A top tech-security conference has hacked off conservatives and free-speech advocates by disinviting Rep. Will Hurd — a black Texas Republican known for expertise on cybersecurity — as keynote speaker over his pro-life views.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Texas Republican, blasted Black Hat for intolerance after the San Francisco-based firm dropped Mr. Hurd from its Aug. 3-8 conference in Las Vegas, while Republican Party of Texas chairman James Dickey accused organizers of bigotry.
“It’s disappointing that Black Hat would choose to disinvite the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Intelligence Modernization and Readiness to their cybersecurity conference based on his pro-life votes,” said Mr. Dickey in a Monday statement. “They have made it clear that knowledge of cybersecurity comes a distant second in importance compared to leftist litmus tests.”
Tweeted Mr. Crenshaw: “Seriously? Can’t have cyber experts if they also believe babies have value? We should not appease intolerance.”
Black Hat’s decision Friday came after pushback over Mr. Hurd’s positions on abortion and women’s issues, even though the congressman is a well-known moderate. For example, he was one of only eight House Republicans to vote last month for the Equality Act, which made gay and transgender people protected classes under federal anti-discrimination laws.
At the same time, Mr. Hurd has a consistent pro-life voting record — NARAL Pro-Choice America gave him a 0% score in 2018 — including support for defunding Planned Parenthood and implementing a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks.
Leading the charge was the publication TechCrunch, which ran a story last week saying the choice “prompted anger and concern by some longtime attendees because of his voting record on women’s rights,” described on Twitter by TechCrunch security editor Zack Whittaker as “terrible” and “atrocious.”
“Black Hat says it aims to create an ‘inclusive environment,’ but others have questioned how a political figure with views that cause harm to an entire gender can be considered inclusive,” Mr. Whittaker said in his article.
A day later, Black Hat announced that it had removed Mr. Hurd, saying that, “We misjudged the separation of technology and politics.”
“We will continue to focus on technology and research, however we recognize that Black Hat USA is not the appropriate platform for the polarizing political debate resulting from our choice of speaker,” Black Hat said. “We are still fully dedicated to providing an inclusive environment and apologize that this decision did not reflect that sentiment.”
Removing Mr. Hurd may have come as a victory for those advocating for more “diversity and inclusion” in the tech industry, but it also served to heighten concerns about politically motivated censorship.
“It is unfortunate to see such intolerance and bigotry in what should be a beneficial technical organization,” Mr. Dickey said.
Dan Gainor, vice president of the conservative Media Research Center, said the episode illustrates the tech industry’s clampdown on “wrong-think.”
“This is the ultimate future where everyone is afraid to say anything,” he said.
Not all the criticism came from the right. Jennifer Granick, ACLU surveillance cybersecurity counsel, said the disagreement on abortion was “not a good reason to stop Hurd from talking about a different topic.”
“What other views disqualify someone from keynoting Black Hat?” she tweeted. “Best not to invite any legislator with more than a term under her belt. Should Black Hat now ask potential speakers for their views on abortion, or is it fine so long as we don’t know?”
Hurd spokeswoman Katie Thompson took the high road, saying he “was honored to be invited and hopes that the Black Hat Conference is a success.”
“Congressman Hurd has always sought to engage groups of people that don’t necessarily agree with all of his votes or opinions. That’s why Rep. Hurd is one of the loudest voices for bipartisanship in Congress,” she said. “This Congress alone he voted for equal pay for equal work, for the Violence Against Women Act and the Equality Act.”
She pointed out that Mr. Hurd, a former CIA officer, would have added diversity to the conference on a host of scores — “the perspective of a person of color and someone who served our nation abroad,” she said.
Others said tech companies do themselves no favors by aligning with the left, given calls to break up the industry.
The House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust launched an investigation last week into whether massive digital companies like Google and Facebook have become monopolies.
“These companies are taking a big risk because one of these days, the blowback is going to hurt their bottom line,” Mr. Gainor said. “And then it’s, okay, you lost your business because you listened to the mob.””The tech industry welcoming this behavior will be in for a rude awakening when their intersectional coalition regulates innovation & free-markets out of existence,” Mr. Crenshaw tweeted.
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