Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which runs the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, said today that he condemns the “alt-right,” a loose affiliation of white nationalists, misogynists, and other deplorables that have gained increasing influence in the conservative movement. But don’t be too quick to congratulate him for his criticism of racists -- Schlapp will lead a Thursday CPAC panel featuring White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who has bragged about turning Breitbart.com into “the platform for the alt-right” during his tenure leading the site.
The disconnect suggests leading conservatives want to get credit for separating themselves from the “alt-right,” while still drawing on its enablers for support.
Schlapp made the comments in an interview on MSNBC in which he defended his organization’s initial decision to give Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos a platform at CPAC. Last night, Schlapp withdrew the offer after video circulated of Yiannopoulos “condoning pedophilia.”
Yiannopoulos had a long and well-known history of making virulent attacks against women, people of color, Muslims, and the transgender community, and he is a key enabler of the “alt-right.” None of those factors prevented CPAC from offering him a prominent speaking slot.
For Schlapp, Yiannopoulos’ past comments were simply “controversies and disagreements among conservatives,” while “there is no disagreement among our attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children.” This gives the lie to the conservative argument on free speech -- criticism of commentary is just being “politically correct” until the commentary is offensive to conservatives.
At the end of Schlapp’s interview, Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough asked Schlapp if CPAC had “an official position on the alt-right.” Schlapp came out strong against the movement in response, suggesting that the “alt-right” is racist and while “there are those who flirt with it, who maybe don't fully understand it,” conservatives should want to have “nothing to do with” it. “We won't endorse it and we won't rationalize it,” he concluded.
Schlapp’s opposition to the “alt-right” is so strong that he’ll be sitting down with Bannon at a CPAC panel on Thursday:
Bannon, a revanchist ethno-nationalist who supports a “global revolt” against elites, turned Breitbart into a beloved news source and normalization engine for the “alt-right.” He bragged in July that the website had become “the platform for the alt-right.” Because of that work, white nationalists and neo-Nazis cheered when he was hired by Donald Trump's presidential campaign and praised his appointment to the White House.
While Yiannopoulos will no longer be speaking at CPAC, attendees will have seven other opportunities to hear from Breitbart staffers. Editors and reporters James Delingpole, Joel Pollak, Sonnie Johnson, Raheem Kassam, Alex Marlow, Frances Martel, and John Carney will all give speeches or lead or participate in panel discussions at CPAC, the bastion of the conservative movement that supposedly wants its members to stay away from the “alt-right.”
Breitbart has a big audience and thus is a power in the conservative movement. As Schlapp explained this morning, Yiannopoulos’ history of virulent commentary didn’t matter because “he is a big voice in this movement.” Until he said something that offended the wrong people, that was enough.