Matt Gaetz allies promoted "official" CPAC speech. Conference officials tell a different story

CPAC confiscated several signs and promotional materials for what it says was a rogue event

Published July 11, 2021 5:33PM (EDT)

Signs for an "official" CPAC speech by Matt Gaetz were seized by the conference, which said the event was not recognized at all. (Zachary Petrizzo/Salon)
Signs for an "official" CPAC speech by Matt Gaetz were seized by the conference, which said the event was not recognized at all. (Zachary Petrizzo/Salon)

DALLAS — Volunteers for a right-wing organization at the Conservative Political Action Conference spent Sunday morning promoting an "official" event featuring a speech Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., posting signs sponsored by a group called "Look ahead America" — though a CPAC official told Salon the event was never sanctioned at all.

The conference sought to distance itself from the embattled Congressman by confiscating several signs and handouts for the speech, which read "join Look Ahead America's official CPAC event featuring Representative Matt Gaetz and Colonel Allen West." 

A CPAC official (middle) confiscates a "Look Ahead America" sign at the Conservative Political Action Conference Sunday. (Zachary Petrizzo/Salon)

The conference took action against the unsanctioned event, which was being held in a different section of the Dallas Hilton Anatole than the rest of the conference, after a self-identifying CPAC executive director said she received questions from Secret Service agents preparing for an appearance by former President Trump.

"We can't have these signs because people are asking about it," the official stated. "This is not an official event, so if I can have the sign, all is well...this is not an official event." 

The whole debacle kicked off just before noon on Sunday, when security personnel approached a "Look Ahead America" volunteer holding a sign which read, "Matt Gaetz & Allen West Event," with a large arrow pointing attendees outside of CPAC's security checkpoint and into a second-floor ballroom at the hotel.

Moments later, "Look Ahead America" organizers left their booth area at the conference only to have another one of their signs promoting the event seized.

A Look Ahead America official brushed off the signs being taken, telling Salon they hadn't had previous contact with any CPAC officials. In a subsequent tweet, Matt Braynard, the executive director of "Look Ahead America" called CPAC's statement a "100% lie."

"It is an official #CPACTX event. @LookAheadOrg is a CPAC sponsor and the room/event was part of our sponsor package. Secret Service said we couldn't have signs near the main ball room due 2 security. @mattgaetz and @AllenWest gave great speeches!"

The unsanctioned event was headlined by Gaetz, who is under investigation by the FBI over allegations he violated federal sex trafficking laws and maintained a sexual relationship with a minor. He was, notably, not listed as a speaker on any official CPAC schedule, though Salon spotted the embattled lawmaker palling around the conference all weekend long.  

Gaetz, when approached about the conference claiming it did not recognize his event, said, "Well, I spoke at noon," adding, "there were a lot of people there, I spoke." 

Matt Gaetz greeting supporters at the Conservative Political Action Conference. (Zachary Petrizzo/Salon)

The dust-up isn't the first time Gaetz has found himself persona non grata by event organizers recently — earlier this week a hotel in California canceled an event the Congressman was planning with fellow Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

"As soon as we found out who the speakers were we immediately canceled it," the hotel's manager told the Orange County Register. "We just thought it would be best for our facility to cancel."

Look Ahead America also has a history of thumbing its nose at CPAC organizers — in February, the organization promoted and attended white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes' far-right gathering, "America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC)," which was created as a separate, rival conference to CPAC.

Following publication, Braynard disputed that it wasn't an official event. "I dispute that it was not official," he told Salon. "They assigned us the room for our event. It is part of our sponsor package."

A CPAC official on July 21st provided Salon additional comment: 

CPAC has a long-standing policy that prohibits pamphleteering or handing out of materials in the areas outside the ballrooms or common areas at the event. Groups that formally partner with CPAC acquire booths that serve as their patch of real estate for the duration of the event and they are welcome to hand out and promote whatever they like from that location. Occasionally, another benefit of formally partnering with CPAC is the use of a room to host an event for a limited amount of time. Generally, CPAC is not concerned with how that room is used and the partner group may use it however they think benefits their and our attendee's experience. However, those sponsored rooms/events are not considered "official" CPAC programming.   

This story has been updated with additional comment. 

By Zachary Petrizzo

Zachary Petrizzo was an investigative reporter at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @ZTPetrizzo.

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Allen West Conservative Political Action Conference Cpac Dallas Matt Gaetz Politics Reporting Texas