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From Eastman to Noem, Beaver Creek’s ‘freedom’ fest keeps serving up red meat

August 24, 2023, 8:33 am

Steamboat Institute favorite John Eastman was booked this week on charges of trying to subvert the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Only today’s snarling cult-of-Trump Republican Party could make people feel warm, fuzzy, and nostalgic for the days of Dick Cheney at this posh, gated ski resort near Vail. Of course, the former vice president and Iraq War architect had more than his share of local detractors back in the day.

The front page of Tuesday’s Vail Daily, which has been loaded with ads for the upcoming Freedom Conference in recent weeks, mentions Cheney and promotes the event here for its “Conservative conversations”, teasing a one-sided story on South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, which she claimed is a warlike area worthy of her sending more of her state’s National Guard troops. Noem will speak at the conference on Saturday.

Such dangerous “invasion” rhetoric, which has led to mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y., likely would not find a wider audience in Eagle County, where more than 30% of local residents identify as Hispanic or Latino and constitute a vital part of the local community, both economically and culturally. In fact, Latino labor built much of Beaver Creek.

A column in the Vail Daily last week by Freedom Conference founder Jennifer Schubert-Akin, who’s the director of The Steamboat Institute, which is the sponsor of the Freedom Conference, excoriated a local bookstore for respectfully declining to serve as the event’s bookseller because “your ideals don’t align with mine.”

Schubert-Akin wrote she was merely hoping to sell books by the Republican Noem – who’s being discussed as a running mate for former President Donald Trump in 2024 — Fox News host Dana Perino and economist Steve Moore. 

“These aren’t far-right radicals but rather modern-day proponents of a proud American political tradition,” wrote Schubert-Arkin.

Kristi Noem

In fact, many residents of Colorado – a firmly blue state dating back to the mid-aughts – likely would disagree on just how radical and far-right Noem is, given her support for forced birth even in the case of rape, her signing of multiple anti-trans bills into law, her abysmal record as COVID Queen during the pandemic, her NRA-fueled fetish for childhood gun ownership, her continued association with abusive, misogynistic men such as Trump, and her own state party’s animosity.

Noem, to many, is South Dakota’s version of far-right firebrand congresswoman Lauren Boebert – a past participant at the Freedom Conference and a politician with a long resume of racism and Christian nationalism. Boebert represents part of Eagle County and most of Colorado’s Western Slope after winning reelection by just 546 votes in 2022, and is currently trailing Democrat Adam Frisch 50% to 48% in a brand-new Keating Research poll.

The Freedom Conference first came to Beaver Creek in 2020 to take advantage of Eagle County’s more permissive COVID regulations on the size of gatherings, launching its now four-year stint locally with then CU-Boulder visiting professor John Eastman, who on Tuesday surrendered to Fulton County, Ga., authorities to face charges for his role in trying to illegally overturn that state’s presidential election in 2020. Eastman was later fired by CU, but he is still working for the Colorado Republican Party to try to bar unaffiliated voters from GOP primaries.

Asked by NBC News after his booking on Tuesday if he still believes the 2020 election was stolen, Eastman continued to spread the Big Lie by saying, “Absolutely, no question in my mind.” That rhetoric falls flat in Colorado, where President Joe Biden trounced Trump by 13%. In Eagle County, Trump lost to Biden by a staggering 30-point margin.

“Eagle County has a proud tradition of electing Democrats who support the freedom and liberties of its residents, including the freedom to make your own medical decisions, marry who you love, and be yourself,” Colorado Democratic Party Chair and local resident Shad Murib said of the Freedom Conference. “The fact that this group’s opening act was lead conspiracy theorist and election denier John Eastman, who just surrendered to authorities for trying to overturn the 2020 election, says all you need to know about how happy we’ll be when they leave.”

Eastman’s successor at CU’s Benson Center, law professor Todd Zywicki, will speak at the Freedom Conference on Friday and teach a class this fall in Boulder that will explore “woke” threats to the rule of law, as opposed to the insurrectionist threats to the rule of law espoused by his predecessor. CU continues to draw criticism for its curriculum at the Benson Center.

Here’s Zywicki’s topic Friday, per the conference website: “Restoring Sanity in Academia: Policy Fixes for American Higher Ed” featuring TODD ZYWICKI, Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University; 2023 Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization at CU Boulder”.

Zywicki declined to answer a long list of questions about the Benson Center, Eastman, Trump or even the role of Beaver Creek’s own Gerald Ford – the 38th president of the United States who pardoned disgraced former President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal – in helping to heal the nation. Some critics say that the pardon indirectly led to Trump’s long list of indictments, in that he knew Nixon and saw that he never faced legal consequences.

Via a CU spokesperson, Zywicki responded to a question on his definition of “woke,” pointing out he “recently did an interview with Scott Atlas on ‘Wokeism Defined and Deconstructed.’ He has not written anything formal on the topic, but if you’d like to know how he defines the elements of ‘woke thinking’ and rule of law, he suggests watching the interview.”

The Freedom Conference, as a result of the Eastman association and the Eagle County GOP’s embrace, has gained a national reputation as a hive of conspiracy-mongering that’s become a stain on the reputation of the resort and its host Park Hyatt hotel, critics say, overshadowing the Cheney and Ford days of hosting the American Enterprise Institute World Forum.

A spokesperson for the Steamboat Institute declined to comment on Noem’s perceived right-wing radicalism, but did offer this statement on CU’s Benson Center and its visiting scholars:

“We encourage everyone who wants to know the thoughts and policy positions of Gov. Noem, Todd Zywicki, and any of the rest of our speakers, to register to attend Freedom Conference and hear directly from the speakers themselves,” Schubert-Akin wrote in an email, via the spokesperson. “Since the inception of the Benson Center, Steamboat Institute has been proud to feature the annual Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy in our programs.”

RELATED: Will the Steamboat Institute Continue To Offer a Platform to Extremists & Conspiracists?

The cost of registering for the two-day conference on Friday and Saturday is rather elite $550. The spokesperson, for privacy reasons, declined to identify the local bookstore that opted not to act as the event’s bookseller.

The original print and online version of the Vail Daily column said it was “one local bookstore whose stance is representative.” The online version, without a clarifying editor’s note, was changed to “one local bookstore in a neighboring county to Eagle whose stance is representative.”

Richard Carnes, a weekly columnist for the Vail Daily, on Tuesday questioned the hypocrisy of a freedom conference criticizing a bookstore for exercising its freedom to not sell books it finds offensive. Meanwhile, the modern GOP continues to lead the charge on book bans nationwide.

The conference kicks off Friday morning with Kevin Roberts, president of The Heritage Foundation — who in recent months has been scrutinized for his blueprint to massively expand executive power under the next Republican administration.

On Saturday, the conference will feature an “update from the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, including investigation into [President Joe] Biden family’s financial dealings,” featuring Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas and moderated by Sarah Bedford of the conservative Washington Examiner newspaper. That Phil Anschutz-owned paper is part of the same group that includes the conservative Denver and Colorado Springs Gazette newspapers.

There is no mention in the Saturday session of whether there will be discussion of Trump’s White House Middle East advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) recently said“’crossed the line of ethics’ by accepting a $2 billion investment from the Saudi government” just six months after leaving the White House. Biden’s son, Hunter, has never served in the White House in any official capacity.

Nor is there currently any planned panel discussion this week of the 91 criminal charges now facing Trump in four separate indictments in Georgia, New York, Florida, and Washington, D.C. for crimes ranging from obstruction of justice to attempts to illegally overturn the 2020 election to improperly handling classified national defense documents to financial fraud in a bid to cover up an alleged affair with a porn star.

Wednesday night at a debate in Milwaukee, six of the eight potential Republican nominees for president in 2024 indicated they would support frontrunner Trump, who did not attend the debate and is set to be booked in Georgia on Thursday, even if he’s convicted.

Editor’s note: A version of this analysis first appeared in the Colorado Times Recorder.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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