Big Tech, Once a CPAC Sponsor, Is Now Its Boogeyman


You and I know the mainstream media usually snubs or smears Project Veritas. Today, Veritas broke through. The New York Times covered my speech at CPAC and our investigation into Facebook in their article, "Big Tech, Once a CPAC Sponsor, Is Now Its Boogeyman." Mr. O'Keefe, whose appearance was relegated to a cramped conference room last year, was welcomed to the main stage by raucous applause

OXON HILL, Md. - A year ago, attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual jamboree of the political right, were greeted by Big Tech with open arms and open bars.

Google sponsored a lavish hospitality suite, courting conservatives with an outdoor fireplace, hors d'oeuvres and flowing cocktails. Bright young representatives from Facebook hosted a "help desk," handing out cookies frosted with emoji icons and offering free demonstrations of its virtual reality product, Oculus.

That was then. At last week's gathering here in a suburb of Washington, Silicon Valley's only obvious presence was on the lips of exercised right-wing critics who whipped up the crowd by denouncing the American tech industry as an authoritarian hegemony intent on censoring their cause.

"Facebook, Google and Twitter are pushing a left-wing social agenda while marshaling their marketing power to shut conservative voices out of the marketplace," said Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, during a featured session with the ominous title "Blocked: This Panel Has Been Removed for Conservative Content."

Mr. Hawley, who investigated Google for antitrust violations while serving as attorney general of Missouri, earned cheers when he said that tech companies "should not be able to tell us to sit down and shut up." Later, James O'Keefe, the provocateur behind Project Veritas, the guerrilla group that tries to undermine news outlets like CNN and The Washington Post, urged tech employees to secretly videotape their workplaces to reveal conservative bias.

"We will equip you with a camera," Mr. O'Keefe told his audience. "If they're lying, cheating, scamming, we're going to find them, make them famous internet celebrities, expose them for all the world to see."

If suspicion of Big Tech was once a minor concern of right-wing agitators - a subcategory of that saw, criticizing the media - this year's gathering suggested that attacks on Silicon Valley are now squarely in the conservative mainstream.

President Trump last year accused Google and other companies of stifling right-wing news outlets. On Capitol Hill, Republicans grilled executives like Jack Dorsey of Twitter about ideological bias.

Here at CPAC, Mr. O'Keefe, whose appearance was relegated to a cramped conference room last year, was welcomed to the main stage by raucous applause. On a panel about artificial intelligence, Jeremy Achin, chief executive of DataRobot, felt obliged to reassure his audience, "I'm not here from one of those tech companies that hates America."

When Sebastian Gorka, the former Trump White House aide, recorded an interview with Breitbart News just outside the conference ballroom, he said that China was the "one existential threat to the United States."

"Two, maybe," replied Breitbart's editor, Alex Marlow. "Silicon Valley." Both men laughed.

Amid the mounting animus, Big Tech lay low.

Google, a leading conference sponsor in 2018 - when its logo was plastered on banners alongside groups like the National Rifle Association and the Heritage Foundation - did not participate this year. Facebook's "help desk" was also nowhere to be found.

Representatives from both companies were not keen to explain their reasoning. "The list of events that Facebook sponsors or participates in evolves from year to year," a Facebook spokesman, Andy Stone, wrote in an email. A spokeswoman for Google declined to comment.

That left conservative activists to fill in the blanks.

"Good riddance," said Raheem Kassam, a former London editor of Breitbart News, who was asked about Silicon Valley's absence shortly before hosting a nightclub party that was among the conference's most sought-after tickets. (Nigel Farage, the pro-Brexit leader, made an appearance.)

"They don't want to be welcome here," Mr. Kassam said of Facebook and Google. "Each of them has shown over the last couple of years that they are just not willing to play fair with the political right."

Days earlier, Mr. Kassam set off a furor in the right-wing media when his Facebook page, which has tens of thousands of followers, was deleted without warning. The move seemed to confirm conservative fears of "de-platforming," the claim - denied by leaders of social media - that tech companies seek to suppress right-wing content.

Facebook quickly restored the page, calling its removal an "error," but not before the likes of Donald Trump Jr. had seized on the incident. "I'm sure this was an 'accident' like I've been hearing from the social media masters," the president's son wrote on Twitter, in a message retweeted more than 7,500 times. "Funny that the accidents only happen one way."

Tech companies, including Google and Facebook, argue that they sponsor organizations of all political stripes, and their public relations teams say the policies and algorithms that patrol their platforms are intended to be ideologically unbiased.

Mr. Kassam said he believed tech firms had shifted to quieter strategies to woo the right wing.

"A lot of conservatives that I talk to say that, privately, they get approached by people from social media companies to try to build bridges, mend fences, whatever you want to call it," he said. "They don't want to put on a big show anymore."

Greeting well-wishers on his way into the conference, David Bossie, the right-wing activist and former campaign aide to President Trump, said conservatives remained "very skeptical" of tech companies' motivations.

So would he rather the companies shy away from CPAC, or brave the critics and try to change a few minds?

Mr. Bossie sounded ambivalent. "I'd rather have them treat us better year-round," he said, "instead of being here for a conference."

Note:  I have posted the entire article as some people do not have access to The New York Times without a subscription.