The American Conservative Union, the conservative grassroots organization that puts on the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, is taking its tested model for hosting right-wing gatherings to the authoritarian nation of Hungary.
CPAC events have been held in various foreign countries over the years, but there is an unmistakable significance to staging one in the country ruled by right-wing despot Viktor Orbán, who has many fans among American conservatives and Trump supporters.
In a statement to Salon, CPAC's acting communications director, Regina Bratton, acknowledged that the event is scheduled for late March of 2022 in Hungary, saying the organization hopes it will be a "huge success."
"International CPAC in Tokyo" launched five years ago, Bratton said. "Since then, annual conferences have been added in Australia, Brazil and South Korea. There are plans for a CPAC Israel, and now organizers in Hungary who are passionate about protecting freedom have announced plans to host a future event," she continued. "The battle for freedom is the same in America as it is around the world. It is a battle against socialism."
Yet CPAC organizers also appear to be distancing themselves somewhat from the Hungarian event, which Bratton later said in a phone interview was not "an official CPAC conference" and was not being "put on by our organization here in the Washington, D.C., metro area." She described the sponsors of the Hungary conference as "an outside organization" comprised of "freedom-loving people" in that country. CPAC "was very happy the [Hungarian] government is allowing this to happen in their country," Bratton said.
Asked about the relationship between the CPAC sponsors in Hungary and the American Conservative Union, Bratton was not specific, saying only, "I don't believe they are a subsidiary of CPAC."
Although the relationship between ACU and the Hungarian CPAC event remains unclear, a former ACU employee told Salon the attempt to draw a distinction was largely cosmetic, and that the Hungary gathering had been on the table since before the COVID pandemic. Another individual familiar with planning for the Hungary event told Salon that the ACU has been closely involved from the beginning. An ACU spokesperson declined to comment on these claims.
News of the CPAC event in Hungary was first reported by a Hungarian news site called "24.hu," which quoted ACU executive director Dan Schneider saying, "Hungary is an excellent place to host the CPAC. The essence of conservative ideology is to preserve the best old values for everyone," he said, but "liberals are destroying everything traditional with their 'strange ideas.'"
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One former ACU chairman, Al Cardenas, told Salon he has no idea why the group is holding an event in Hungary, saying he hasn't "heard of any reason" for the venture.
Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said he clearly saw a purpose behind the event.
"It's a threat," he explained, adding that Orbán's party, Fidesz, has "all but eliminated the free press, and have weakened democracy in that country to the point that it can't even be considered a democracy anymore. There is no reason to bring [CPAC] to Hungary unless that is a clear statement that that's what you want to do to the United States."
News of the Hungarian venture comes as ACU and its chairman, Matt Schlapp, reportedly find themselves targets of a federal probe. "Federal investigators are currently looking into possible criminal campaign-finance misdeeds at ACU during Schlapp's tenure," The Dispatch reported last week. "As part of the investigation, the FBI has interviewed former and current ACU employees about the financial dealings of the organization and its leaders."
When asked to comment on the reported investigation, Schlapp said he would respond with a statement. He did not do so before publication of this article.