The lingering political influence of the Utah Eagle Forum and President Gayle Ruzicka was fully visible on Saturday at the organization’s annual conference at Salt Lake Community College.
Republican lawmakers once feared the group for its ability to quickly mobilize its members through its formidable phone call tree. The advent of social media has weakened some of that power in recent years. Yet Ruzicka’s reputation has not wavered during his 31-year reign as the head of the respected conservative organization. How else is it that five of the six members of Congress from Utah showed up to bend the knee at the event? Senator Mitt Romney was the only one to resist.
Saturday’s event provided an opportunity to connect with the thrilling identity of the Utah Republican base, which is why several current and former lawmakers, as well as a handful of political hopefuls, were on hand. .
There was plenty of political “red meat” on the menu on Saturday, as the parade of speakers touched on many of the biggest hits in the culture war running through our current political moment.
Vaccine attacks and COVID denial
Dr Janci Lindsay, a toxicologist who has been criticized for falsely claiming COVID vaccines cause infertility in women, called the participants a tour de force of COVID misinformation. She dubiously claimed that vaccines cause strokes, heart attacks and deaths and that statistics on vaccine-related deaths are being suppressed from systems to hide this information from the public.
Lindsay also said hospitals are avoiding treatments for COVID like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin because they have a financial incentive to use therapies that she says have killed people.
“People are even afraid to go to the hospital because they know they are not using the right treatments. People go there to die. I hate to say it, but this is what is happening, ”Lindsay said.
There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin is effective against COVID-19.
Lindsay also warned that COVID vaccines damage or destroy the immune system, which is a key part of a conspiracy theory that the vaccines are part of a conspiracy to depopulate Earth. It’s the same plot pushed by former Entrata CEO Dave Bateman in a deranged email blaming “the Jews” for the vaccine-induced genocide.
Participants gave Lindsay a standing ovation after her speech.
Park City business owner Doug Yeaman, a leader of the “Utah Open for Business” anti-vaccine mandate group, warned attendees against joining what he called “religious worship.” of COVID ”.
“The vaccine is the baptism, the mask is the sacrament and Fauci is the leader,” Yeaman said.
Yeaman also claimed the masks did not work and scared off about vaccine passports, citing Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s claim that it was a totalitarian Democratic Party plot.
“It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s quoting Tucker Carlson verbatim,” Yeaman said.
False allegations of electoral fraud
During his speech, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes spoke out against the overbreadth and tyranny of the Biden administration, which was another favorite talking point.
“Biden is not a dictator! Reyes said.
“And he’s not the president!” a member of the audience responded to applause from the crowd.
Reyes then pointed at the man and said, “There you go,” with an even bigger round of applause.
Reyes appeared to go back a bit on his endorsement of the conspiracy theory that Biden is not the rightful president, adding “I don’t know about that” with a chuckle.
Reyes left the event before answering questions. His longtime adviser Alan Crooks denied that Reyes was suggesting Biden’s election was fraudulent.
“Sean made several references to Biden as ‘president’ throughout his speech,” Crooks said.
In the aftermath of the 2020 vote, Reyes traveled to Nevada to help Trump’s team investigate the allegations of illegal votes. He claimed he saw irregularities but did not disclose what he saw. Reyes has also joined a lawsuit by the Texas attorney general to overturn votes in four states Biden won.
Rep. Chris Stewart asked the public if he thought the Republicans would regain control of the House in the 2022 midterm election. To anyone’s surprise, they overwhelmingly believed it was a certainty.
“Easy, if people vote,” said Stewart.
As with Reyes, a comment has come from the public about the stealing of the 2020 election. Instead of disputing that fact, Stewart has indulged in the lie by bringing up electoral integrity.
“Why would you do anything not to assure the American people that an election is free and fair?” Stewart asked.
This is not the first time that Stewart has suggested that the 2020 election was not legitimate. He was one of 147 Republicans in the House who voted to reject the Pennsylvania election results based on no evidence of fraud.
Stewart’s office disputed that he questioned the election result.
“There is no indication that Representative Stewart suggests the election was illegitimate. He has also repeatedly stated in various interviews that he believes the election was legitimate and that President Biden was legitimately elected,” said spokesperson Liam Anderson in an email.
Other speakers addressed burning issues of great importance to the political right.
Representative Burgess Owens attacked the teaching of Critical Race Theory, which has become a universal substitute for how race, inclusiveness, and fairness are taught in classrooms. He also referred to trans athletes participating in women’s sports.
“You now have biological men. All you have to do is say, oops, I think I’m feeling like a woman right now. I’m going to go out and beat all the records a woman has ever made and feel no shame, ”Owens said.
Several predominantly Republican states, including Utah, limit or prohibit girls or transgender women from participating in female sporting events. Owens blamed fathers who didn’t stop their sons from competing with women.
“What about the father who would sit there and let his son do that?” It amazes me that a father doesn’t say if you want to compete, you compete against other boys and you take care of that. You don’t steal the value of femininity, ”Owens said.
Representative John Curtis, who launched the Conservative Climate Caucus to add a conservative voice to the climate debate, called the left’s focus on climate as an effort to dismantle capitalism.
“Liberal climate takeover is not about being good stewards of the Earth. It is about social engineering. They don’t care about reducing pollution. It’s about attacking capitalism and controlling ourselves, ”Curtis said.
Rep. Blake Moore and Senator Mike Lee discussed abortion and reproductive rights, an extremely important topic for Ruzicka and her group. This year the issue has taken on greater prominence with the Supreme Court seemingly on the verge of securing a significant victory for the anti-abortion movement.
It would be a mistake to dismiss Saturday’s conference as nothing more than overheated rhetoric from the political fringe. Many of these ideas lead to action by decision makers. If you’ve ever wondered how some of these concepts become proposed bills in the Utah Legislature, look no further than Saturday’s conference.
For example, Yeaman is working with lawmakers on a bill to end the use of vaccine passports, which he calls “the most threatening idea ever proposed in the United States.” Representative Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, who spoke at the conference, is considering election integrity legislation that has its genesis in the 2020 vote lies. There is also legislation targeting transgender athletes. and the way race is taught in schools.
Ruzicka and his supporters can be a valuable ally, or a formidable enemy, in electoral politics. Gaining their approval can be of great help in securing the party nomination or fending off an intra-party challenger. The advent of the signature channel allowing candidates to advance to the primary ballot diluted that influence, but the group still has enormous influence among Republican delegates.
Consider Senator Mike Lee, who was the first speaker on Saturday. He faces what could be his most difficult electoral cycle this year. Republicans Becky Edwards and Ally Isom hope to force him into a primary election this year. If he gets the GOP nomination, he will face independent candidate Evan McMullin as well as the Democratic candidate. Even if Lee is the frontrunner to win a third term in Washington, every supportive move could be crucial before November.
After Lee’s speech focused on the Constitution and fighting tyranny, Ruzicka practically sprang from the two-term Republican.
“If there were any doubts, I think we know after that who we’re going to vote for, don’t we? Ruzicka asked.
In response, the crowd again cheered for Lee, letting him know their marching orders had been received and accepted.