National Harbor, MD – Even a CPAC veteran like me was shocked on Saturday night. I've been to six Conservative Political Action Conferences in six years. But I don't think I could have ever been prepared for the 'Casa De Liberte' party, hosted by some friends of friends of mine this weekend. Note the degrees of separation.
I have a lot of colleagues that align themselves with the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) organisation, a spin off of Ron Paul's student network from his presidential bid in 2008. So when I was told that the party was an unofficial YAL gathering, I gladly RSVPd.
Abandoning Steve Stockman's 'Bath Party' and snubbing Reaganpalooza were maybe my best and worst decisions of a week-long trip. Upon entering we were charged a fee and told there were kegs outside and some other booze floating around. Pretty standard party then. Apart from the staircase portraits of America's founding fathers leading up to a huge, framed Ron Paul. Eep.
While CPAC proper has its own fair share of eccentrics (and we love them for it), the robotic nature of this year's 'Stand With Rand' (Ron Paul's son) entourage deeply distressed me. While the expression 'PaulBots' goes back to his father, former Congressman Ron Paul, the Rand Paul followers of this year seemed devoid of emotion. Ruthless perhaps, even cultish.
A messianic picture was hanging in the front room of the party. Ron Paul with his hand placed on the shoulders of some small black children, smiling down. Was he turning water to wine, or feeding 5000? Of course a Gadsden Flag hung proudly next to it, while some frat boy types played beer pong (beirut to purists) on a YAL branded beer pong table.
I wasn't yet hugely surprised by any of this. More intrigued as to how many libertarian cliches could be crammed into one house. My conservative friends who made the trip with me agreed: this was no ordinary CPAC event.
Our suspicions were confirmed when a man, presumably one of the hosts, stood atop a chair and began to read a poem from a crumbled yellow piece of paper. It was of course predictably PaulBotesque, He struggled to read his own writing: "We stand at the precipice of something quite large. When soon you wackobirds will be the ones who are in charge... A toast if you will, please raise your glass tall, to the next President of the United States: Dr. Rand Paul!"
"President Paul!" they chanted back monotonously. The leader is good, the leader is great...
After the speech I spoke to man who reflected on the crowd's chants of "U.S.A! U.S.A!"
That was my favourite part, I said. Nothing wrong with a bit of healthy patriotism. "Oh, that was ironic," I was told. "They regard chanting the name of the country as inherently statist. And it is".
"Uh..." I eloquently replied.
"They should have been chanting each state's name, individually. And even then its still kind of pro-government," he explained. I made my escape.
Outside, numerous students exchanged opinions about Rand Paul. I say exchanged opinions. It was basically a "where were you when?" affair relating to Rand's speech, or Rand's appearance at some event. Someone bragged about having touched the Kentucky Senator's arm: "And then he looked at me and smiled".
Another well-dressed liberty lover regaled me with a story about how a dock worker from Virginia was responsible for the formulation of the U.S. Constitution due to tidal levels of the Potomac River. I forget how, but when I told him I was going to look up his story to corroborate it, he remarked, "Oh I doubt you'll find that written anywhere".
When the kegs ran out, I figured it was my cue to leave. We ordered our Uber taxi and attempted to make our escape. That is until a ground-shaking cheer emerged from the house. A man came running out, "They got married! They got married!" Our faces were puzzled to say the least.
He explained that a couple had just been married inside the house by a friend who "became ordained within minutes on the internet".
"So this cult is now marrying people?" a friend of mine asked. The man looked upset and walked away. Which was probably fair. After all, two of his friends just entered into contract with one another ('marriage' is like, so statist, right?)But there's no denying that the peculiarity of this party had just reached unprecedented highs. Our cab arrived, but I rushed back inside to find out what had happened. No one explained any further. People were back to chanting, "President Paul" and playing beer pong. The happy couple were nowhere to be seen.
While Rand Paul swept the CPAC straw poll due to his father's forerunning, his own personal appeal, and the grassroots YAL-type networks that now flood the conference each year, I couldn't help but feel that there was something a little Obama Zombie about this 'liberty movement'. Ironically, they don't come across as individuals at all, but rather a hive-mind, operating as one.