Throngs of conservative women packed a Hyatt Regency in Dallas for a four-day Young Women’s Leadership Summit hosted by conservative group Turning Point USA. Here is where they could line up to finally meet their idols: Tomi Lahren, Dana Loesch, Kellyanne Conway.
This is a place where right-leaning women who feel under attack on their liberal school campuses can don their “Make American Great Again” hats, profess their Ben Shapiro crushes and question the existence of the patriarchy without fear of insult.
At the heart of it all are the conference’s hosts, Candace Owens (28, black, tall, endorsed by Kanye West) and Charlie Kirk (24, white, taller, embraced by Donald Trump), creators of a genuine safe space for the right.
“I wouldn’t call it a safe space,” says Owens, bristling at the commonly-used term among liberals. “I would call it a comfortable space.”
Young women from 48 states have traveled here to listen to speeches by Jordan Peterson on political correctness run amok or catch a glimpse of Fox News host and Don Jr. dater Kimberly Guilfoyle. They attend breakout sessions about building a brand and developing right-wing Instagram pages. This is a place to learn how to become a conservative celebrity from those who have already made it.
Take, for example, Tomi Lahren. Even in a sea of blondes, Lahren can’t blend in. She walks like a magnet through the throngs, drawing fans to her amid the “Socialism Sucks” posters and “Trump Girl” shirts. The selfie line is at least 200 deep, and when she makes her way onstage, the audience is so quiet you could hear a snowflake melt.
“I think if all of us stand up and make a movement out of saying, ‘Enough is enough’ about being treated differently because we’re conservative,” Lahren says. “It almost sounds a little bit like a political Me Too movement. But I think if the liberals can stand up and say Me Too about sexual harassment and assault, why can’t we stand up and say Me Too about being disenfranchised as conservatives?”
This is what the people came to hear: they are not alone, they are powerful, they too can be just like Lahren. Which is, what exactly? She’s a political commentator and a staffer for a Trump-aligned group. But she’s more than that, she’s seen. She’s heard.
“It’s kind of freeing to come here to be surrounded by a lot of people who have the same beliefs as you,” says Reagan Tapley, 21, a senior at an “extremely liberal” college. “It doesn’t feel as terrifying to wear a hat that says ‘Make America Great Again’ because the odds are pretty low that anyone is going to come up and harass me.”
Kirk, who founded Turning Point USA in 2012, feels a shift happening on college campuses and hopes the organization can help reinvigorate the conservative movement. That will take women, he says, thus the conference.
Yet as the conference kicks off, things aren’t as comfortable as Owens and Kirk might have hoped. Three days before the conference, Owens had teased her scheduled talk on Twitter by bashing the Me Too movement as a salve for weak women who couldn’t handle themselves around men. Her remarks shocked some of the group’s devotees and allies.
Kimberly Corban, a rape survivor and guns rights activist, responded on Twitter that she disagreed with Owens, and in Dallas said she worried the conference might send mixed signals about coming forward to report sexual abuse.
After she spoke, women lined up to meet Corban. They told her about being assaulted while serving in the military, about being harassed on campus. They cried, hugged and thanked her for being an inspiration.
And yet, their overall sentiment about the Me Too movement was ambivalence.
“What makes me cautious of it is that I fear with so much energy in the movement, I worry that men will get falsely sucked into it,” says Emma Mull, 18.
So, when Owens takes the stage to share her Trumpian conservative vision, she doesn’t mention Me Too and finishes her speech to a wild ovation.
The audience jumps out of their seats to run through the dark and meet her outside. They tell her they love her.
On Twitter and in conservative backchannels, Owens is vulnerable. Here she is still safe. Or comfortable, anyway.