Hyatt Faces Backlash For Hosting CPAC
Co-Written By Nancy Levine and Isa-Lee Wolf
Update: On March 3 the design firm responsible for the CPAC stage released a statement saying any resemblance to Nazi symbols was unintentional. The story below has been updated to include the statement
On Sunday, February 28, Donald Trump headlined the annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, Florida, again touting the Big Lie that fueled the January 6th deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Reiterating the baseless claim that spurred the “Stop the Steal” chant at the insurrection, Trump told the CPAC audience he won the election. He didn’t — Joe Biden won the popular vote by 7 million votes and the electoral college by 306-232. Absence of proof for Trump’s “stolen election” fabrication has been exhaustively well documented. Trump spent much of his speech detailing voter fraud lies, the same rhetoric that incited the insurrection.
Before the event began, with seven panels slated to perpetuate the Big Lie Trump won the election, questions arose over Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s decision to host the conference.
On Friday, the opening day of CPAC, a spokesperson for Hyatt told Rantt Media in an emailed statement that the hotel provides a “safe and inclusive environment.” Hyatt furnished its statement within minutes of Rantt’s inquiry, suggesting that the hotel group may have been prepared in advance to face criticism — understandably so.
The same day, Sen. Josh Hawley told the CPAC audience, to rousing cheers:
“On January the 6th, I objected during the Electoral College certification, maybe you heard about it.”
In January, Loews Hotels canceled a fundraiser for Hawley, saying: “Loews Hotel Group has canceled an upcoming fundraiser for Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, saying it’s opposed to ‘all who supported and incited’ the deadly riot at the US Capitol.”
On Friday, Allison Gill, host of the “Daily Beans” podcast, first tweeted out an image (originated by her friend Andrew Hamilton, a graphic designer with a background in Norse iconography) showing that the CPAC stage configuration bore an uncanny resemblance to a Nazi symbol, the Odal rune.
Last year, Gill was a senior Veterans Affairs official. But she was forced out of her job for expressing her right to free speech in her “Mueller, She Wrote” podcast, as Politico reported. Gill told Rantt Media her tweeting the Nazi image, noting CPAC stage similarity “has garnered a LOT of negative hits calling me a conspiracy theorist, tin foil hat wearing crazy person.”
Social media accounts exploded with outrage over the CPAC resemblance to Nazi insignia, calling for a boycott of Hyatt hotels, with “Nazi” trending on Twitter.
Are you okay with Nazi symbols being used on your properties?
Because if you fail to speak out & do something about this immediately, I’ll be sure to no longer patronize any of your properties ever again. #CPAC2021 #CPACstage #CPACNazi pic.twitter.com/beFauYAMwO
— Sari Beth Rosenberg (@saribethrose) February 27, 2021
Prior to the stage design controversy, the Anti-Defamation League had issued a general advisory about the hate symbol: “Nazi uses of the symbol included the divisional insignia of two Waffen SS divisions during World War II. Following World War II, white supremacists in Europe, North America, and elsewhere began using the othala rune. Today, it is commonly seen in tattoo form, on flags or banners, as part of group logos, and elsewhere.”
Ilsa Hogue, president of NARAL, tweeted: “The CPAC stage resembles a known SS Nazi insignia. Generously, let’s assume the design was in error. They should immediately release an apology and change up the stage. Not doing so will convey the most reprehensible intent… And by ‘resembles,’ I mean ‘is identical to.’”
On Saturday, A Hyatt spokesperson told Rantt Media, in response to a question about the Nazi symbol and CPAC stage: “Please direct all event-specific questions to the CPAC organizing team.”
Hyatt punted on the Nazi symbol issue, deferring to Matt Schlapp, chair of CPAC. In a blustery response, Schapp lashed out at critics, denying claims of intentional design of the stage, saying that comparisons were “outrageous and slanderous.” He tweeted that the organization had a “long standing commitment to the Jewish community” and that the conference featured several Jewish speakers.
The time-honored “some of our best friends” bigotry defense aside, both Jewish authors of this Rantt article unequivocally denounce Schlapp using Jewish people as human shields to bolster his specious argument.
William Irons, partner and co-founder of New York City design and production firm Iron Bloom that produces corporate events including stage design, told Rantt Media about the Nazi symbol and CPAC stage design: “It’s so overt that I have a hard time believing that they didn’t know what they were doing.”
The design firm responsible for the stage claims otherwise:
— Nancy Levine (@nancylevine) March 3, 2021
Simon Rosenberg tweeted: “It is also a symbol in use today by American extremists. Matt Schlapp and the CPAC leadership need to explain how this could have happened.”
Debra Messing tweeted at Hyatt CEO:
I will never again enter one of your hotels.
a Jew. https://t.co/NmBT0oT8f5
— Debra Messing✍🏻 (@DebraMessing) February 28, 2021
Alyssa Milano tweeted:
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) February 27, 2021
But CPAC 2021 was not Hyatt’s first brush with hate groups.
In 2018, Hyatt announced that hate groups were not welcome in its hotels. Months after the HuffPost first reported that an anti-Muslim hate group was holding its annual conference at a Hyatt hotel, CEO Mark Hoplamazian addressed the issue, and Hyatt released a statement saying: “we need to commit to a higher level of vetting such that groups using hate speech, primarily seeking to disparage or demean a particular group, are not welcome in our hotels.”
By last week, Hyatt had relaxed its vetting to welcome CPAC — and speakers like Hawley, who glorified the January 6th insurrection, and Trump whose Big Lie incited it.
Just last month, Hyatt faced backlash after a video circulated of domestic terrorists who had rioted at the U.S. Capitol, relaxing without masks in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Washington.
As PR Week reported:
“A Hyatt spokesperson said that the ‘violent and destructive events in Washington, DC, yesterday were shocking, horrifying and indefensible.’
“The spokesperson added that teams at the brand’s DC locations were aware of the situation and their primary focus was ensuring the safety of guests and colleagues. Its staff at the Grand Hyatt Washington implemented security measures and engaged local authorities to that end, the spokesperson said.”
As horrifying and indefensible as Hyatt found the deadly attack on the Capitol, it didn’t deter the company from hosting CPAC and its speakers who glorified the insurrection.
Could the resemblance of the CPAC stage to the Odal rune, constructed with pathways to nowhere, and lighting to highlight its shape, be merely a huge, unfortunate coincidence? Perhaps.
BBC reporter on extremism Shayan Sardarizadeh seemed to think so, dubbing people citing the identical shape “BlueAnon.” To borrow from Jay Rosen: “…journalists need to learn that a symmetrical account of an asymmetric reality is a distortion.”
In fact, in 2018, the watchdog group the Southern Poverty Law Center described that year’s CPAC as a “carnival” of extremism “uniting” under Trump:
“CPAC has become an annual measure of how far the radical right has moved into the mainstream of the conservative right, especially in recent years as anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT groups have found political friends in the United States and Europe.”
Examples of Republicans supporting white supremacy or espousing such ideas abound, beyond Trump’s infamous “very fine people” of the 2017 Charlottesville march or his command to the white supremacist Proud Boys to “stand back and standby.” In 2019, former Rep. Steve King lost his committee assignments after musing about what was wrong with white supremacy.
Freshman Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), QANON adherent, blamed the Rothschilds, a common antisemtic trope, for space lasers that supposedly started the wildfires in the West. Congresswoman Mary Miller (R-IL) said in a rally speech in Washington on January 5 that Hitler was “right on one thing.” The truck of Chris Miller, Miller’s husband and an Illinois State Representative, bearing a “Three Percenters” sticker was spotted outside the Capitol on January 6. “Three Percenters” is a right-wing extremist group; Chris Miller claimed ignorance about the self-styled militia.
While a mere congressional candidate, CPAC speaker Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) fanboyed over his trip to Hitler’s vacation home, enthusiasm he later had to dial back. Former Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler claimed she had no idea who Chester Doles was when she posed for a picture with him on the campaign trail. Doles, former KKK member and head of right-wing group American Patriots USA reportedly tried to find Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 6, the date of the insurrection, as militias surrounded the statehouse.
And around again to the insurrection incited by Trump, which the New Yorker described as “The bitter fruits of Trump’s white-power presidency.” Instigated by the Big Lie, and populated largely by white supremacists, the deadly insurrection has not dampened the conservative enthusiasm for the fiction that Trump won. Is it that outlandish to believe it also didn’t dampen the apparent conservative enthusiasm for white supremacy, expressed in a welcome-mat of a stage?
As MuellerSheWrote tweeted:
This is really simple. If using a known Nazi symbol for the CPAC stage was unintentional, @mschlapp, @CPAC and @Hyatt just need to acknowledge the issue, say clearly that it was unintentional, and STRONGLY denounce neo-Nazis. They won’t because that’s their base. #CPACstage
— Mueller, She Wrote (@MuellerSheWrote) February 28, 2021
While extremists may be an increasingly attractive demographic for Republicans, Hyatt eventually realized that neo-Nazis are not their customer base. Finally, on Sunday evening, Hyatt released its third statement about CPAC, which came after an avalanche of calls to boycott its hotels.
Reuters reported: “In its statement on Sunday, Hyatt said: ‘We take the concern raised about the prospect of symbols of hate being included in the stage design at CPAC 2021 very seriously as all such symbols are abhorrent and unequivocally counter to our values as a company.’”
Hyatt added that “colleagues occasionally faced hostility from attendees” at the conference when attendees were reminded to wear masks and socially distance. Hyatt also said it was “extremely disappointed by the disrespect many individuals involved in the event showed to our colleagues.”
Conservatives’ attempts to frame a consumer boycott of Hyatt as “cancel culture” are toothless. Boycotting businesses is a time-tested and effective means of consumer activism. History is rife with examples of successful boycotts, dating back centuries.
As Forbes reported, calling Hyatt’s response a PR disaster, “Hyatt quickly went into damage control, attempting at first to frame the issue as one of free speech. Journalist Nancy Levine tweeted out a Hyatt statement touting the company’s responsibility to provide an inclusive environment for everyone.”
Time will tell whether Hyatt’s third try at a statement repairs the damage done. Either way, the swell of boycott backlash should serve as a reminder to other corporations: there are consequences for doing business with extremists.
No one from the American Conservative Union, presenter of CPAC responded to inquiries.