The chairman of the American Conservative Union, host of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, said Tuesday morning that provocative Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos has taken a “brave” stance against the “chilling of free speech on campus,” but crossed “boundaries” with his apparent endorsement of predatory sexual relationships.
Yiannopoulos’ invitation to address CPAC was rescinded over the weekend when video emerged on which Yiannopoulos can be heard condoning pedophilia. The Breitbart editor has since backed away from those comments, blaming the uproar in part on deceptive editing and “my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor.”
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That explanation proved unsatisfying for ACU chairman Matt Schlapp, who discussed his organization’s disinvitation of Yiannopoulos on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“We are okay with having controversy on the stage at CPAC. We don’t endorse everything every speaker says at CPAC. Matter of fact, since I’ve been chairman, we’ve tried to take the controversies, especially those amongst conservatives and put them on our stage,” Schlapp said. “But there are boundaries. And over the weekend I was made aware of these comments and it just broke through very important boundaries and we felt like the CPAC stage was not an appropriate place for this any longer.”
Even before Yiannopoulos’ statements on sexual relationships between “younger boys and older men” became public over the weekend, the Breitbart editor’s track record of provocation was already well-established. His published stories on Breitbart feature headlines including “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy,” “Science proves it: Fat-shaming works” and “Gay rights have made us dumber, it’s time to get back in the closet.”
Events and speaking engagements featuring Yiannopoulos often prompt protests, including one that turned violent earlier this month at the University of California-Berkeley. Demonstrators smashed windows at a student center where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak and launched Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police, leading the university to cancel the event.
The cancellation of Yiannopoulos’ event attracted the attention of President Donald Trump, who wrote on Twitter that “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
It is that type of campus event that Schlapp said he hoped Yiannopoulos would discuss on the CPAC stage.
“He wanted to give some remarks about his experience on campus where he is often shut down. And there was so much press around his attempt to speak at Berkeley,” Schlapp said. “We think what happens with these speech codes and the chilling of free speech on campus is un-American. It’s wrong. And he’s brave to stand up in those situations.”
Offered an opportunity to back away from his characterization of Yiannopoulos as “brave” by “Morning Joe” panelist Mike Barnicle, Schlapp refused and reiterated that the Breitbart editor’s remarks would have been focused on campus speech.
Further, Schlapp said, Yiannopoulos would have been forced to face tough questions from a moderator. CPAC attendees come to the event seeking frank discussions, Schlapp said, something the conference organizers were seeking to offer by booking Yiannopoulos.
“It’s important for folks to understand that the conservatives who assemble at CPAC expect to talk about the things that they see on their television sets and they read about. And it’s not all pleasant,” Schlapp said. “And it’s not an endorsement just because you get an invitation. Matter of fact, an invitation sometimes is an opening to a debate and a conversation. Conservatives can have that even if some folks on campuses can’t.”