Inside the Council for National Policy

Partly because so little was known about CNP, the hubbub died down.

The CNP Against Liberalism

The CNP describes itself as a counterweight against liberal domination of the American agenda.

That countering is heavy and silent, in part because few people, outside its members, seem to know what the group is, what it does, how it raises money, and how interlocked it has become in the matrix of conservative activism.

Conservative, it clearly is.

Unlike other groups that meet in darkened chambers, the CNP doesn't seem to favor, as a matter of policy and choice of guests, one-worlders, secular humanists, or multicultural multilateralists.

According to one of its most prominent members (who asked that his name not be used), the CNP is simply and nothing but a self-selected, conservative counterweight to the influential center-left establishment.

Panel topics at this year's convention hew to the CNP's world view, but Baldwin, who wouldn't give specifics, said they reflected many different vantage points.

"We'll probably discuss some of the hot issues that are relevant today. The Middle East … We'll have a number of speakers from different perspectives. We're not of all one like mind when it comes to what's going on there."

He continued: "Worldwide terrorism. Campaign finance reform. Generally, we kind of mirror what's going on in society. We pride ourselves on being relevant and timely, so that members want to come to our meetings."

Still, the group's shadowy reputation deters some high-profile figures from speaking before it — those who directly influence policy.

For example: A knowledgeable person lists former CIA Director James Woolsey as a Friday night speaker and says that on Saturday, Reagan defense official Frank Gaffney will debate former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan about Israel.

The cavalcade of "formers" resembles nothing more formidable than a Fox News prime-time guest lineup.

In the 1990s, social issues tended to dominate the panels, and guests tended to be talking heads who were plugged in to policy circles, rather than operating from within them.

The concoction of federalism, economic growth, social traditionalism, religious activism and anti-secularism goes down well among members because it is spiced with disdain for a common enemy: the creeping influence of political and philosophical liberalism.

Many current and former members politely said they would prefer not to speak on the organization's behalf. Those who did respond to telephone and e-mail messages declined to talk about their interest in the organization. More than a dozen did not respond at all.

"Obviously, membership would imply that there is a commonality, so that goes without saying," said Alvin Williams, CEO of a political action committee that promotes black conservatives. "I don't think it is anything threatening at all."

He declined to elaborate.

Darla St. Martin, associate executive director of the National Right to Life, would only say, "Since everyone else is so skeptical [about speaking], I don't think I should."

Even Judicial Watch's Larry Klayman, the watchdog and open government proponent, would not comment, a spokesman said. His busy schedule — four depositions in two days — precluded a short telephone interview.

Gary Bauer, the former presidential candidate and ubiquitous media presence, asked a spokesman to decline a request for an interview about the CNP, citing the group's long-standing policy against press publicity.

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