Over the weekend, however, the Breitbart editor finally crossed what may have seemed a non-existent line, sending the American Conservative Union, publishing house Simon & Schuster and others who once supported him running.
The breaking point: defending pedophilia.
Video surfaced Sunday in which Yiannopoulos appears to condone sexual relationships between adults and 13-year-old boys, saying, “We get hung up on this kind of child abuse stuff.”
Despite a “note for idiots” on Facebook in which Yiannopoulos attempted to clarify what he said, and a subsequent post in which he took some responsibility for his comments, the fallout has been swift.
He was disinvited Monday from ACU’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where he was scheduled to speak along with Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and President Donald Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon. The group’s president, Matt Schlapp, said Yiannopoulos’s response on Facebook was “insufficient.”
Simon & Schuster announced later Monday that it had decided to cancel the publication of Yiannopoulos’ upcoming book, Dangerous.
Among his other deserters was “alt-right” Twitter personality “Baked Alaska.”
Yiannopoulos’ offensive verbal assaults have been plentiful. Among the more memorable was a racist attack against “Saturday Night Live” and “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones, for which he was permanently banned from Twitter.
Violent protests this month shut down his planned appearance at the University of California, Berkeley, campus.
Unsurprisingly, many took to Twitter on Monday to blast the ACU and others, pointing out their willingness to ignore Yiannopoulos’ bigotry ― up to a certain point.
|Milo Yiannopoulos last month in Boulder, Colo. The Conservative Political Action Conference rescinded its invitation for him to speak to the group after his comments about pedophilia. Credit Jeremy Papasso/Daily Camera, via Associated Press|
Milo Yiannopoulos’s Pedophilia Comments Cost Him CPAC Role and Book Deal
WASHINGTON — Milo Yiannopoulos, a polemical Breitbart editor and unapologetic defender of the alt-right, tested the limits of how far his provocations could go after the publication of a video in which he condones sexual relations with boys as young as 13 and laughs off the seriousness of pedophilia by Roman Catholic priests.
On Monday, the organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference rescinded their invitation for him to speak this week. Simon & Schuster said it was canceling publication of “Dangerous” after standing by him through weeks of criticism of the deal. And Breitbart itself was reportedly reconsidering his role amid calls online for it to sever ties with him.
Mr. Yiannopoulos’s comments, which quickly created an uproar online over the weekend, put many conservatives in a deeply uncomfortable position. They have long defended Mr. Yiannopoulos’s attention-seeking stunts and racially charged antics on the grounds that the left had tried to hypocritically censor his right to free speech.
But endorsing pedophilia, it seemed, was more than they could tolerate. The board of the American Conservative Union, which includes veterans of the conservative movement like Grover Norquist and Morton Blackwell, made the decision to revoke Mr. Yiannopoulos’s speaking slot and condemn his comments on Monday.
“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, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, said in a written statement.
Regarding Mr. Yiannopoulos’s comments, Mr. Schlapp called them “disturbing” and said Mr. Yiannopoulos’s explanation of them was insufficient.
Late Monday, Mr. Yiannopoulos said that he would hold a news conference on Tuesday to discuss his statements.
Mr. Yiannopoulos, who has railed against Muslims, immigrants, transgender people and women’s rights, is a marquee contributor to Breitbart News, where he serves as senior editor. He has amassed a fan base for his stunts and often-outrageous statements. But by Monday afternoon, his future at the website was being intensely debated by top management.
One Breitbart journalist, who requested anonymity to describe private deliberations, described divisions in the newsroom over whether Mr. Yiannopoulos could stay on. There was some consensus among staff members that his remarks were more extreme than his usual speech, the journalist said, and executives were discussing by telephone whether his apology was enough to preserve his position at the site.
A Breitbart representative declined to comment.
After the video was leaked on Twitter by a conservative group called the Reagan Battalion, Mr. Yiannopoulos denied that he had ever condoned child sexual abuse, noting that he was a victim himself. He blamed his “British sarcasm” and “deceptive editing” for leading to a misunderstanding.
But in the tape, the fast-talking polemicist is clear that he has no problem with older men abusing children as young as 13, which he then conflates with relationships between older and younger gay men who are of consenting age.
“No, no, no. You’re misunderstanding what pedophilia means,” Mr. Yiannopoulos says on the tape, in which he is talking to radio hosts in a video chat. “Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old who is sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty,” he adds, dismissing the fact that 13-year-olds are children.
The notion of consent, he says, is “arbitrary and oppressive.”
At one point in the video, an unknown speaker says that the behavior being defended by Mr. Yiannopoulos is akin to molestation by Catholic priests. Mr. Yiannopoulos responds, in an ironic tone, by crediting a priest for having helped develop his sexual technique.
Conservatives reacted with near unanimous disgust at the comments. Some expressed bewilderment that conference organizers would extend an invitation to Mr. Yiannopoulos in the first place, given his history of statements that have been offensive to blacks and Muslims, and have generally pushed the bounds of decency. Twitter has banned him.
“Colossal misjudgment,” Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, wrote on Twitter. “Now CPAC has put itself in the role of ‘censor.’ And for what? Some clicks and headlines?”
Until now, Mr. Yiannopoulos, a fervent supporter of President Trump, had emerged as something of a hero to many on the right, who saw in him an eager and willing combatant against a culture they believed was too politically correct. He became a star at Breitbart, the hard-right news outlet, and earned the admiration of Stephen K. Bannon, who was its publisher before becoming Mr. Trump’s chief White House strategist.
Mr. Yiannopoulos was just getting a foothold in the media. He recently appeared on the comedian Bill Maher’s HBO talk show, and aggressively taunted liberals without much pushback from the host. His book “Dangerous,” a free-speech manifesto and memoir that he sold in December to Threshold Editions, a conservative imprint within Simon & Schuster, had shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list, based on advance orders.
The publisher had encountered mounting criticism of its relationship with Mr. Yiannopoulos. The author Roxane Gay withdrew from her contract for a book with a Simon & Schuster imprint in protest.
The company stood by Mr. Yiannopoulos even as his planned lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, was canceled after students rioted.
But in a terse statement late Monday, the publisher said it was canceling the book “after careful consideration.”
In a statement released through his agent, Mr. Yiannopoulos said: “The people whose views, concerns and fears I am articulating do not sip white wine and munch canapés in gilded salons. And they will not be defeated by the cocktail set running New York publishing. Nor will I.”
The decision is likely to be a costly one for Simon & Schuster, which may not be able to recover the portion of the reported $250,000 advance it had already paid to Mr. Yiannopoulos. “Dangerous” had sold just under 50,000 copies, according to his literary agent, Thomas Flannery Jr., who said he planned to find another publisher.
Milo Yiannopoulos’s invitation and disinvitation from CPAC, explained
Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos finally went too far for the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). But it wasn’t his racism, sexism, transphobia, and other kinds of bigotry that finally got conference organizers to rescind their invitation for Yiannopoulos to give a speech. Nope, after all that, it’s comments apparently supporting child molestation that did Yiannopoulos in.
Here’s the backstory: Over the weekend, it was revealed that Yiannopoulos was invited to give a speech at CPAC, the biggest mainstream conservative conference in America. That sparked a lot of outrage — particularly among the left, which pointed out that Yiannopoulos has a long history of making all sorts of bigoted comments.
But liberal outrage wasn’t what got CPAC to pull the plug. Instead, the final straw was a video resurfaced by the conservative website Reagan Battalion — in which Yiannopoulos defended the idea of “13 year olds” having sex with “older men,” referencing his own story that he benefited from a priest molesting him when he was a teenager.
“In the homosexual world, particularly, some of those relationships between younger boys and older men — the sort of ‘coming of age’ relationships — the relationships in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable sort of rock,” Yiannopoulos said.
That, apparently, was the tipping point for CPAC. In a statement, CPAC organizers said they originally invited Yiannopoulos, whose speaking event at a college campus had to be canceled because it literally caused riots, to stand up for free speech — but that Yiannopoulos’s comments on child molestation went too far.
“Due to the revelation of an offensive video in the past 24 hours condoning pedophilia, the American Conservative Union has decided to rescind the invitation of Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference,” American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp said in a statement.
Yiannopoulos has since apologized. In a Facebook post, he clarified that he doesn’t believe pedophilia and child molestation are okay: “I would like to restate my utter disgust at adults who sexually abuse minors. I am horrified by pedophilia and I have devoted large portions of my career as a journalist to exposing child abusers.”
As for his actual remarks, he explained, “As to some of the specific claims being made, sometimes things tumble out of your mouth on these long, late-night live-streams, when everyone is spit-balling, that are incompletely expressed or not what you intended. Nonetheless, I've reviewed the tapes that appeared last night in their proper full context and I don't believe they say what is being reported.” (Who among us hasn’t accidentally defended child molestation on a late-night live stream?)
But the apology didn’t stop the enormous backlash. Later in the afternoon, Simon & Schuster and Threshold Editions announced that they have canceled their book deal with Yiannopoulos.
For many people, CPAC’s dismissed invitation has raised more questions than answers. Why was it that it took something as low and awful as support for child molestation to finally get his invitation dismissed? What about all the bigotry he has pushed in the past? Why were those other remarks not enough?
What’s remarkable about this whole affair is how unsurprising it is. The video that the Reagan Battalion resurfaced has been around since July 2016. And Yiannopoulos has a long history of making offensive, provocative remarks; it’s what he’s known for. It was totally predictable that a mainstream conservative group’s attempt to reach out to someone who’s basically an internet troll would blow up in some way — yet the fact CPAC even felt compelled to reach out to someone like Yiannopoulos says a lot about conservatism today.
Yiannopoulos is a troll — and this is far from his first offensive remark
As journalist Nicole Hemmer explained, none of this should be surprising to anyone: “As someone who’s been on this beat for a while: everything you’re learning about Milo has been public for ages. CPAC made its choice.”
Yiannopoulos, after all, has a long history of offensive remarks. Here are a few examples:
- He claimed he “went gay” so he “didn’t have to deal with nutty broads.”
- He was banned on Twitter after he launched a racist, sexist harassment campaign against black actress Leslie Jones, whom he described as “barely literate” and “a man.”
- He often mentions that he only dates nonwhite men — in a way that deliberately exoticizes and stereotypes black men. In one column, he asked, “am I racist for not dating white dudes?” He later added, “These days, I wouldn’t actually write ‘no whites’ on my profile. Some people would find that offensive. But I would come up with a formulation to achieve the same effect, like, say, ‘9 inches and over, and don’t contact me if you can name more than four hockey players.’”
- He named and showed the picture of a transgender student previously at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee during a speech at the school — effectively doxxing a non-public figure and opening her up to harassment because he didn’t like her feminist activism.
- He repeatedly argued on Real Time With Bill Maher last week that trans people are “disordered,” and even suggested that gay people might be as well. (Major medical groups, like the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association, say being transgender or gay is not a mental disorder.)
- He hired a black porn star, Jovan Jordan, as a bodyguard when attending a meetup for video gamers. “My most ardent haters are feminists, and their fear of penises is well-known,” he argued. “It was vital, therefore, that I sought the services of a man believed to have the biggest dick in the porn industry.”
- He said that men shouldn’t be kicked out from universities for groping women.
- He declared his birthday “World Patriarchy Day.”
- He created the “Yiannopoulos Privilege Grant,” a college scholarship available only to white men to put them “on equal footing with their female, queer and ethnic minority classmates.”
But Yiannopoulos’s child molestation remarks crossed the line. For one, condoning child molestation goes too far for just about everyone, regardless of political party.
But the remarks also may have crossed the line because they played into longstanding conservative fears about gay men — specifically, the myth that there’s a link between homosexuality and pedophilia.
The Family Research Council, a conservative anti-LGBTQ group, still promotes this myth on its website. And it was used in the past to demonize gay men and block the advancement of gay rights — such as, retired UC Davis professor Gregory Herek explained, “in 1977, when Anita Bryant campaigned successfully to repeal a Dade County (FL) ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination, she named her organization ‘Save Our Children,’ and warned that ‘a particularly deviant-minded [gay] teacher could sexually molest children.’” (The empirical research shows there is no scientific basis to this myth.)
In this context, Yiannopoulos’s support of child molestation as a gay man played into preexisting conservative fears about homosexuality, making him a particularly alarming figure. That, coupled with society’s total rejection of pedophilia, apparently doomed Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos claims he’s just defending free speech
In the past, Yiannopoulos has explained away his offensive remarks by arguing that he’s simply standing up for free speech. This was the tack he took when he appeared on Bill Maher’s show over the weekend.
“All I care about is free speech and free expression,” he said. “I want people to be able to be, do, and say anything.”
To this end, he points to college campuses as evidence of liberal “political correctness” running amok in a way that’s stifled free speech. He can claim some personal experience here, like the time anti-fascists rioted at UC Berkeley when he was scheduled to give a speech there and forced him to cancel his event. But this is part of a broader conservative talking point about “trigger warnings,” “safe spaces,” and other examples of left-leaning students on college campuses doing things that, according to critics, stifle free speech.
This isn’t something that’s exclusive to conservatives. Maher, who identifies as liberal, appeared to invite Yiannopoulos to his show at least in part because he agrees that liberals are too sensitive to speech that they disagree with. “You make liberals crazy for that part of liberalism that has gone off the deep end,” Maher told Yiannopoulos.
But other liberals have argued that this supposed defense of free speech is really just a ruse to say all sorts of racist, sexist, and bigoted things.
ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum pointed out, for example, that despite CPAC’s claim that it invited Yiannopoulos to defend his free speech rights, they disinvited him when his speech went too far for them. The racism, sexism, and other offensive remarks were apparently fine, but it was the support for child molestation that apparently crossed a line.
After all, CPAC knew of Yiannopoulos’s past offensive remarks. It’s one of the reasons people rioted in Berkeley, decried Yiannopoulos’s invitation to Maher’s show, and told CPAC not to invite Yiannopoulos in the first place.
Yet CPAC invited him anyway — at least until his pro-pedophilia comments surfaced.
Modern conservatism has a problem with bigotry
The entire CPAC-Yiannopoulos debacle, however, only shows a broader point: Modern conservatism has a problem with bigotry in its ranks.
Consider Donald Trump. He called Mexican immigrants “rapists” who are “bringing crime” and “bringing drugs” to the US during his campaign launch event. He proposed banning Muslims, an entire religious group, from entering the US. He argued that a federal judge overseeing the Trump University lawsuit should be disqualified because of his Mexican heritage. And at campaign events and as president, he has spoken of black people through coded language that suggests all black people live in jobless, crime-ridden “inner cities” and all may even work for the Congressional Black Caucus.
What’s more, racism and xenophobia appeared to predict support for Trump. One telling study, conducted by researchers at UC Santa Barbara and Stanford shortly before the election, found that if people who strongly identified as white were told that nonwhite groups will outnumber white people in 2042, they became more likely to support Trump — suggesting there’s a significant racial element to his support.
And this doesn’t even get into the other offensive remarks Trump has made, including about sexual assault — like when he said he can grab women by the genitals and get away with it because he’s a celebrity.
Yet Trump won the Republican primary and, ultimately, the 2016 general election. He’s not only continued to get the backing of the Republican Party but is also scheduled to talk at CPAC this week.
Some conservatives have looked at all of this in shock and horror. Conservative pundit Glenn Beck, for one, has become a top critic on the right of the Trump administration. For example, after Trump appointed former Breitbart head and alt-right champion Steve Bannon in November as his chief strategist, Beck suggested that Americans are racist if they let Trump keep Bannon in charge.
“When people really understand what the alt-right is, this neo-nationalist, neo-Nazi, white supremacy idea that Bannon is pushing hard,” Beck said, “I hope they wake up because, if not, we are racist. If that’s what we accept and we know it, then we are racist. I contend people don’t know what the alt-right is yet.”
But Beck seems to represent a minority on the right, given Trump’s ascendance to the White House and his continued support from Republicans.
Conservatives’ apathy to such racism, misogyny, and other offensive remarks is how CPAC could overlook Yiannopoulos’s racism, sexism, and other kinds of bigotry when it invited him to speak at a major conference — and why it took remarks seemingly condoning child molestation to finally get him run off the stage.