If the White House had not invited the neurosurgeon-turned-conservative star to the National Prayer Breakfast at Johns Hopkins, Carson would not have had his chance to call out the president while standing five feet away from him—a speech that lit a fire in many conservatives who saw it, and led Carson to the national stage.
Carson regained that stage on Thursday, when he gave the opening address in the Gaylord Nelson Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., the annual pilgrimage site for Republican activists attending the Conservative Political Action Conference.
In his speeches, Carson is known for harsh rhetoric—such as comparing the United States to Nazi Germany—delivered in the tone of a neuroscience lecture, or a lullaby. His delivery is reassured, but never histrionic. The CPAC crowd loved it.
"If you're pro-traditional marriage, then you're a homophobe. ... If you're black and you oppose the progressive agenda, then you're crazy. If you're black and you oppose a progressive agenda, and you're pro-life, and you're pro-family, they don't even know what to call you," Carson said Thursday. "You end up on some sort of watch list for extremists."
That last bit drew from Carson's personal experience. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights advocacy group, added Carson to its "extremist watch list" for being "anti-gay." After drawing outrage from Carson's supporters, the SPLC removed Carson from the list and apologized.