a lot by these black conservatives, like we were in a ’90s Quentin Tarantino movie. I guess because they were a bunch of black guys standing in the middle of a conservative convention, they felt real comfortable, but this was a niggerfest the likes of which usually requires copious amounts of alcohol and a highly tense game of spades.
I have no idea why black conservatives were so comfortable saying, “Nigger this, nigger that” and “I almost had to put that nigger down,” but I’m fairly confident my nigger quota for the entire year has been met, and I will be shipping additional nigger moments to poor children across the nation who don’t have enough nigger in their life, courtesy of America’s CPAC black conservatives. It was exhausting.
The thing is, I’m old enough to remember 2014, when the GOP’s black outreach team would party at the National Association of Black Journalists convention. Black GOP vets like Michael Steele, Elroy Sailor and J.C. Watts, whether I agreed with them or not, wouldn’t be caught dead using that kind of language in public. CPAC is a mosh pit for the black political fringe, sycophants and opportunists. Further down the hallway I asked Diante Johnson, head of the Black Conservative Federation, a pretty basic question about Trump, and even that went to hell.
“Donald Trump got 8 percent of the black vote in 2016, higher than the last two Republican presidential candidates,” I asked, “but since then, his approval has tanked with black voters. Why do you think this happened?”
“I think Trump is doing great with black voters!” Johnson said, staring up at me with a somewhat odd grin.
I asked him what he was basing that on, because in every single poll in every single place on various Earths, including an alternate dimension where Omarosa is Donald Trump’s first lady, Trump’s black approval rating is trash.
“That’s just not true; you see, polls aren’t real,” he explained. “That’s just your opinion; they only poll liberal blacks, so … ”
“And since your opinion is only as good as mine … ”
[BARK BARK BARK.]
I’m sorry—I tuned him out after that. I was staring unamusedly in M’Baku, and if I had vegetarian children to feed him to, I would have, because this man was a shrub. Conservative radio host Melanie Collette jumped into the conversation claiming I was “fake news” and that Trump won 13 percent of the African-American vote (Trump won 13 percent of men, known as the Lenard vote, and Stacey Dash, Diamond and Silk, and post-Kaepernick Sage Steele for about 3 percent of the black women’s vote).
To his credit, Marivious Allen from the Texas College Republicans admitted that Trump’s racial rhetoric is a problem, but that’s it. Black conservatives at CPAC had literally nothing to offer black America. Except, I guess, “nigger.”
After a long day of checking out half-empty booths and sparsely attended panels, I finally left CPAC. Outside of a particularly hostile white woman from the Republican Wing of the Republican Party booth, some strange stares and Niggerfest 2018, I survived the day. Only a few people recognized me from the Schlapp-to-Trump intro, but I flashed my cellphone light in my eyes a few times to make sure I was still me.
CPAC proved to be more bizarre, offensive and disturbing than most other conservative events I’ve attended—and with significantly worse food. The only saving grace is that in the coming years, despite the rise in white nationalism in America, it looks like fewer and fewer people will come to CPAC to express it.