The Conservative Union decided not to have him as the keynote speaker at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Yiannopoulos also had his book deal cancelled by the publisher Simon & Schuster over the comments and he resigned from his position at the conservative media outlet Breitbart.
It’s obvious why the CPAC and others are distancing themselves from Yiannopoulos; no one wants to be associated with someone who thinks something as horrible as pedophilia is okay. But it does raise a question that conservatives should be made to answer. Why were these specific comments by Yiannopoulos cause for moral outrage among conservatives when so many other horrible words have not been a problem for the right?
Yiannopoulos is widely recognized as a troll. He has made his reputation and his living by saying things that he and other conservatives know will elicit a strong negative reaction from those on the left. And then he and others on the right can point to those reactions as evidence of the left’s supposed disregard for the First Amendment and love of oppressive political correctness. Some past instances of this include Yiannopoulos participating in a campaign of targeted racist sexist abuse on social media, writing that “fat people should absolutely hate themselves” and that “women’s liberation was probably a mistake”. None of these have interrupted Yiannopoulos’ career and, in fact, these are the types of things that he has been lauded for by conservatives.
Many of Yiannopolous’ inflammatory antics are actually fairly tame compared to comments by other conservative celebrities. For instance, our president has admitted to committing sexual assault repeatedly; belittled Senator John McCain for being a prisoner or war during Vietnam; categorized people from Mexico as being rapists and murders and said that a person of Mexican descent was incapable of performing a job that required fairness; advocated for disregarding the U.S. Constitution in order to make a religious discrimination law; and openly mocked a person because of their disability.
In fact, lately, it has seemed that one of the defining features of modern conservatives is that anything goes in terms of inflammatory speech, as though there is nothing a conservative leader could say that would not be at least tolerated, if not embraced, by the majority of their tribe. Yiannopoulos’ comments about pedophilia were very much in the same vein as the other statements mentioned above. They all seem predicated on the idea that discriminating against or exploiting some groups of people is acceptable. And given how conservatives have egged on and celebrated Yiannopolous, Trump, and others for talking in this way about other subjects in the past it’s understandable that Yiannopoulos assumed that his conservative supporters would let his pedophilia statements slide.
But they didn’t and Yiannopoulos, who has frequently billed himself as a “supervillain,” seems to find being vilified by conservatives somewhat less enjoyable than simply being a provocateur of the left. Yiannopoulos has not pushed back against the outrage at his comments and he hasn’t brought up free speech or political correctness. Instead he released a statement in which he speaks about being sexually abused himself; claims that he doesn’t believe what he said in the recording about pedophilia; and apologizes. But, so far, his contrition seems not to have appeased anyone and Yiannapolous appears to have been functionally disowned by most of his former conservative supporters.
Conservatives have defended, or at least accepted, racist, sexist, ableist, and other types of reprehensible comments in the name of promoting free speech and fighting political correctness. But, so far, no one on the right is giving a good reason why those justifications do not apply to Yiannopolous’ remarks about age of consent for sex. And conservatives have not yet given an explanation of why the right is a safe space for bigoted hate speech and bragging about sexual assault, but not a safe space for glibness about gay pedophilia.
Alexis Chapman is a Political Consultant and Writer specializing in policy analysis, from international law to local ordinances. She’s lived in Australia, Ghana, Vermont, Hawaii, and Texas and has worked for small and large NGOs, state legislature, industry associations, and a variety of publications. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm and you can find her on Twitter @AlexisAPChapman.