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Mike Lindell’s CPAC Sideshow
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Mike Lindell’s CPAC Sideshow

The conference takes Lindell's sponsorship money but pushes his election conspiracy theories off the main stage.

In his Thursday speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, happening this week in Orlando, Florida, MyPillow CEO and stop-the-steal guru Mike Lindell differed from the day’s other speakers in several ways. 

For one, while most speakers spent their time in broad-focus attacks on the Biden administration and the left at large, Lindell focused on his perennial obsession—the supposedly stolen 2020 election. For another, he went on a protracted rant against Fox News, one of the preeminent sponsors of the event. And for a third, his speech took place not in the giant auditorium where the rest of the day’s programming had been, but in the neighboring convention hall, wedged between the “Let’s Go Brandon” flags and merchandise tables.

In fact, if you hadn’t happened to stumble across Lindell in the “CPAC Central” hall, you might have missed that he’d spoken at the event at all. His name was not on lists of speakers posted to the CPAC website in advance of the event, and CPAC never advertised on social media that he would be speaking. It wasn’t until late Thursday afternoon that his name appeared on CPAC’s online agenda at all. CPAC’s stream of the day’s proceedings cut off before he got up to speak. (His platform Lindell TV, otherwise known as Frank Speech, did appear on CPAC’s website as one of the event’s sponsors.) 

Matt Schlapp, chairman of CPAC’s parent organization the American Conservative Union, confirmed to The Dispatch that Lindell’s speech had been a planned, official part of the proceedings: “He was an official speaker at our opening reception.” 

CPAC, of course, doesn’t typically shy away from hucksters and conspiracy-mongers: Other speakers who got much more official billing include Alex Berenson, Candace Owens, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Still, it’s not hard to see why CPAC might not have wanted to shout Lindell’s presence in particular from the rooftops: His speech, which was streamed on Lindell’s own Frank Speech site, was a disjointed 30-minute tirade about censorship, a stolen election, and corrupt politicians. 

The speech was difficult to follow—Lindell moved around so quickly he rarely finished his sentences— but there were the familiar repetitions of disproven voter fraud claims. Lindell has still not backed down from his claims that Dominion Voting machines were behind a supposedly fraudulent 2020 election. “The computers gotta be gone,” he said. “The machines gotta be gone. They all gotta be gone.”

Lindell also went into detail about January 7, a day he described as “very significant.” Right after the Capitol insurrection “they tried to cancel our voices forever,” he said. It wasn’t only that Trump got kicked off of Twitter: “one million two hundred thousand people that got deplatformed that day around the world.”

Nevertheless, he said, all this was secretly a blessing. Why? 

Because everybody is learning what went on in our country. Even people over here that are Democrats are going—they’re coming over here, wherever that is, here—and I’m not saying over here because of bad Republicans—but I’m saying here. Wherever that is, they’re coming over to common sense. They’ve been brainwashed for years and decades. They took God out of our schools. They brainwashed our colleges. China invaded our country. We skipped right over socialism to communist. But it’s opening people’s eyes. And this is what we need. So I say to you, we are living in the most historic, best time in history. It’s the biggest revival for Jesus Christ ever.”

Lindell ended his speech the same way he began, encouraging the CPAC audience to pressure candidates to get behind his stolen-election claims: “If any candidates come up to you, and say, ‘Hey, I’m Johnny Bananas, I’m running for Congress,’ ‘I’m Susie Smith,’ whatever it is. You ask them: Do you believe that this election was stolen? Do you believe that it was done through machines and computers and corrupt laws that were put into place by secretary of states?” 

Unlike last year’s CPAC, which featured panel after panel devoted to arguing that the 2020 election had been fraudulent, stolen-election allegations like Lindell’s have so far been rare in this year’s main-stage speeches. (One exception was Donald Trump, Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, who made several references to “rigged elections.”) Schlapp, who himself pushed false claims of voter fraud in Nevada in the days immediately following the 2020 election, has followed a similar path over the past year: In an Axios interview last October, the chairman distanced himself from the notion that the election had been stolen. “Joe Biden is my president, and I want him to succeed,” he said. “And I want him to project strength overseas. …We have never participated in any kind of rhetoric that would undermine that.” In the same interview, Schlapp’s wife, Mercedes, said she did not think election audits or investigations into allegations of fraud would change the results of the election: “I don’t believe it would change the outcome of the election,” she said.

Why, then, would CPAC give Lindell a platform to air his incoherent theories? There’s the fact that Lindell supports CPAC, for one thing: Lindell’s name was only added to the agenda late Thursday afternoon, but Lindell-TV has been listed as an event sponsor for days. 

But another explanation can be seen in how Lindell treats other former allies, like Fox News, for whom his ranting eventually became too toxic. These ex-allies tend to crop up as villains in Lindell’s view of the world—because why would they have turned their backs on him if they weren’t in on the cover-up?

“If you’re a host on Fox News, please, please leave Fox,” Lindell said Thursday. “Get out there and say what really is happening out in our country. That’s what I beg you. Get out there—and you know who I’m talking about. People we counted on to say something, to balance the other side … Fox is like a weather channel now—what they are is a weather channel but they’ve got orders they can’t report hurricanes or tornadoes.”

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

Khaya Himmelman is a fact checker for The Dispatch. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Barnard College.