COVID denial, communism and QAnon. Conspiracy theory-fueled conference hits Salt Lake City

Speakers pushed misinformation about COVID and election fraud at sparsely attended event.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The WeCANact Liberty Conference, held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.

A conspiracy and religion-fueled political conference in downtown Salt Lake City drew about 1,000 attendees on Friday to the Salt Palace Convention Center. People there heard from some of the leading far-right political figures, including retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.

The Western Conservative Action Network, or WeCANact event, was billed as a place to learn to fight “against the socialist, communist, and Marxist ideologies” in government, schools and the media. The event did focus on that promise, but also offered up a large helping of misinformation about COVID-19, vaccines and the 2020 election. And, to top off the fringe political buffet, there were lots of references to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Organizers initially hoped to sell 10,000 tickets or more to the two-day event in Salt Lake City. They fell far short, with fewer than 1,000 in attendance on Friday.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Michael Flynn speaks at the WeCANact Liberty Conference, held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.

The headline speaker was former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired just a few weeks after being appointed to the position by former President Donald Trump. Flynn was a central figure in the postelection efforts to overturn the 2020 vote, suggesting that Trump impose martial law in several states to force a revote. More recently Flynn suggested a coup should take place in the U.S.

The falsehoods and half-truths flew fast and furious Friday.

A favorite target for speakers was the COVID-19 pandemic and any protective measures taken to stop the spread of the virus that has killed more than 720,000 Americans.

“Masks are the new swastikas. You wear a mask to signal you’ll give in to fear,” said Doug Billings, who hosts the online show “The Right Side with Doug Billings.”

Other speakers spent time promoting unproven alternative cures for the virus.

“COVID-19 is 100 percent treatable using budesonide, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin,” Clay Clark falsely claimed, adding that he also sells the drugs online.

Budesonide is a steroid commonly used to treat Crohn’s disease that some preliminary studies have suggested could help treat COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial that has no proven efficacy against COVID-19, while ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug that also shows no effectiveness against the virus.

Clark also said remdesivir was responsible for killing COVID-19 patients in the hospital because it causes renal failure, and that it was funded by frequent right-wing boogeyman George Soros. Left unsaid was the fact that President Donald Trump was given the drug when he was hospitalized with the virus last year.

Several speakers said the COVID-19 vaccine contained nanotechnology graphene oxide (not true) or fetal tissue (it was developed from stem cell lines from aborted fetal cells, but does not contain any fetal material).

The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths also were called into doubt. Speakers suggested that COVID-19 tests were calibrated in such a way so that they overinflated the number of infections, which would then be used to push people to take the much-hated vaccine.

Aside from COVID-19, there were other well-worn talking points.

More than a few speakers referred to anything they viewed as the enemy as communist or Marxist.

Leigh Dundas, who cheered on the crowd who attacked Congress during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, warned the crowd that a plot launched by former Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev to replace the U.S. government with a communist dictatorship was coming to fruition.

“This is how a communist totalitarian takeover starts. They make divorce easy. They want to normalize deviant sexual practices. They want to get rid of obscenity laws and frame anyone who opposes that as against free speech. They want to get rid of prayer in schools,” Dundas warned.

There was lots of talk about the nonexistent election fraud, which has fueled former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne speaks at the WeCANact Liberty Conference, held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.

Former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, who pushed his fantastical theories about hacked election machines, walked the audience through his “Deep Rig” theory about election fraud. Byrne was part of a White House meeting following the 2020 election where he and others urged Trump to overturn the election results. He is also being sued by Dominion Voting Systems for $1.6 billion for pushing claims their machines rigged the election for Joe Biden.

Arizona state Senators Wendy Rogers and Sonny Borrelli, who gained notoriety during the partisan-led audit of election results in Maricopa County, were on hand to continue pushing the “big lie” about election fraud.

“The 2020 election was a shameful moment. We need to take our country back,” Rogers said.

Utah Reps. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, and Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, are pushing for a similar audit of the 2020 election results in Utah. Both men are set to speak at the conference on Saturday.

The right-wing conservative political conference also included multiple references to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The opening prayer asked for God’s protection from a “satanic cabal.” A central belief of QAnon is the world is run by a global child trafficking, Satan worshipping cabal. The opening prayer also referred to attendees as part of “the great awakening,” which is an overt reference to a QAnon belief that mass arrests of government officials are coming.

While it’s easy to mock many of the things said by presenters at Friday’s conference, there’s a profound danger lurking behind their claims according to Travis View, co-host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast.

“Speakers from the stage echoed the kind of harmful misinformation that is commonly amplified by online conspiracists. It’s unfortunate that the speakers appealed to the listeners’ faith and patriotism in order to advance a message that makes parents needlessly paranoid, risks physical health, and degrades the health of democracy,” View said.

The conference is set to continue on Saturday.