Atheists for Liberty Bring "Anti-Woke" Crusade to CPAC

Atheists for Liberty is more about being anti-social justice than about promoting atheism

Last week I wrote about Donald Trump’s speech at the Conservative Poltiical Action Conference 2021. But Trump wasn’t the only person there: also in attendance were representatives from Atheists for Liberty, “an educational, nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting for and sustaining individual rights and the separation of religion & government.” Here’s the photo they tweeted from the event - complete with books from Steven Pinker, Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Gad Saad:

Anyone who’s been active in the atheistosphere in the last few years will notice David Silverman, disgraced former President of American Atheists, sitting at the table on the left: he’s on their Board of Advisors, along with Boghossian, Lindsay, Saad, and Michael Shermer among others.

So what? Organizations table at conferences all the time. I myself have done so. And there is no requirement to agree with everything a conference organizer promotes, or everything presented at a conference, to table there: usually tabling organizations are not indicted by the content of a conference. We don’t do guilt by association. Sometimes, even, it makes sense of an organization representing a particular group to table at a conference where they might not be especially welcome, in order to develop relationships and show that they aren’t all that bad after all. Sometimes you have to venture into the lion’s den to show the crowd you’re braver and more noble than they thought. So perhaps all Atheists for Liberty are doing is trying to spread the good news of atheism to an audience which hasn’t heard it much.

Indeed, their tweets suggest they were there to promote atheism and secularism among conference attendees, and to show that there are atheists in conservative spaces. Certainly there may be some benefit to the acceptance of atheism as a worldview for people to see that there are open atheists with a range of political views. And, predictably, some of the religious conservative attendees found their presence triggering: I particularly enjoyed one writer complaining that “one of the exhibitors at this year’s conference in Orlando, Fla., is Atheists for Liberty, a group that rejects God and His permanent moral order, the natural law, which are fundamental to conservatism.” Scary!

But that’s not the real reason they were there. Thomas Sheedy, Atheists for Liberty’s founding president, made their real goal apparent in an interview with the New York Post:

“Thomas Sheedy, head of Atheists for Liberty, said many of the non-faithful were Trump voters and drawn to his “aggressive tone.” The SUNY Albany student, now on his third CPAC, said, “We’re here to show common ground to unite together [with other conservatives] against the new woke intersectional left.””

Yes, Atheists for Liberty were at CPAC to hobnob with fellow true believers in the anti-social justice cult which has captured US conservatism - and, to be fair, where better? CPAC is not a normal political conference, after all. In the range of acceptable, rational political opinion, it is not so much to one side of the scale as outside the scale entirely. CPAC brings together the vilest conspiracy theorists and hatemongers in the GOP and the conservative movement, and gives them a massive megaphone. It has consistently promoted false and harmful political ideas: this year it promoted the conspiracy theory that Trump won the presidential election, as well as transphobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric that wouldn’t be out of place at a neo-Nazi rally. It is a cesspool of the worst elements of American politics, and everyone who swims in that cesspool gets covered with slime.

A consistent theme of this year’s CPAC - as well as in conservative spaces more broadly - is the idea that social justice warriors are trying to “cancel” everything they disagree with. A great tide of illiberalism is washing over the USA, they claim, generated by angry Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist activists. Some of the biggest cheers of the evening were against “cancel culture”, something you’d think would be a boutique interest in the time of a massive global pandemic. But this seems to be what US conservatism has fixed on as its new bête noire, and Atheists for Liberty agrees.

This is an example of a new and growing phenomenon: the lines between religion and nonreligion, and even conservatism and liberalism, are becoming less important compared with the line between the “woke” and the “anti-woke.” Where you stand on the approach and concerns of contemporary social justice culture is becoming the signifier of political allegiance in the USA, and since Atheists for Liberty are anti-woke, they will happily dive into the CPAC cesspool.

The problem with swimming in cesspools is that they leave you covered in excrement. Regardless of the noble reasons you thought you had for diving in, once you stagger out you stink of shit - and Atheists for Liberty is covered in it. By attending CPAC - by sitting and smiling amidst the conspiracy theorists, fantasists, and furious culture warriors CPAC champions - Atheists for Liberty showed their true colors. It’s not atheists they care about, but their crusade against the “woke.”