Milo Yiannopoulos lost his keynote speaking slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference after tapes surfaced of the right wing provocateur and senior Breitbart editor advocating for sexual relationships between “younger boys and older men.”
“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,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the group which sponsors CPAC, in a statement Monday afternoon. The group called Yiannopoulos to “further address these disturbing comments,” but defended its original decision to invite him as a nod to “the free speech issue on college campuses.”
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The statement went on to declare that CPAC does not endorse “everything a speaker says or does.”
President Donald Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, will be headlining this year’s event, along with top White House aides Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus. But the Milo controversy quickly threatened to taint the event and raised questions about what it would mean if other speakers still attended.
CPAC organizers had a conference call at 1 p.m. on Monday to discuss the controversy and how to address it, according to a GOP source familiar with the matter. The decision to disinvite Yiannopoulos was unanimous and did not even need to be deliberated, the person said. Among those on the call were ACU board members Amy Frederick, Bob Beauprez, Mike Rose, Matt Smith, Matt Schlapp and Becky Norton Dunlop, along with Vice Chair of the ACU Foundation Millie Hallow.
The board only learned about the controversial video when it surfaced over the weekend, the source said, and it considered Yiannopoulos’ apology, posted to Facebook on Sunday night, to be inadequate.
Another GOP source familiar with the situation said Schlapp “understood this was spiraling out of control.”
Yiannopoulos was to discuss free speech on college campuses at the event.
Yiannopoulos, a senior editor at the conservative Breitbart News, is no stranger to controversy, but the CPAC’s recent embrace of the crusading anti-political correctness provocateur has been discomfiting to some conservatives. Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter after stirring up online harassment of Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. And a planned Yiannopoulos event at the University of California, Berkeley was recently canceled when protests against him turned violent. The incident prompted Trump to threaten Berkeley with a loss of federal funds.
“An epidemic of speech suppression has taken over college campuses,” Schlapp told the Hollywood Reporter of Yiannopoulos’ scheduled appearance after it was initially reported. “Milo has exposed their liberal thuggery and we think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.”
In a statement posted on Facebook on Monday afternoon, Yiannopoulos said he “deeply regret[s]” the way his comments were interpreted, and stressed that he is “horrified by pedophilia” and said he has “devoted large portions of my careers as a journalist to exposing child abusers.”
“I am a gay man, and a child abuse victim,” he wrote. “My own experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous. But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, ‘advocacy.’”
Still, he insisted that the tapes were “edited deceptively” and that he does not “advocate for illegal behavior.”
“I am certainly guilty of imprecise language, which I regret,” he wrote.
Schlapp said in his statement that the Facebook post was “insufficient.”
Planning for the event usually starts about nine months in advance, said Gregg Keller, a former executive director of ACU. Still, it is virtually impossible to vet everything that every speaker has said on various topics, he said.
“The average person who sees this…looks at this and says how the hell do you not know about something like this?” he said, but added that even knowing Yiannopoulos’ controversial past, it would be difficult to vet all of his statements.
Some prominent conservatives seemed to suggest that CPAC had provoked the maelstrom by tying itself to such a controversial figure.
“The Milo Test,” wrote Charlie Sykes, a conservative former radio host who has written critically of the Republican Party since the rise of Trump. “Anti-Semitism, ok. Racism, ok. Alt Right, ok. Advocacy of pedophilia? Is THAT the bridge too far?”