Cognitive Dissonance At CPAC: Milo Out, Alt-Right Bad, Bannon Good?

Milo Yiannopoulos from appearance on Fox News Channel.

Over the weekend, the folks at the American Conservative Union found themselves in the middle of a public relations disaster brought on by the announcement that they had invited Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart’s enfant terrible, to speak at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual conference that brings together right-wing activists and elected officials.

While some conservatives griped that the self-described “dangerous faggot” didn’t belong at the conservative event, a group called the Reagan Battalion did more than complain. They posted clips of past Yiannopoulos interviews in which he seemed to be defending men having sex with young teenagers under some circumstances.

Yiannopoulos complained that he was being misinterpreted and smeared, but in relatively short order, the ACU announced that he’d been disinvited. In addition, Simon & Schuster announced that it was cancelling his forthcoming book.

Yiannopoulos builds his personal brand by making deliberately provocative and offensive statements and then preening as a free speech martyr when people protest. Indeed, ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp told NBC’s Benjy Sarlin that Yiannopoulos had been invited to CPAC to talk about his war on political correctness on college campuses.

When Sarlin asked Schlapp about conservatives who had been complaining online about the ACU giving a platform to someone who helped popularize the white nationalist and anti-Semitic Alt-Right, Schlapp said:

We are concerned about the alt right. We’re going to talk about the alt right at CPAC. We’re going to explain that we don’t believe that’s a legitimate voice in conservatism. I think people who are concerned about the alt right are properly focusing on making sure it doesn’t get mainstreamed, because it shouldn’t be.

And a look at the CPAC agenda confirms that the ACU’s Dan Schneider is scheduled to speak at 9:30 Thursday morning on the topic, “The Alt Right Ain’t Right at All.”

But just a few hours later, Schlapp himself is scheduled to be on the main stage hosting a conversation with senior White House aides Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, the man who turned Breitbart into what he has called “the platform for the Alt-Right.” It was Bannon who hired Yiannopoulos at Breitbart and, in Yiannopoulos’s words, “made me into a star.” Just a week before joining the Trump campaign last summer, Bannon enthusiastically defended the Alt-Right on his SiriusXM program “Breitbart News Daily.”

We are looking forward to seeing how Schlapp manages to hold a conversation with Bannon on the main stage at CPAC while simultaneously “making sure”—in his words—that the Alt-Right “doesn’t get mainstreamed.”