It’s been a whirlwind 48 hours for Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who was recently announced as the keynote speaker for the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
Yiannopoulos, an out-gay man, may not seem like a natural fit for CPAC—an organization that once refused to let pro-gay Republican group GOProud serve as a co-sponsor. In 2015, the organization gave a freedom-of-speech award to Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, who believes AIDS is God’s way of punishing the gays.
But that was then, and this is 2017. The modern conservative coalition isn’t a set of beliefs, it’s a cult of personality around Donald Trump and Trump-esque figures. It doesn’t matter whether they hold conservative views. It doesn’t even matter if they’re Republicans. To be a right-wing hero in today’s right-wing bubble, all you have to do is bash the left and say Make America Great Again.
Or so it seems. Yiannopoulos, however, is suddenly in hot water, now that video footage of some of his past controversial statements has surfaced. Specifically, Yiannopoulos is accused of defending—or seeming to defend—pederasty: sexual relationships between adults and boys as young as 13. (Many in the media incorrectly characterized his comments as a defense of pedophilia, which is a sexual attraction to people younger than 13. While not quite the same thing as pedophilia, pederasty is of course despicable and rightly illegal.)
Yiannopoulos called the videos “selectively edited… as part of a coordinated effort to discredit me.”
It’s not clear whether Yiannopoulos’s unearthed opinions about pederasty are beyond the pale for CPAC: the American Conservative Union, which hosts the conference, has not announced any change to its speaking lineup. But according to The Blaze, several ACU board members are upset.
Keep in mind that this debate—whether or not to include Yiannopoulos at CPAC—has nothing to do with free speech. CPAC is a private organization that can invite and disinvite people at will. Just as the organizers of the International Students for Liberty Conference had every right to eject a provocateur who wasn’t invited and isn’t a libertarian, so too would CPAC be justified in choosing someone else to represent the modern face of millennial conservatism.
In a very narrow sense, it’s a good thing CPAC finally decided that gay conservatives exist, and should not be shunned. On the other hand, Yiannopoulos is well-known for making disparaging remarks about women, minorities, and transgender people. He’s hardly the right spokesperson for a more tolerant, inclusive GOP.
David Boaz, vice president of the Cato Institute, had this to say:
Once upon a time speakers like Ronald Reagan and Jim Buckley gave important speeches at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. This weekend CPAC and the American Conservative Union announced that Steve Bannon and Milo will take the podium that once hosted Reagan. CPAC should now be known as CARPAC, the Conservative/Alt-Right Political Action Conference. Trump and his creepy entourage are dragging American conservatism to a place its modern founders insisted they didn’t want to be. And it’s time for conservatives to decide: do you believe in liberty, limited government, equality under the law, the rule of law, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution? If so, you don’t belong in the same movement with Milo. Get out of the shadow of racial identity politics and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights with liberty and justice for all.
But let’s keep in mind that CPAC gave a platform to Robertson. It gave a platform to Ann Coulter. It gave a platform to Sheriff David Clarke. Would a Milo-free CPAC be less repulsive? Perhaps, but there’s still plenty of hate to go around.