CPAC Diary: Meet the White Nationalists Who Ruined Everything

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 16 2013 1:51 PM

CPAC Diary: Meet the White Nationalists Who Ruined Everything

The accidental media star of CPAC is a bearded North Carolina conservative named Scott Terry. He went a black Republican-run panel titled "Trumping the Race" card and asked an unexpected Socratic question: Were the experts "reaching out to voters at the expense of young white Southern males?" K. Carl Smith, the moderator, started to explain that even Frederick Douglass forgave his slavemaster.

"For giving him shelter?" asked Terry. "And food?"

The rest of the story was told immediately by TPM's Benjy Sarlin. I was only dimly aware of the mess when I stopped by a happy hour put on by Rick Santorum's Patriot Voices PAC. After Santorum left, after talking Quantitative Easing over Coronas with a law student, I found a table where a guy in a Confederate flag shirt had set up shop. He was Matthew Heimbach, founder of the White Students at Towson University -- the guy sitting next to Scott Terry at the fateful moment. He was reading his smartphone and sharing the news.

"We're on LGF (Little Green Footballs)!" he said. He showed the phone to Terry and a small group of Marylanders standing around the table. LGF, a blog run by a reformed "anti-jihadist" who now shames white supremacists whenever they make news.

Terry was amused and exasperated. "All the minorities agreed with us! All of 'em!" he said. A raw but polite argument had been turned into a shouting match not by them, but after a black female reporter from Voice of Russia started trolling the panelists.

Heimbach fielded phone calls from reporters -- "It's on the front page of The Blaze!" -- laughing that his media reputation couldn't really get any worse. The Southern Poverty Law Center had designated his group a "hate group," a weird badge of honor.

"You look at the SPLC -- as fake as they are, they talk about how patriot groups are increasing in the Obama era," he said. "With a black face in charge of the White House, of the federal government, we know it's foreign. We know something isn't right.

Terry was more low-key, well aware of why his question was blowing up the Internet, annoyed nonetheless. "My family is from Virginia, and I'm proud of my Southern heritage," he said. A friend mentioned that she'd liked "Django Unchained," and Terry rolled his eyes -- he's never see that. "It justifies the murders of white people because they're being committed by a freed slave. I wouldn't want to see a movie where a bunch of black people were murdered by a white guy. I'm not a big Tarantino fan." His point: Pop culture was validating the fictional slaughter of whites, because they were southerners.

I wondered what would happen to these guys. In another era, they would have had their moment, some reporters would have written about it, and it would have faded into their pasts. But they were on video and in SEO-optimized articles. What would a white student union founder say to his next job interviewer?

UPDATE: I wrote this in a bit of a hurry, and subsquently fixed some typos -- most resulting from a tense change that I made after checking one name.

"I'm interested in getting into a seminary," said Heimbach.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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