Self-described troll and conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos resigned from Breitbart News on Feb. 21, but his far-right speeches and provocative comments aren't going anywhere. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)
Before Milo Yiannopoulos gained (and lost) a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) invitation, a book deal and a job, the now-former Breitbart News writer had already said and written many offensive things. That’s his appeal to the people who admire and elevate him: “Milo,” the personality, is built on the idea of triggering liberals. His Breitbart archives contain a regular stream of articles arguing all sorts of things designed to demean and offend: that feminism makes women ugly, that he would prefer it if teenagers self-harmed rather than discuss trans issues on Tumblr, and that women will be happy only if we “un-invent” the birth control pill and the washing machine.
None of these things, including the fact that the writer had already been banned from Twitter for, the platform said, inciting harassment against actress Leslie Jones, stopped Yiannopoulos from becoming a voice that CPAC felt was of value to their movement on free-speech grounds. Or for that matter, from appearing on Bill Maher’s HBO show and finding common ground with the more liberal comedian. Those opportunities for Yiannopoulos came right after the University of California at Berkeley canceled a speaking engagement of his because of intense protests — gaining him at least one indirect tweet from President Trump.
But about 96 hours after his appearance on Maher’s “Real Time” program, Yiannopoulos’s most considerable step yet toward leaving his alt-right adjacency and entering into mainstream conservative discourse, he became a castaway.
Yiannopoulos resigned from Breitbart on Tuesday. The day before that, he lost his book deal with Simon & Schuster, and his invitation to speak at CPAC was rescinded. The reason, as CPAC put it, was “the revelation of an offensive video in the past 24 hours condoning pedophilia.” That’s in reference to a series of videos that the Reagan Battalion, a conservative site, tweeted out days ago, showing examples of Yiannopoulos’s past comments on pedophilia and consent. Yiannopoulos has claimed that the videos were “selectively edited” to make it appear as if he was defending child abuse, and that their release was part of a “co-ordinated effort to discredit me.”
Here is a rough timeline of how Yiannopoulos went from a breakthrough moment to the opposite in a matter of days.
Friday night, Feb. 17, 10 p.m.: Yiannopoulos appears on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” The two sit down for a one-on-one interview, which is mostly friendly. The interview follows days of controversy over the very fact that Yiannopoulos is appearing on the show at all. He also sits down for a panel discussion with Maher’s other guests. It is substantially less chummy.
Saturday, Feb. 18, 1:40 p.m.: Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, announces that Yiannopoulos will be a speaker at CPAC:
In the minutes following, several prominent conservative writers and leaders start to protest the decision on Twitter, pointing to Yiannopoulos’s long history of remarks that, in their opinion, don’t fit with the values of CPAC.
Sunday, Feb. 19, 2:30 a.m.: The Twitter account for the conservative blog Reagan Battalion, which had been tweeting and re-tweeting criticism of CPAC’s invitation to Yiannopoulos, tweets a link to a video interview between Yiannopoulos and Joe Rogan, saying that it shows him “defend [ing] pedophilia and pedophiles.” In the 2015 clip, Yiannopoulos discusses a parish priest who had a sexual relationship with him when he was a teen, declines to name the priest, and says, “It was perfectly consensual.” He adds: “When I was the 14, I was the predator.”
Sunday, Feb. 19: 11 a.m.: The Reagan Battalion tweets out another video, which edits together several of Yiannopoulos’s more controversial remarks. It includes a long segment from a separate statement Yiannopoulos has made about pedophilia in the past.
That statement comes from a January 2016 episode of the podcast Drunken Peasants, in which Yiannopoulos appears to defend sexual relationships between adults and “younger boys” in their teens.
Specifically, he says: “Some of those relationships between younger boys and older men, the sort of coming-of-age relationships, the relationships in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are, and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable and sort of a rock where they can’t speak to their parents.”
“I’m grateful for Father Michael,” he said, in what appears to be an attempt at a joke. “I wouldn’t give nearly such good [oral sex] if it wasn’t for him.” He then argues that “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,” and not someone who is 13 years old and “sexually mature.”
The videos start to gain traction, and soon the outrage about Yiannopoulos starts to focus on these statements.
It starts to appear the writer is becoming the subject of a tactic he helped to popularize, that is, making noise about your opponents until it becomes unavoidable. In his case, the noise he began about one of his “enemies” could escalate into mob abuse. That’s why he was banned from Twitter months ago, after the platform said he broke their rules against inciting harassment.
In July, Yiannopoulos mocked actress Leslie Jones as she received an onslaught of viciously racist tweets. The harassment, it seemed, stemmed from the fact that she was one of the co-stars of the “Ghostbusters” remake. In one tweet, Yiannopoulos shared faked screenshots that made it appear as if Jones had tweeted profane and offensive things. Yiannopoulos called his suspension from the platform “cowardly” and disputed that he was directly involved in the harassment.
His use of Twitter was an extension of the sort of journalism for which he was known: opposition research-style investigations into the personal lives of people he sees as enemies, with the intention of discrediting them. His Breitbart archives include articles based on unverified claims that social justice activist Shaun King, who identifies as biracial, is lying about his ethnicity. King has said that the evidence cited by Yiannopoulos and other conservative writers is incorrect, and that the reports are “lies.” He has also written similar pieces, framed as exposés, about several feminist activists. At a December campus visit to University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, he spent time during a speech there to mock a transgender student by name, displaying her photograph on a screen.
Sunday, Feb. 19, 9 p.m.: Yiannopoulos posts a statement denying that his remarks were a defense of pedophilia. It reads, in part:
The videos do not show what people say they show. I *did* joke about giving better head as a result of clerical sexual abuse committed against me when I was a teen. 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.
The rest is here.
Sunday, Feb. 19: 9:45 p.m.: CNN’s Jake Tapper starts tweeting about the videos:
In response, Yiannopolos offers to go on Tapper’s show to “clear all this up.”
Monday, Feb. 20, 1 p.m.: CPAC announces that Yiannopoulos will no longer be speaking at CPAC.
Monday, Feb. 20, 1:30 p.m.: Yiannopoulos releases another statement on Facebook, which reads, in part:
“I’ve repeatedly expressed disgust at pedophilia in my feature and opinion writing. My professional record is very clear.
But I do understand that these videos, even though some of them are edited deceptively, paint a different picture.
I’m partly to blame. 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.”
The rest of that statement is here.
Monday, Feb. 20, about 5:15 p.m.: Simon & Schuster cancels Yiannopoulos’s book. Meanwhile, discussions are reportedly building at Breitbart about Yiannopoulos’s future there. Here’s what Dave Weigel and Robert Costa reported for us at the time:
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.
Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2:30 p.m.: Shortly before a news conference, Yiannopoulos announces that he is resigning from Breitbart.
“Breitbart News has stood by me when others caved. They have allowed me to carry conservative and libertarian ideas to communities that would otherwise never have heard them,” Yiannopoulos said in a statement. “They have been a significant factor in my success. I’m grateful for that freedom and for the friendships I forged there.”
“I would be wrong to allow my poor choice of words to detract from my colleagues’ important reporting, so today I am resigning from Breitbart, effective immediately. This decision is mine alone.”
At 3 p.m., he held a news conference.