Milo Yiannopoulos, the incendiary writer who helped make Breitbart News a leading organ of the alt-right, resigned from the news organization Tuesday after a video of him endorsing pedophilia resurfaced online over the weekend.
Yiannopoulos has been a flame-throwing provocateur whose writing has offended women, Muslims, blacks and gay people ever since former Breitbart executive chairman Stephen K. Bannon hired him as a senior editor in 2014.
Bannon, now President Trump’s senior adviser, championed the British-born Yiannopoulos’s inflammatory commentary and promoted him as a conservative truth-teller and champion of free speech. In turn, his popularity helped raise Breitbart’s profile among Trump’s supporters and the alt-right, a vaguely defined collection of nationalists, anti-immigration proponents and anti-establishment conservatives. Adherents of the alt-right are known for espousing racist, anti-Semitic and sexist points of view.
“Breitbart News has stood by me when others caved,” Yiannopoulos said in a statement announcing his resignation. “They have been a significant factor in my success.”
As recently as last week, Breitbart editor Alexander Marlow in an interview called Yiannopoulos “the No. 1 free speech warrior of his generation in America at the moment.”
But Yiannopoulos’s views on pedophilia apparently went too far even for Breitbart.
The site was under pressure to take action against Yiannopoulos, 32, from its own staff, which had threatened to revolt if he wasn’t fired or disciplined, according to people familiar with the discussions.
In a video interview early last year, Yiannopoulos condoned sexual relations with boys as young as 13 and joked about a sexual encounter he said he had with a Catholic priest as a teenager.
“You’re misunderstanding what pedophilia means,” he told the hosts of a podcast. “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.”
A group called the Reagan Battalion was among those calling attention to the interview to highlight its opposition to Yiannopoulos’s speaking role at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the Washington area.
The reemergence of the video triggered a cascade of adverse consequences for Yiannopoulos.
First, CPAC’s organizer, the American Conservative Union, rescinded its invitation to him as a conference speaker. The group’s chairman said in a statement that the organization found his comments “disturbing” and the video “offensive.”
Then Simon & Schuster canceled an agreement to publish Yiannopoulos’s forthcoming memoir, “Dangerous,” for which it paid him a $250,000 advance. The publisher said it decided to cancel the book — which had drawn protests before the pedophilia flap arose — “after careful consideration.”
Yiannopoulos, meanwhile, defended himself on Facebook on Sunday and Monday as the tide of controversy rose.
“I do not support pedophilia. Period,” he wrote. “It is a vile and disgusting crime, perhaps the very worst. There are selectively edited videos doing the rounds, as part of a coordinated effort to discredit me from establishment Republicans, that suggest I am soft on the subject.”
The openly gay writer made his name with a knack for taunting various groups and manipulating the outrage that followed. He led a Twitter campaign last year against “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones that was so vitriolic that Twitter banned him. He has called feminism “cancer” in his campus appearances, and he once wrote a Breitbart story headlined, “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”
The departure of Yiannopoulos was met with a mixed reaction by Breitbart’s staff, which learned of his resignation via Twitter. There was no internal announcement, said one staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
“He was on an island off to himself,” the journalist said. “Milo has virtually nothing to do with the news operation.”
But Yiannopoulos’s outrageous commentary did reflect poorly on the organization, said Lee Stranahan, a Breitbart reporter who streamed remarks on Periscope in the moments before the star columnist staged a news conference in New York.
“I don’t wish anybody badly, but do I kind of hope Milo goes away?” Stranahan said. “I think I do. I think that would be best for everybody. . . . Because he’s not adding to the brand.”
He was also critical of the site’s heavy promotion of Yiannopoulos, noting that the writer’s face was often featured prominently on the website.
Stranahan asserted that Yiannopoulos’s resignation might allow the site to focus on “the left and Islamists,” which he described as the “biggest threat to America.”
Addressing the media in New York on Tuesday, Yiannopoulos was alternately defiant, apologetic and self-pitying. He repeated his denunciation of child sexual abuse and said he would donate 10 percent of the royalties from his book, if it eventually gets published, to organizations that advocate on behalf of abuse victims.
But he added, “This is a cynical media witch hunt by people who do not care about children. They care about destroying me.”
He also said he will continue to speak and write in the same fashion. “I don’t think that anything that has happened to me in the past 24 hours will stop me from being as offensive, provocative and outrageously funny on any subject I please.”
Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this report.