According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, Alt-Right "fellow traveler" and professional provocateur Milo Yiannopolous will be disinvited as CPAC's 2017 keynote speaker (see update - it's now official). His initial inclusion sparked a firestorm that, if nothing else, fueled his persona's unquenchable need for controversy and attention. The American Conservative Union's board was reportedly blindsided by the decision, with several members objecting to the selection after it became public. I'm told that the board members present on a hastily-arranged conference call this afternoon were unanimous in their decision to rescind the invitation, in light of a new video that emerged Sunday in which Yiannopolous appears to defend or endorse sexual relations between grown men and boys in their early teens. More on that in a moment, but first, some context:
Based on what I've seen and read, Milo is a cynical self-promoter whose only true loyalty is to his own fame. My general policy has been to ignore him, unless and until outside events have compelled me to speak out. For instance, I criticized Twitter's decision to ban him based on capricious and unevenly-applied enforcement standards, and I've fiercely defended his right to peaceably address audiences on college campuses in the wake of violent anti-speech riots. Nevertheless, I was dismayed by his CPAC invitation. Until today's about-face, the nation's premiere annual conservative gathering saw fit to showcase his message in their highest-profile speaking slot. CPAC's organizers -- whom I like and respect on a personal level, and with whom I coordinated on this groundbreaking panel last year -- defended their invitation as a pointed response to the recent Berkeley disgrace. They oppose the "Alt-Right" and don't necessarily endorse Milo's message, they said, emphasizing that Milo's inclusion should be viewed as a gesture in support of free speech, and against the Left's 'End of Discussion' mob. Shortly after the (since-reversed) news came down, I reacted on Twitter:
But hard Left's anti-speech thuggery doesn't make it wise for the conservative movement to amplify or mainstream his schtick & message (2/2)— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 18, 2017
Defending someone's right to speak, and forcefully rejecting those who would silence speech, does not require affording any particular speaker a platform. CPAC has excluded would-be participants on ideological and identity-based grounds in the past, justifying their (sometimes controversial) inclusions and prohibitions as prudential judgments in pursuit of guarding the conservative torch. This isn't a 'Republican' conference, they've explained, nor are their values subject to the transient whims of public opinion; CPAC is about conservatism which must mean something. And then they abortively entrusted their keynote event to a person who just this month declined to claim the mantle of conservatism on Bill Maher's HBO program:
Speaking only for myself, as someone who is proudly conservative and also happens to be gay, I'd much prefer it if Milo continued to distance himself from the movement whose principles and integrity I value. Sometimes it feels as if his schtick is deliberately engineered to perpetuate some of the ugliest stereotypes about both conservatives and gays. He's welcome to continue doing whatever it is that he does, but perhaps we can mutually agree to keep conservatism out of the crossfire, as he is not a worthy ambassador on its behalf. Milo's business model does not involve winning converts. It involves the giving of gratuitous offense (see, for example, this exchange with a lesbian), in order to elicit viscerally negative reactions. He has the right to operate like this, of course, but that doesn't make it right. Those concepts are not synonymous. And conservatives who wish to combat the Left's destructive culture of weaponized political correctness need not debase themselves in that pursuit by becoming advocates or apologists for mean-spiritedness and rudeness. That said, this flare-up goes well beyond Milo's stylistic modus operandi. Ben Shapiro, a conservative writer with impeccable anti-PC bona fides, has spoken out on several occasions about Milo's toxic methods:
Milo defended himself on Facebook, condemning pedophilia and saying that the current "furore" is attributable to selective editing, unfair distortions, and his own "sloppy" verbiage in the offending conversation. I encourage you to read it and draw your own conclusions. I'd only note that in the extended clip, Milo bemoans the "arbitrary and oppressive" notion of sexual consent, and makes an amoral case that there's a meaningful distinction between "pedophilia" and sexual conduct with post-pubescent underage children as young as 13. Despite the ages he cites in his Facebook post (16 and 17), he mentions the age of 13 at least three times in the longer clip, including a hypothetical example of sex between a 28-year-old adult and a 13-year-old child. "These things do happen, perfectly consensually," he asserts. Milo can parse and spin until he's blue in the face -- and some of the points he makes are worthy of consideration and even empathy -- but he did mount a public justification of pederasty, which understandably proved to be a bridge too far for the higher-ups at CPAC. Also, Milo's whining about "establishment conservatives who hate Trump as much as they hate me" is myopic and amusingly misplaced. Donald Trump is now the duly-elected President of the United States who will address CPAC on Friday morning. I haven't seen anybody -- prominent conservative Trump critics included -- objecting to that. Milo is not Trump, and he's not the victim here.
In short, this whole episode was an unmitigated debacle. A strong body of evidence against inviting Milo in the first place was evidently ignored, necessitating a frantic retreat when even more of his garbage was exposed. And now this misadventure will be exploited by bad actors on all sides -- including Milo (the 'courageous martyr' legend serves his business model) and his most fascistic critics (who will point to the CPAC disinvitation to help rationalize future violent disruptions). The wisest course of action would have been to avoid Milo's carnival act altogether -- but once he was unveiled as the keynote speaker, and the pederasty video started making the rounds, the CPAC bosses found themselves staring at a menu of bad options. They've likely selected the least bad remaining choice (and I say that as a persistent critic of the "hound controversial speakers" culture), but not before inflicting some damage with a grave, unforced error. In any case, the Milo-less show will go on, starting Thursday morning.