Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos will speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland next week, the latest example of the movement’s embrace of right-wing firebrands, and the latest in a string of promotional victories for Yiannopoulos.
‘‘We realize that this invitation will be accompanied by controversy which we think the conservative movement and our CPAC attendees can handle,’’ Matt Schlapp, chairman of American Conservative Union, CPAC’s sponsor, told The Washington Post in an email. ‘‘Each will use his or her individual judgement as to the worthiness of each speaker, including Milo. ACU has publicly taken on racism and the alt-right and will continue to do so aggressively, like ACU’s founders before us. We look forward to hearing Milo’s message and having him sit down with Scott Walter to answer some tough questions. We believe that all of us are up to the challenge at a time when political correctness is properly being discarded.’’
Yiannopoulos’s booking was first reported by the Hollywood Reporter, and confirmed widely when Schlapp tweeted that ‘‘free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.’’ It came just hours after Yiannopoulos, who has told college audiences that ‘‘feminism is cancer’’ and that the gay rights movement should abandon transgendered people, appeared on HBO’s ‘‘Real Time with Bill Maher,’’ leading to progressive criticism of Maher.
Contrary to some reporting, Schlapp said, Yiannopoulos was not giving the conference’s ‘‘keynote’’ speech, which typically closes out the weekend. But his prominent invitation underscores how much the presidential victory of Donald Trump – whom Yiannopoulos calls ‘‘daddy’’ – changed the tone of mainstream conservatism.
Earlier this month, after University of California at Berkeley police canceled a talk by Yiannopoulos and put the campus on lockdown amid protests against his speech, Trump threatened to pull federal funds from the institution.
For several years, Breitbart was a sponsor not just of CPAC – where the site’s founder, Andrew Breitbart, had given blockbuster speeches – but of ‘‘alternative’’ events around the conference venue. In 2013 and 2014, the site hosted breakout sessions titled ‘‘The Uninvited,’’ where critics of ‘‘radical Islam’’ like Frank Gaffney of the Pamela Geller Center for Security Policy gave speeches to full rooms. Breitbart also hosted a packed party for CPAC attendees at its ‘‘embassy,’’ the outlet’s stately offices near the Supreme Court.
By 2015, the first year that Schlapp presided over the ACU – and thus over CPAC – the event was welcoming back some previously ostracized speakers. This year, Breitbart chief executive-turned White House strategist Stephen Bannon has a speaking slot; Kellyanne Conway, another key strategist, is on the ACU’s board.
But in 2016, there was little indication that CPAC might one day embrace a President Donald Trump. The conference was held when Trump was fending off three rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, and all were expected to combine speeches with a Q&A hosted by a conservative news personality. Trump balked, asked for a format change, and then abruptly quit the schedule. Trump, who had won just 3.5 percent support in the 2015 CPAC presidential straw poll, got just 15 percent in 2016, behind Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
‘‘All I ask is that the attendees don’t write me in on the straw poll,’’ Yiannopoulos told the Hollywood Reporter. ‘‘Don’t get me wrong, I understand the temptation, but I’m far too f–gy to be president.’’