Persecution, Betrayal, and the Zero Sum Fight for Global Domination — Day 1 of NatCon 2024

The opening day of 2024’s National Conservatism conference was shot through with familiar themes of far-right triumphalism, civilizational war, xenophobia and existential threat. The majority of conference attendees were White, though far from exclusively; majority male, though not entirely; and multigenerational, with a notable youth contingent. The conference seems smaller than the 2022 conference in Miami, with a smaller ballroom.

Along a narrow hallway, representatives of India’s BJP hobnob with US conservatives (as has been the trend); Orthodox Jews mingle with priests; fresh-faced college students hobnob with stalwart right-wing operatives. An array of right-wing outfits table in the hallway, doling out everything from stickers (“Biblical femininity, not feminism”) to texts for political operatives. Christian and conservative universities are well-represented, including St. Andrew’s, Hillsdale, and Liberty University’s Standing for Freedom Center. 

At other tables, representatives from policy-oriented think tanks like American Compass, Center for Renewing America, and the Claremont Instituteas well as Project 2025 and Christian Zionist outfit Philos Projectspeak to passersby. American Moment, a staffing outfit connecting young national conservatives with Capitol Hill jobs, offer free nitro cold brew while its representatives promote their ‘energetic’ movement of far-right operatives eager to take back America, one Capitol Hill internship at a time (“The Left hates when you have fun. Have fun,” they tweeted). 

‘Guerrilla’ warriors against the ‘elites’

Christopher DeMuth, Heritage Foundation fellow and Chairman of NatCon, opened the conference, declaring “Welcome to the mainstream!” and sharing a war story of NatCon’s April battle with “woke authorities” in Brussels, when a local mayor tried to shut them down. Free of these “left wing authorities” who tried to “ban our organization” DeMuth declared “I’m delighted that now, back in the USA, authorities have made no effort to stop us, either by lawfare or violence,” then adding, to the delight of the audience, “but, given ‘defund the police’ I’m not sure they could.” 

In fact, NatCon in Brussels would become almost a mythical event over the course of the day, referenced by many speakers as an example of bravery in the face of adversity. In Brussels, DeMuth extolled, Yoram Hazony and others were waging “guerrilla warfare…keeping authorities on the move like Lexington and Concord.” DeMuth put the blame for the recent catastrophic defeat of the British Tories, who suffered the worst loss in their party history last week, on those conservative “elites” who “don’t collaborate with populist party crashers” which will relegate the Tories to “the dust bin.” 

‘We are the conservative movement’ 

DeMuth summarized the aims of national conservatism in 2024 as the promotion of “patriotic schooling,” an “end to civil violence and antisemitism,” and a “revival of faith, family and fertility,” while deriding “[anti-populist] elites in Brussels and Washington” along with “our atomised, feminized, self-obsessed culture where autonomy is the holy grail.”

The throughline of the opening remarks of both DeMuth and his fellow NatCon leader, Yoram Hazony, was that National Conservatism had arrived and taken charge of the conservative movement in the US. “People on the neo-marxist woke Left will be calling us Nazis til the cows come home, but on the Right, people aren’t afraid to use the word nation anymore,” Hazony declared. 

“NatCon today is the undisputed majority political coalition and persuasion across the west,” claimed operative Rachel Bovard, adding “We are not part of the conservative movementwe are the conservative movement.” Hazony painted a surging national conservative movement across the world: “In the UK, France, Hungary, Poland, Israel, India, we have seen NatCon going from a curiosity […] to being something that’s very close to being the dominant strategy on the Right […]” 

However, perhaps recalling the recent election results in Poland, in which the former right-wing government had been ousted by centrist Donald Tusk, he offered a wild conspiracy theory claiming that “our friends in Poland are under a German occupation government right now.” He referred to the forces behind Tusk’s victory as “shadowy organizations” and their “shock troops”—seemingly implying that the election was not legitimate. 

Procreate… and focus on ‘restoration’

Hazony is one of a handful of speakers pushing a natalist position, claiming: 

We need to be clear about children—doesn’t matter how many immigrants you have, if you don’t have children your country is finished. If you’re not teaching people to have children you’re not in the game.

And Hazony is crystal clear about who he means:

Everything about national conservatism has to be focused on the fact that the only honorable thing to do is to get married and have children, lots of children. If you’re not doing that, what you’re doing is dishonorable.

If a National Conservative does have children, Hazony says, do not make the mistake of sending them to public schools “where they’re being turned into neo-marxists”—something that according to him, also applies to the people in the conference room itself. “We’re also talking about people in this room!” If you send your children to universities, Hazony prophesied darkly, “do not expect them to come home and be your children.” Admonishing those on the American Right who have abandoned the term “conservatism” (because the country has deteriorated so far there’s “nothing left to conserve”), Hazony advises a different goal: restoration. “If you think restoration is impossible that’s because you’re lazy because you’re not willing to read, you don’t read books.”

Echoing DeMuth’s concerns about “fertility,” Hazony speaks directly to the—largely male—audience: 

Young men: get a young woman, join a church, go to a place where the great inheritance is being handed down, […] or join a synagogue. If there is no church like that in your state, move to a different state.

In short: procreate, and make sure your offspring are being brought up in the spirit of national conservatism. 

The Ten Commandments—a new flag to rally around

In an especially stark example of cognitive dissonance, Hazony declares that, while he himself is “not a fan of litmus tests,” there is one he isn’t just comfortable with, but passionately supports: Putting the Ten Commandments up in public institutions, including schools.

You couldn’t possibly be a conservative and have a problem with that. The Ten Commandments were the founding law of our civilization, Protestants and Catholics can agree with Jews, I think even conservative Muslims and Hindus can agree on that. Westerners, however…

He trails off, to amused chuckles from the audience. In fact, Hazony opines, national conservatism needs a new, uniting symbol—a flag to rally around. This, he poses, would be helpful to answer the question at the heart of Christian nationalism: “What kind of American are you?” 

According to Hazony, if you’re the right kind of American, the answer would be to show this new flag and say: “Ten Commandments, that’s us.” 

‘Our fight is not merely existential, it’s also zero sum’

Now that NatCon is moving closer to the mainstream, its leaders recognize that on their march to power “we’re gonna win some and lose some.” Demuth counsels: 

[We will need to] form opportunistic coalitions, negotiate and compromise, bow to public opinion, and make hard choices amidst a fog of uncertainty…We are no longer intellectual lone wolves baying at the moon, we are now on the move, traveling with packs, some of them friendly, some of them hostile, into uncharted territory.

In contrast, Rachel Bovard strikes a more militant note, drawing a clear distinction between friends and enemies: 

Those unwilling to perceive reality cannot be persuaded by argument. They must be replaced now. Good news is they are being replaced—by us… Our fight is not merely existential, it’s also zero sum. One side will win, one side will lose. So yes NatCons will fight but to win we must lead, as the true sole majority of the American right.

Given that the “Left,” is “coming for our freedoms,” the only adequate response, she concludes, is to fight fire with fire. While the conservative establishment takes “the high road,” national conservatives should, according to her, have one response:

As the Greeks said, Molon Labe; or the Texas version: Come and Take it. […] conservative principles are not meek, that was just our failed former leaders. They are battle tested.

Such language is only fitting given the pervasive hyper-masculinist messages, down to the “Washington was a Chad” sticker at the Claremont Institute’s booth [see image at top]. 

The most important gathering of conservatives in the 21st century

A week before NatCon, Heritage Foundation president Kevin Roberts made headlines for announcing triumphantly, after the Supreme Court’s “president-king” ruling, that the US is in the “in the process of the Second American Revolution, which will remain bloodless if the Left allows it to be.” [Emphasis mine] In his opening speech Roberts, a NatCon leader since 2022, expanded on that talking point. “We’re in the Second American Revolution—a political, social, and cultural wresting from the Left, of all those institutions and centers of power they have co-opted over decades.” 

He struck a grandiose tone, calling NatCon “the most important gathering of conservatives yet in the 21st century…decades from now, this convention, this year will be remembered as the beginning of the future of the conservative movement and the next era of American history.” Much of Roberts’ speech pitted NatCon as an insurgent movement against “beltway Republicans” whohave failed this Republic” and “hurt this nation, the people, the constitution they took an oath to defend…sorry you have to be in the swamp,” he told the DC gathering, “but this is actually an imperial city we’re in the process of taking back. So thanks for being here.”

Our power will rise in direct correlation with our ability to honor great leaders who violate the pieties in the global Left

Proclaiming that “total victory” for the Right would take time, American Moment’s Saurabh Sharma used his time slot to announce the formation of a “nationalist international coalition” (loud applause), uniting the global Right to defeat what he calls “the degenerate coalition of the socialist Left and the capitalist Right.

American Moment, a right-wing think tank founded in 2021 with the backing of J.D. Vance, is, according to Politico, “on a mission to recruit and train the next generation of Republican elites by beginning at the lowest levels of the Washington hierarchy—the legislative assistants, press aides and junior staffers who will serve as the foot soldiers in the GOP’s war on the federal bureaucracy.” 

Now, however, as executive director of the Edmund Burke Foundation, which sponsors NatCon, Sharma’s mission is global: 

If we want a kind of durable paradigm shift, increasingly sure that national conservatism goes from an occasional anomaly to the atmosphere of politics in the 21st century, we must unite and build internal infrastructure that binds us together for common cause with common enemies. Nothing is more terrifying to the opponents of our cause than the prospect of global cooperation among the ranks. 

Our power will rise in the coming decades in direct correlation with our ability to honor great leaders who violate the pieties in the global Left.

Conveniently slated to speak was a member of that emerging global nationalist alliance, right-wing former UK Home Secretary and Tory politician Suella Braverman, who was fired by then-Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after she’d violated a direct order and written an op-ed claiming that the police are biased against right-wing protestors. (She also claimed that her former boss had failed to implement her “Rwanda-scheme,” a cruel and inhumane program that would have sent asylum seekers back to Rwanda, while neglecting to mention that the UK Supreme Court had ruled it illegal.) 

After reminiscing about her prime seating position during King Charles’ coronation (which she referred to as “the largest policing mission in our history”) Braverman expressed her worry that “counter-protesters” would try to attack the King’s carriage (they didn’t). Then, echoing the theme of betrayal from within, Braverman blamed the Tories’ electoral defeat on “liberal conservatives who trash the Tory party,” and claimed, against all evidence, the Tories had not focused on anti-immigration policy in their election campaign. “My party governed as liberals and they were defeated as liberals,” she declared. 

Already notorious for her anti-LGBTQ views, Braverman implied that trans people are “monsters who tried to mutilate children,” and railed against “trans fanatics”; her aside that “I’m too physically repulsed to go into detail of what it entails” met with loud applause. She also added to the conservative persecution myth, announcing that “everyone disagreeing with liberalism is now risking imprisonment.” 

‘Decolonize America’? (They ain’t seen shit yet, wait until 2025!)

In a session on immigration, the Claremont Institute’s Theo Wold, a former Department of Justice and Domestic Policy official under Trump, championed that “it’s time not just to end mass immigration, but to reverse it. It’s time to decolonize America.” Wold also admitted that there’s anxiety over recent press scrutiny of the Right’s policy plans (like Project 2025, with its booth in the hallway). Responding to his own question, “How will a future Trump administration decolonize America?” Wold was vague. “I will be light on details, intentionally,” he announced, adding that this was a “time for discretion” since “too many of our policy ideas” had been circulated and scrutinized.

Thom Homan, former director of ICE during the Trump administration, called the “border crisis…[not] just a crisis of the day,” but the “biggest national security vulnerability this country has seen, ever.” Promising a future of mass deportation, Homan thundered “they ain’t seen shit yet, wait until 2025!” and promised to “run the biggest deportation operation this country’s ever seen,” to roaring laughter and applause. 

Anti-immigrant operative Kevin Lynn repeated the familiar far-right maxim “import the third worldget the third world,” and slammed “the cabal running immigration policy in the Biden administration” before brainstorming ways to end birthright citizenship. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies (an anti-immigration think-tank founded by a eugenicist and a White nationalist), suggested that asylum be abolished, and that women visiting the US on a tourist visa should be asked if they’re pregnant, and be denied entry to the country until after having given birth. 

A war for a Christian nation

In a session on “lawfare,” panelists railed against the criminal prosecution of Donald Trump and of January 6 insurrections. Adopting Clausewitz’s dictum that “politics is the continuation of war by other means,” they claimed themselves as victims of political-legal persecution and argued unanimously for the Right to adopt a militant, aggressive legal posture against their political opponents. William Chamberlain of the Article III Project, which seeks to confirm right-wing judges, called on the Right to use “non-frivolous counter lawfare tactics against those who use lawfare against conservatives,” so that the Right can “[take] back the White House and the DOJ to actually do something.” 

John Eastman, who came under fire for his role in the Capitol insurrection, charged that “anyone who doesnt recognize we’re in a war and doing what they can to engage in that war doesn’t deserve our support…get in the fight and stay in the fight,” to a roaring standing ovation. Mike Howell, Executive Director of the Heritage Oversight Project cheered the growth of conservative legal organizations, saying “There’s more firepower—the basics are in place…to wage against these legal fights…we need to scale up dramatically.” 

In a panel called “Big Tech and Big Porn” panelists declared that in order to shield both children and adults from pornography, conservatives need to fight “both the feminist Left and the libertarian Right.” When a member of the audience asked why some panelists focus on keeping porn away from children instead of outright banning it for everybody, panelist Clare Morrell, a policy analyst at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (which is a member of the Project 2025 advisory board) urged restraint in the communication of such ideas, even if that might be the ultimate policy goal; the answer to the question, says Morrell, is “political feasibility.” It would make more sense to start focusing on kids, and then move from there, step by step. 

In his speech delivered over dinner, Senator Josh Hawley (sounding very 2012 CPAC) championed a “Christian nationalism” based on the vision of St Augustine, traced through the early settler-colonists who founded a “shining city on a hill” bound together by Christian visions and faith. To roaring applause, Hawley uttered “Some will say now I am calling America a Christian nationand so I am. Some will say I’m advocating Christian nationalism—and so I do… My question is, is there any other kind worth having?”