Far-right internet personality and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos will no longer speak at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, after video surfaced of Yiannopoulos defending pedophilia. Yiannopoulos, known for articles like “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber, It's Time to Get Back in the Closet,” was originally invited because of his “important perspective” on conservatism. But Matt Schlapp, chair of the organization behind the major conservative conference, now says that the “revelation of an offensive video ... condoning pedophilia” was a bridge too far.
The video Schlapp mentions was drawn from a podcast uploaded in early 2016, but recently tweeted by conservative news feed The Reagan Battalion. In it, Yiannopoulos defends the statutory rape of 13-year-old boys by older women as consensual, calling boys “the predator” in the relationship. He also says relationships with older men can give young boys “security and safety,” before jokingly defending a priest who allegedly molested him. As New York Magazine notes, he’s made other statements defending sex with minors, while asserting that an attraction to “sexually mature” 13-year-olds was not pedophilia.
Soon after the clips surfaced, Yiannopoulos defended himself on Facebook. “I do not support pedophilia. Period. It is a vile and disgusting crime,” he wrote, calling the “selectively edited” videos part of a coordinated attack by mainstream Republicans. Schlapp acknowledged the statement, but said it didn’t go far enough. “We realize that Mr. Yiannopoulous [sic] has responded on Facebook, but it is insufficient. It is up to him to answer the tough questions and we urge him to immediately further address these disturbing comments.”
Yiannopoulos made a second Facebook statement after the news broke. “I am a gay man, and a child abuse victim. I would like to restate my utter disgust at adults who sexually abuse minors,” he wrote. “But I do understand that these videos, even though some of them are edited deceptively, paint a different picture.” Yiannopoulos called himself “partly to blame” for giving the impression that his statements condoning sex with 13-year-olds meant that he condoned sex with 13-year-olds. “My usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation, and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy,” he said. While he maintains that he was not advocating for sex with minors, he was “certainly guilty of imprecise language, which I regret.” Overall, it’s the general troll playbook, which rests on being able to express terrible opinions while retreating under the cover of “I was just joking.” At the same time, it’s a rare apology from a man who generally counters criticism only with mockery.
CPAC initially appears to have invited Yiannopoulos because of a recent college speaking tour, which included a talk where he singled out a transgender student in the audience for mockery. A recent talk at UC Berkeley was canceled after protests, leading President Donald Trump to threaten Berkeley with funding cuts in a tweet. “An epidemic of speech suppression has taken over college campuses,” said Schlapp in the announcement. “Milo has exposed their liberal thuggery and we think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.”
The CPAC statement says that “great thought” goes into each invitation, and that the platform is “a constructive forum for controversies and disagreements among conservatives, however there is no disagreement among our attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children.” Allegedly, though, Yiannopoulos’ invitation came as a surprise to some conference board members, who said they were never contacted about the selection.