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CPAC rescinds Yiannopoulos invitation amid social media uproar

Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative columnist and Internet personality, holds a news conference down the street from the Pulse Nightclub on June 15 in Orlando. The club was the site of the worst mass shooting in American history. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The organizers of this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference rescinded their booking of Breitbart Editor Milo Yiannopoulos on Monday, following an outcry after the right-wing speaker’s critics resurfaced videos of him criticizing age-of-consent laws and joking about a teenage sexual encounter he had with a Catholic priest.

“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,” the group’s chairman, Matt Schlapp, said in a statement.

He added, “We realize that Mr. Yiannopoulos has responded on Facebook, but it is insufficient. It is up to him to answer the tough questions and we urge him to immediately further address these disturbing comments.”

By late Monday afternoon, there were ongoing discussions at Breitbart about Yiannopoulos’s future at the company, according to two people familiar with the organization who were not authorized to speak. Inside the newsroom, several staffers made clear to senior leadership that they felt uncomfortable and may decide to leave if he stays, the people said. There was also an aggressive liberal campaign to get advertisers to quit Breitbart News. Also Monday, the publisher Simon & Schuster announced that it was dropping  a book by Yiannopoulos.

Milo Yiannopoulos loses his book deal with Simon & Schuster amid growing outcry

Yiannapolous took to Facebook on Sunday night and again on Monday to defend himself as a number of conservative activists criticized him and the ACU for its invitation.

“I do not support pedophilia. Period,” Yiannopoulos wrote. “It is a vile and disgusting crime, perhaps the very worst. There are selectively edited videos doing the rounds, as part of a co-ordinated effort to discredit me from establishment Republicans, that suggest I am soft on the subject.”

In a Facebook update Monday, Yiannopoulos conceded responsibility for the way some have interpreted his comments.

“I’m partly to blame,” 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.’ I deeply regret that. People deal with things from their past in different ways.”

He added: “I am certainly guilty of imprecise language, which I regret.”

Late Monday, after reports that Simon & Schuster was dropping his book, Yiannapolous again posted on Facebook: “I’ve gone through worse. This will not defeat me.”

Schlapp and other ACU board members spent much of Sunday night and Monday morning discussing how to handle the matter, which led to a torrent of social media activity and threats of boycotts for the event, according to people familiar with the discussions.

On Sunday night, Schlapp repeatedly defended the invitation, but he did not immediately respond to a question to emails Monday morning.

“We initially extended the invitation knowing that the free speech issue on college campuses is a battlefield where we need brave, conservative standard-bearers, he said in a statement, which was released in the early afternoon.

“We continue to believe that CPAC is a constructive forum for controversies and disagreements among conservatives, however there is no disagreement among our attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children.”

The videos of Yiannopoulos, tweeted and retweeted Sunday night by accounts such as the Reagan Battalion, had been available online for years. In one clipped part of a lengthy January 2016 interview show, “Drunken Peasants,” Yiannopoulos denounced the “arbitrary and oppressive idea of consent” as fellow guests asked if he was defending molestation.

“I’m grateful for Father Michael,” he said. “I wouldn’t give nearly such good [oral sex] if it wasn’t for him.” When pressed, he argued that his interviewers were blurring the meaning of “pedophilia,” misapplying it to consensual sex between post-pubescent men, even if one partner was below the age of consent.

“Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old, who is sexually mature,” he said. “Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty. Pedophilia is attraction to people who don’t have functioning sex organs yet who have not gone through puberty.”

Yiannopoulos did tell his interviewers that he supports the current age of consent, but an April 2016 clip of his interview with podcaster Joe Rogan found him making the same “Father Michael” joke, going on to suggest that sexuality is a choice, and that homosexuality, not entirely innate, often attracts people with fetishes.

“People are only gay to be transgressive,” he said. “They choose to be gay to be naughty.”

Breitbart started out as a small site bent on exposing the liberal bias in mainstream media. When its former executive, Stephen Bannon, entered the White House, the site began targeting political adversaries of the Trump administration. (Video: Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

Yiannopoulos had expressed similar sentiments for years, as his star rose on the right, telling college students in 2016 that sexual identity was “a mixture of nature and nurture.” In his Facebook post, he argued that he is being demonized for telling jokes about uncomfortable subjects, and being smeared as a result, despite repeatedly exposing pedophiles through his journalism.

” I *did* joke about giving better [oral sex] as a result of clerical sexual abuse committed against me when I was a teen,” he wrote. “If I choose to deal in an edgy way on an internet livestream with a crime I was the victim of that’s my prerogative. It’s no different to gallows humor from AIDS sufferers.. I did say that there are relationships between younger men and older men that can help a young gay man escape from a lack of support or understanding at home. That’s perfectly true and every gay man knows it. But I was not talking about anything illegal and I was not referring to pre-pubescent boys.”

In his Sunday night tweets and retweets, Schlapp suggested that the criticism of Yiannopoulos was angering people who did not have the best interests of CPAC or free speech at heart, but by Monday the group, and its chairman, had decided against keeping Yiannopoluous on its roster.

Schlapp has not addressed the content of the quotes as they’ve attracted greater media attention.