[See update below] The Conservative Political Action Conference announced that Donald Trump will be speaking at the event this week, just hours after news broke that the conference will also feature a keynote speaker who advocates for the statutory rape of adolescent boys. The timing could not be more perfect, or more repugnant.
The keynote speaker at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, a man with a long track record of hateful statements and behavior, and one who has openly advocated for sexual relationships between older men and boys of 13:
— The Reagan Battalion (@ReaganBattalion) February 19, 2017
As Matt Schlapp — the chairman of the organization that runs CPAC — was defending Yiannopoulos on Twitter, he was also rolling out another important announcement:
— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) February 20, 2017
Donald Trump will be joined on the CPAC speaking roster by Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, white nationalist and Trump strategist Steve Bannon, and yes, Yiannopoulos.
While some conservatives have already denounced CPAC over the controversy, the intersection and the double-standard at work here are instructive.
It is notable to remember the story of Obama “Safe Schools Czar” Kevin Jennings. Jennings was persecuted by conservatives because he counseled a teenage boy who had been with an older man without reporting him (the young man was, in fact, of legal consent age at the time), and because he once praised pioneering gay rights activist Harry Hay, who later in life became an advocate for inclusion of NAMBLA in gay pride events.
Jennings had no connection whatsoever to Hay, and likely did not even know of Hay’s latter-day advocacy, but that did not stop the likes of Sean Hannity from lying about Jennings, and attempting to smear President Obama with those lies (transcript via Media Matters):
HANNITY: What do you make of what we talked about in our last segment? Here we have the safe schools czar, this guy by the name of Kevin Jennings. We talked about his praise of this guy Harry Hay, who is, you know, a guy that supports the group NAMBLA. He praised the guy, looked up to the guy. This guy admitted in his own words that he had counseled a 15-year-old that was having sex with an adult. He didn’t report it; he asked the kid if he used a condom.
He said other controversial things. This Queering of Elementary Education book that he writes the foreword to. How does somebody like that, with that background, get appointed by a president of the United States?
ROVE: Well, one of two things happened on this. Either they decided that they deliberately wanted to put a very provocative, very controversial person in a job where his views and his public statements and his actions were likely to unsettle a large amount, number of Americans, or, once again, that vaunted Obama White House vetting system broke down.
I can’t imagine that President Obama lacked the sensitivity to think that somebody who had said the things that Mr. Jennings had said, had done the things that Mr. Jennings had done, had taken the sort of high-profile, in-your-face advocacy of things like NAMBLA and gay rights and queering elementary school curricula — that the president of the United States would think this was a person that he ought to put in charge of safe schools, and yet he did.
Contrary to those Fox News graphics, Jennings actually did not “support NAMBLA,” nor did he “encourage statutory rape,” yet conservatives like Erick Erickson used those lies in order to openly state that the Obama White House was “supportive of NAMBLA.”
Yiannopoulos, by contrast, literally did encourage statutory rape, and he did it in almost exactly the same manner that Hay did. That advocacy did not escape the notice of professional Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord back in 2006.
Aside from the double-standard, and perhaps more glaring, is the nexus at which Trump and Yiannopoulos meet — not just at CPAC, but in the American political consciousness. Yiannopoulos and Trump both derive their popularity from a fan base that prizes their hate speech, either because they just prize hate speech, or they view that hate speech as a preferable alternative to “political correctness” — the conservatives’ derisive term for what the rest of us call “decency.”
There is a significant overlap between those groups, and Yiannopoulos’ status as a symbol of conservatives’ alleged reverence for free speech puts Trump — who very recently explicitly defended Yiannapoulous — and CPAC in a tough position. If they denounce or dump Yiannopoulos, they vindicate the “snowflakes” they deride.
Whatever gymnastics they use to wriggle into or out of this trap, though, conservatives cannot escape the fact that even if they draw the line at open advocacy for statutory rape, they will still be featuring a roster of at least two overt racists, a vocal advocate for sexual assault, an anti-gay advocate for “conversion therapy,” and their willing accomplices.
If CPAC wants to be clean of moral disgust, they need to dump a whole lot more than Milo Yiannopoulos.
UPDATE: Matt Schlapp has now confirmed that Yiannapoulos has been uninvited from the conference:
— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) February 20, 2017
It is important to note, however, that Trump was announced as a speaker alongside him prior to Yiannopoulos’ invitation being rescinded.