In February, white supremacist online forum Breitbart parted ways with their star provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos after a video surfaced of him defending pedophilia.
“Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody who is 13 years old and sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty, who do not have functioning sex organs yet, who have not gone through puberty,” Yiannopoulos explained (falsely) on a podcast. “In the gay world, some of the most important enriching, and incredibly life-affirming, important, shaping relationships are between younger boys and older men. They can be hugely positive experiences very often for those young boys.”
At the time, Breitbart staff condemned Yiannopoulos’ comments and called for his dismissal. “I don’t wish anybody badly, but do I kind of hope Milo goes away?” said Lee Stranahan, a writer for the site. “I think I do. I think that would be best for everybody. . . . Because he’s not adding to the brand.”
In the intervening months, though, it seems the Breitbart staff had a change of heart on the brand implications of sexually assaulting children.
On Thursday, the Washington Post published a lengthy story detailing Republican Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore’s physical relationships with children—some as young as 14 years old—when he was in his 30s. Republicans in Congress expressed disgust at the allegations (though couldn’t help but couch their condemnations by suggesting the women might be lying), but one piece of the conservative apparatus was notably staunch in its unequivocal defense of Moore: Breitbart.
The site’s top executive Steve Bannon was asked about the revelations during an event in Manchester, New Hampshire on Thursday night, and compared it to the Access Hollywood tapes of Donald Trump wherein he bragged about “grabbing [women] by the pussy.” In both cases, Bannon didn’t attack the men in question; he attacked the media.
“The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump, is the same Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore. Now, is that a coincidence?,” he said, according to CBS News.
Bannon’s response is pulled straight from the far-right playbook on how to withstand allegations of impropriety or criminality. Step one: Move quickly to portray themselves as victims of a hostile press.
Bannon acolyte Joel Pollak, a Breitbart editor, appeared on MSNBC hours after the story first broke and proceeded to step two: downplaying the allegations. He said that the allegations aren’t serious because three of the four women featured in the story were between 16 and 18 when Moore—then in his mid-30s—began pursuing relationships with them.
“The 16-year-old and the 18-year-old have no business in that story, because those are women of legal age of consent at the time,” Pollak told host Ali Velshi. “The facts could come out differently, but as far as we know, there’s only one relationship that’s been alleged that’s problematic.”
The relationship Breitbart diagnoses as “problematic” is a 32-year-old man undressing a 14-year-old girl, groping her, and forcing her to touch his genitals over his underwear. If the allegations are substantiated, Moore would be guilty of sexual abuse in the second degree under Alabama state law. As Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) pointed out on Twitter, there is no statute of limitations in Alabama for sexual abuse of minors.
The details of these allegations line up remarkably well with the hypothetical relationships that Yiannopoulos defended. And yet while the mere mention of such relationships was deemed too toxic for Breitbart’s audience, the site continues to advocate for the election of a man accused of actually engaging in a predatory relationship to the United States Senate.
The difference, of course, is that cutting Milo cost the site nothing in its pursuit of a political agenda. Roy Moore, meanwhile, is Steve Bannon’s handpicked candidate to fill Jeff Sessions’ old senate seat. To watch Moore’s candidacy go down in flames is to watch Breitbart’s political influence go down with it. That’s the political calculus that Breitbart has made: defend a child molester in order to save face.