The annual Western Conservative Summit, held at the Hyatt Regency Denver on June 18-19, was countered this year by the Western BLM-Antifa Summit, a series of protests that brought together local progressive groups and activists.
The right-wing media, as represented by the Washington Times and Oregon journalist and Summit speaker Andy Ngo, portrayed the demonstrations as violent and chaotic examples of anti-Americanism. In contrast, the take from the Denver Communists, which was joined at the alternative summit by members of the Front Range Mutual Aid Network, WITCH Denver, the Front Range Community Defense Collective, the Anon Resistance Movements, Anti-Repression Colorado and the Denver Action Network, suggests that many of the confrontations were instigated by Western Conservative Summit sympathizers from groups such as the Proud Boys.
In previous years, the Western Conservative Summit, put on by the Centennial Institute, a branch of Colorado Christian University, has taken place at the Colorado Convention Center. Earlier this month, Centennial Institute director Jeff Hunt explained the switch to the Hyatt by noting that the WCS was assembled during a period when COVID-19 capacity restrictions were still in place, resulting in a planned in-person attendance of around 500 people rather than the usual crowd of 2,000-plus. But the reach of the Summit would be greater than ever, he explained, owing to an online presentation that generated more than 300,000 views across the country for last year's virtual version. In-person speakers at this Summit included Representative Lauren Boebert, Lakewood baker Jack Phillips (who was found to have discriminated against a transgender attorney by a Denver court last week) and onetime Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
Plenty of business got done at the Summit, including the annual straw poll of potential presidential candidates. Participants were simply asked whether they approved of thirty potential "popular figures across the political spectrum" in advance of the 2024 election — and Donald Trump didn't top the list.
Here are the top five vote-getters:
1. Ron DeSantis — 74.12 percent
2. Donald Trump — 71.43 percent
3. Ted Cruz — 42.86 percent
4. Mike Pompeo — 39.35 percent
5. Tim Scott — 35.58 percent
With an eye toward appealing to both a national and regional audience, the Summit was presented in a slick, highly produced fashion intended to translate online, with videos like these:
As for the alternative rally, the Washington Times portrayed it as a virtual siege, as exemplified by its headline, "Mayhem ensues as Antifa converges on Western Conservative Summit in Denver." This excerpt is typical of the tone: "Protesters, some with bullhorns, harassed people entering and exiting the hotel. Activists blocked traffic, prompting one driver to jump out of her car and accuse them of throwing a water bottle at her vehicle. Others chanted 'Boebert’s bitch boys' at a line of police outside the venue."
Included in that report was a statement from the Centennial Institute's Hunt portraying the protest as a backhanded endorsement: "The fact Antifa has chosen to protest our event proves to me three things: 1) The Western Conservative Summit is doing things right; 2) They’re afraid of the impact of the conservative message; and 3) They’re just rabble-rousing idiots."
The latter portrayal was reinforced by the inclusion of two tweets from Ngo. See the first...
Antifa violently confronted a purported attendee of the Western Conservative Conference in downtown Denver. The antifa gathered & waited for attendees who were leaving the Hyatt Regency. (I am speaking there.) Video by @ElijahSchaffer: pic.twitter.com/m2tBMPjDri— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) June 19, 2021
...and the second:
The Denver Communists' account hardly echoes these images. "The first day of the Western BLM-Antifa Summit started off kinda mellow," the organization reports. "Fifty protesters assembled outside the Hyatt to demonstrate against all the reactionary isms and phobias being spewed inside. We made ourselves right at home! We hung up a 'Hyatt hosts hate' banner and a Trump piñata. We set up our table on hotel property alongside our comrades with the IMT, sold a copy of Clara Zetkin’s How to Fight Fascism, passed out flyers about the far right, and had many good conversations with attendees and passers-by."
According to the group, "some white-haired, white-skinned white nationalists stood around to get yelled at. Some Proud Boys bravely flipped us off from inside. A few scuffles broke out, including one started by a right-wing provocateur in a fake beard…and finished by a left-wing hero!" There were also chants inspired by Phillips — among them "What do we want? Gay cakes! When do we want 'em? Now!'"
After sunset, a small number of protesters decided to march around the hotel. According to the Denver Communists report: "We barely got around the block before running into a riot line of militarized police guarding three tour buses! Protesters blocked the street and pressured the line, preventing the far-rightists from exiting the hotel. A few dozen young conservatives in the cartoonishly formal clothing that young conservatives like to wear managed to board one bus before all three reversed down a full city block to escape the angry mob. We advanced as they retreated, as you do." Then they noticed a couple of "Proud Boy losers reversing down the block in their Honda. They recognized us, too, which is unsurprising after our many encounters over the years."
On day two of the Western BLM-Antifa Summit, protesters featured a "super gay cake in dishonor" of Phillips, plus a "soup-throwing contest and vegan milkshakes…but only for our family, since the closest that milkshake fashion icon, Andy Ngo, got to us was waving from a fourth-story window."
But the Denver Communists say they did get a visit from "FEC United (Faith, Education, Commerce) and its fascist militia, the United Armed Defense Force," as well as two "multi-level marketers" who "came by to try to troll us, one in a bulletproof vest, [befitting their] violence aesthetic. We entertained a few stupid questions and lightly mocked them before a comrade recognized the UADF logo and sent them packing with chants of 'Trad wife, get a life!'"
Part of the exchange with the women is captured in the following video.
BLM-Antifa summiteers say they subsequently encountered "25 tough guys in expensive tacticool gear" who "were politely standing on the sidewalk behind the KKKops. To counter our gay cake, milkshakes, T-shirts and flip flops, they brought shields, batons, plate armor and who knows what else." But rather than engaging in an all-out brawl, the statement contends that "the fascists ultimately wandered off back to their immaculate pickup trucks, Castle Rock McMansions and boat dealerships. We berated them for half an hour and they had not a single word to offer in return. They have nothing to offer but their violence aesthetic."
None of this action rated tweets from the Denver Police Department this weekend; we've reached out to the Centennial Institute's Hunt for his take.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.