GREENVILLE — “We have been exposed to a psychological operation for well over a decade in the lead-up to the taking down of America,” the Arizonan in Western wear told the crowd of 100 gathered in the ballroom of a luxury hotel.
The speaker, Arizona state representative and current secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, then offered several reasons outlining America’s steps toward decay, including a disbelief Democrat Joe Biden could have possibly defeated Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 elections, leading Finchem to spearhead a heavily scrutinized — and dubiously conducted — audit of his state’s election.
He then noted the influx of undocumented immigrants at the southern border he claimed were intent on upending American society.
And behind it all, a bipartisan political establishment seeking to tear the country down.
“That’s the end goal to the people who are engaged in this,” he continued. “It’s not about the Democrats taking power. That is what they want you to think this is about. This is about the takedown of the United States.”
Finchem was just one of the more than two dozen speakers at the third annual “Rock the Red” Convention May 7, an event begun as a right-wing alternative to the South Carolina Republican Convention that has since blossomed into a key stop in the South for some of the biggest names in the “Make America Great Again” movement.
Beyond major names like Lara Trump, former Trump strategist Roger Stone and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, speakers included Dr. Li-Meng Yan — the author of the widely disputed theory that COVID-19 was a human-made bioweapon purposefully leaked from a Chinese laboratory — alongside figures like Georgia gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor and Pastor Mark Burns, a conservative influencer once named “Trump’s Top Pastor” who is currently running for the Republican nomination in South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District.
While the topics discussed throughout the weekend varied widely — from the virtues of nationalism and vaccine mandates to border security, election integrity and critical race theory — the theme was consistent: America’s institutions, from the nuclear family to capitalism itself, are under threat and it’s up to the conservative movement to work to save it.
“What causes great nations to collapse? Anyone know what it is? It’s not adversity, it’s prosperity. They forget. And that’s what will lead to their doom,” Jeff Addington, a professor of law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, told the crowd.
The Greenville event, organizers said, was designed to turn aspiration into action. Between vendors hawking wooden art, MyPillows, paper targets of Democratic politicians and memberships to the John Birch Society, various tables offered sign-up sheets to become Republican precinct people or to sign up as volunteers for political campaigns.
One table manned by representatives from Understanding the Threat, an anti-Muslim group, sold trainings for activists to wart wide-ranging threats by Muslims and communists who sought to infiltrate and destroy American institutions from the inside out.
“Educate, motivate, activate. Those are three themes for we’re doing,” said Ray Sheen, a board member of Rock the Red USA, which put on the in-person event as well as the livestream, which was available to purchase for $20 a day.
While the gathering was designed to help expose conservatives to a wider breadth of subject matter than they might typically be exposed to, it was also an opportunity to help organize like-minded conservatives to help shape the future of the GOP.
“We can make things happen,” Sheen said. “And we think we can, through the connections we make, we can get our message out and a wider area. Make connections and determine what to do actually get some action plans in place and start doing things.”
Sheen said the aim of the event, besides leadership in the Greenville GOP — which had been wracked by infighting in recent years — was to build more grassroots involvement by building public awareness of the issues of the day and arming them with the tools they need to hold power to account.
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“When you put a lot of power in the hands of just a few people, it’s very easy for that power to become abusive,” he said.
The picture of the conservative movement painted May 7 was not only one of moral conviction, but also a religious one under attack by institutions gone amok.
Leigh Valentine, who sold anti-aging products for 14 years on QVC, called on people who took the COVID-19 vaccine to “repent” for their sins, and shared a dream she had in 1987 where God told her Trump was destined to become president. She criticized her former company for removing her from the channel over her outspoken support of Trump.
“We have to stop supporting organizations that hate our country,” she said.
David Sumrall, a conservative activist, screened his documentary of the Jan. 6 riots depicting those who stormed the US Capitol as peaceful and the Capitol Police as aggressors. The footage focused on police-inflicted violence and protesters singing patriotic songs over the violence that dominated cable news.
“The FBI is woken up. They’ve been weaponized against us,” Sumrall told the audience. “If you don’t like CRT, the FBI is gonna be knocking on your doors next just for being a part of this movement.”