The Conservative Political Action Conference’s decision to book Milo Yiannopoulos as a speaker at next week’s prestigious conference has sparked outrage.
The senior Breitbart editor, who was permanently banned from Twitter in July after claims he helped lead the racist and sexist Twitter abuse of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones, is due to appear on stage alongside US Vice-President Mike Pence and Senator Ted Cruz.
While the move to include the far-right provocateur in the event sparked immediate outrage on social media, anger has multiplied since footage emerged of Mr Yiannopoulos apparently advocating the possibility of sexual relationships between 13-year-olds and adults.
In the excerpt from The Drunken Peasants podcast which aired a year ago, he says he defines paedophiles as people who are sexually attracted to children who have yet to hit puberty. He adds that he believes some teenagers under the age of 16 are able to consent to sexual activity.
In the UK, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that the age of consent is 16 and that any sexual activity involving consenting children under 16 is unlawful. The Sexual Offences act of 1956, which is used for sexual offences committed before 2004, states that a boy or girl under the age of 16 cannot consent in law.
Mr Yiannopoulos has responded to videos of the podcast being shared on social media on his personal Facebook page, saying: “I do not support paedophilia”. He claimed the videos being circulated had been selectively edited. The podcast, which is filmed, can be watched in full here.
The decision to include Mr Yiannopoulos, an outspoken Donald Trump supporter, as a key note speaker has prompted outrage in the wake of the controversy. In a series of tweets, CNN anchor, Jake Tapper, slammed his appearance.
“Friend of mine, conservative, could not be more distraught by this Milo tape. Was molested as a child. Horrified,” he said. “My friend, a survivor of sex trafficking: ‘Milo straight up defended abusing 13 yr old boys…Please don’t let that be normalized’.”
“That #CPAC can’t find the stones to reject the gruesomely ephebophiliac Milo shows how the word “conservative” has been vitiated of meaning,” said Terry Moran, chief ABC foreign correspondent.
In a statement released before the furore, Matt Schlapp, the chairman and organiser of the American Conservative Union, said he was aware the decision to include one of Twitter’s most notorious trolls would cause controversy.
“We realise that this invitation will be accompanied by controversy which we think the conservative movement and our CPAC attendees can handle. Each will use his or her individual judgement as to the worthiness of each speaker, including Milo.”
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“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 being properly discarded”.
The ACU included a caveat about the fact they had fought the so-called alt-right movement and racism and would continue to do so “aggressively”.
Mr Yiannopoulos appeared on HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher and took aim at comedians Leslie Jones, Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman. He said: “The Democrats are the party of Lena Dunham. These people are hideous, mental people. The more the American people see of Lena Dunham, the fewer votes the Democratic party is going to get.”
He said Schumer and Silverman “used to be funny before they contracted feminism”.
The decision to have the controversial fringe politician on the mainstream primetime show stoked controversy, with Jeremy Schahill, a journalist, refusing to appear on the show.
Mr Trump recently had an event at Berkeley University called off due to heated protests, with demonstrators throwing smoke bombs, starting fires and smashing windows.
Mr Yiannopoulos has been dubbed a spokesperson for the alt-right movement – a political movement which has been accused of racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny and of sharing an ideology with far-right parties such as the French National Front.
A representative for ACU did not immediately respond to request for comment.