On Saturday, the head of the American Conservative Union (ACU) announced he was inviting Breitbart senior editor and hate speech defender Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference—a major right-wing gathering hosted every year by the ACU.
“We think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective,” read a tweet from Matt Schlapp, head of the ACU.
— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) February 18, 2017
It didn’t take long for Schlapp’s fellow conservatives to voice just how much they disagree. Within hours, conservative Twitter users expressed outrage over any connection to Yiannopoulos, whose own Twitter account was permanently suspended in 2016 after he participated in a wave of online harassment against actress Leslie Jones.
Alan Noble, editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture, blasted Schlapp for inviting Yiannopoulos, who has been widely condemned a provocateur who peddles hate in various forms, such as sexism, racism, Islamophobia, and transphobia, among others.
they can hear his point of view on the internet. No reason to promote it by giving him a platform.
— O. Alan Noble (@TheAlanNoble) February 19, 2017
Jonah Goldberg, senior editor at the conservative National Review and fellow and the right-leaning think tank American Enterprise Institute, was similarly dismayed by the decision, calling his inclusion in CPAC “sad and disappointing.”
Sad and disappointing, Matt.
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) February 18, 2017
Josh Hommer, columnist for the conservative Resurgent and Daily Wire, said the decision was “abhorrent and shameful.”
— Josh Hammer (@josh_hammer) February 18, 2017
Amanda Carpenter, former communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), noted that Yiannopoulos’ career was launched with the help of Stephen Bannon, prominent advisor to President Donald Trump—of whom Yiannopoulos is a fan.
So, yes, be upset with CPAC. But, also be upset with Trump's WH Chief Strategist for giving Milo his original "conservative" platform.
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) February 20, 2017
For his part, Schlapp attempted to downplay any implication that his organization endorses Yiannopoulos’ views. He insisted the blogger is someone he and other conservatives “don’t always agree with,” and noted that CPAC doesn’t support the cadre of racist white nationalists that also identify with the social movement Yiannopoulos claims.
But the damage may have already been done. Schlapp’s comments came shortly after conservative media outlet The Blaze pointed to several older videos of Yiannopoulos in which he, among other things, attempts to justify older men having sex with underaged boys.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper tweeted about a friend who was molested as a child who was reportedly “distraught” by the tapes.
Friend of mine, conservative, could not be more distraught by this Milo tape. Was molested as a child. Horrified.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 20, 2017
The controversy comes just days after progressives were embroiled in a similar debate over Yiannopoulos’ appearance last Friday on Real Time with Bill Maher, whose host claims to be a liberal. Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill was originally slated to appear on the same show, but pulled out after he heard about the Yiannopoulos booking.
“He has ample venues to spew his hateful diatribes,” Scahill wrote in a statement, noting that Maher’s own views on Islam are also deeply problematic. “There is no value in ‘debating’ him. Appearing on ‘Real Time’ will provide Yiannopoulos with a large, important platform to openly advocate his racist, anti-immigrant campaign. It will be exploited by Yiannopoulos in an attempt to legitimize his hateful agenda.”
Maher, like Schlapp, appeared to defend his invite to Yiannopoulos partly as an embrace of “free speech.” But Maher was widely panned for not questioning his guest about his various hateful statements, with one commentator saying the host “handled [Yiannopoulos] with kid gloves.”
Ultimately, it was another guest on the show, Larry Wilmore, who distilled general progressive—and emerging conservative—discontent towards the blogger down to one phrase during the taping. After a heated back-and-forth with Yiannopoulos over his opposition to transgender rights—during which the Breitbart editor repeatedly dodged the counterarguments of his fellow panelists and insisted they were unintelligent—Wilmore hit his limit.
“You can go f — k yourself,” Wilmore said as the crowd roared.
UPDATE: Within hours of this article’s publication, the APU announced that Yiannopoulos has been disinvited from CPAC, citing the video of the blogger defending older men having sex with young boys.
The statement noted that Yiannopoulos attempted to explain his remarks in a Facebook post on Sunday night, but decried his response as “insufficient.”
“It is up to [Yiannopoulos] to answer the tough questions and we urge him to immediately further address these disturbing comments,” the statement reads. “We initially extended the invitation knowing that the free speech issue on college campuses is a battlefield where we need brave, conservative standard-bearers.”
— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) February 20, 2017