Just two days after news broke that Breitbart.com’s serial harasser Milo Yiannopoulos would speak at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the conference’s hosts have rescinded his speaking invitation after video circulated of Yiannopoulos “condoning pedophilia.” While CPAC is now trying to do damage control, there were any number of reasons not to elevate Yiannopoulos before the video resurfaced. And anyone familiar with Yiannopoulos’ persona -- including the leadership at CPAC -- should have known that continuing to ally themselves with a champion of the so-called “alt-right” would eventually lead to something like this.
Milo Yiannopoulos is a senior editor at Breitbart.com, the “alt-right” website formerly run by Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist (Bannon is still set to speak at CPAC this year). Yiannopoulos has spent years positioning himself as the poster boy for radical “free speech,” traveling on speaking tours and doing publicity stunts that target, hurt, and harass women, people of color, undocumented students, and the transgender community, among other already at-risk groups.
He was a key figure in the 2014 “Gamergate” harassment campaign, and was also permanently banned from Twitter for his role in the targeted online attacks on black actress Leslie Jones after she starred in an all-female remake of Ghostbusters. More recently, Yiannopoulos targeted a transgender student during an appearance on his college tour, displaying the student’s name and photo on a giant screen, as the Breitbart livestream of his speech featured a camera with crosshairs scanning across the audience (a “trigger cam”).
This behavior is typical of the Breitbart senior editor -- Yiannopoulos and his misogynist “alt-right” fans encourage each other constantly within smaller online communities, repurposing cartoons, speaking in code to one another, and seeking out new individuals to target outside of their “alt-right” white nationalist base.
CPAC was apparently ready to reward Yiannopoulos’ dangerous behavior with more speaking time at its conference than the sitting vice president was offered. On Saturday, the Hollywood Reporter broke news that Yiannopoulos was reportedly set to deliver the keynote speech at CPAC next weekend; Yiannopoulos said the speech would focus on his "experiences in America battling feminists, Black Lives Matter, the media, professors and the entertainment industry.” Some conservatives were not pleased. Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, the group that hosts CPAC, subsequently released a statement clarifying that Yiannopoulos was not the conference’s keynote speaker but would remain one of 75 speakers in total.
Then, on Sunday night, video emerged on Twitter that “appeared to show the far-right agitator defending pedophilia.” The shared videos, in which Yiannopoulos seems to defend sexual relationships between 13-year-old boys and older men or women and joke about sexual abuse, “weren't new, they were repackaged and published on Twitter by a conservative account clearly critical of the CPAC invite.”
The conservative Twitter account behind the original video, “The Reagan Battalion,” has since posted several more videos of Yiannopoulos, including another in which he makes light of sexual assault and a longer, unedited cut as well as the full original video (in response to Yiannopoulos’ original defense that the video was “selectively edited.”) After the videos made the rounds on Twitter, more conservative figures belatedly expressed disappointment and horror at Yiannopoulos’ CPAC role. And now, just two days after the initial reports of his planned speech broke, CPAC has rescinded Yiannopoulos’ invitation due to the “offensive video.”
But Schlapp, and the larger conservative movement that’s increasingly relied on heinous “alt-right” harassment bros to drum up support, knew what they were doing when they invited Yiannopoulos to speak at their annual conference. It is worth reiterating that the Reagan Battalion videos were not new, and neither are any of the other things Milo Yiannopoulos has said and done over the years.
It’s not news that Yiannopoulos thinks the campus sexual assault epidemic is a “fantasy” or that he will say literally anything for attention, no matter how out-of-bounds. It’s not a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the “alt-right” white nationalist movement Breitbart has supported that Yiannopoulos repeatedly frames targeted harassment campaigns of transgender individuals, black women, and undocumented students as some disgusting testament to his own conveniently warped understanding of the First Amendment.
While Yiannopoulos is no longer speaking at the event, CPAC did announce another speaker on Monday: someone who was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault and then managed to win a presidential campaign.