Joel Pollak, senior-editor-at-large for Breitbart News, is scheduled to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, February 23rd.
This comes after controversial far-right journalist Milo Yiannopoulos, a former writer for Breitbart, was disinvited from CPAC. Although Yiannopoulos won’t be in attendance, two Breitbart editors will be speaking, as will Steve Bannon, White House chief strategist and former executive chair of Breitbart.
Here’s what you need to know about Joel Pollack ahead of his speech at CPAC.
1. He Is From Johannesburg, South Africa
Joel Pollak was born on April 25th, 1977 in Johannesburg, South Africa. However, his parents came to the United States when he was a young boy, and so Pollak grew up in Chicago, Illinois.
Pollak returned to South Africa to study Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town, and he later worked as a speechwriter for South African politician Tony Leon.
In recent weeks, Pollak has been rumored to be President Donald Trump’s potential pick for ambassador to South Africa, at least according to an article in the South African online newspaper The Daily Maverick.
2. He Ran for Congress in 2010
Before coming to work for Breitbart, Joel Pollak was a candidate for Congress, running to represent Illinois’ 9th congressional district. He ran against incumbent Democratic senator Jan Schakowsky.
During the campaign, Pollak ran on a promise to fight government corruption. He described himself as a Tea Party Republican, and he was endorsed by the Chicago Tea Party. He was also endorsed by Paul Ryan, who compared Pollak to himself, as Ryan also ran for Congress when he was relatively young and was thought to have little chance against his Democratic opponent.
“People, if they’re presented a viable and principled choice, they’ll make the right decision,” Ryan said.
Schakowsy ended up easily winning the general election, capturing 66 percent of the vote to Pollak’s 31 percent.
Joel Pollak actually used to be what he described in an interview with Chicago Mag as a “raving Democrat.” In fact, Pollak voted for Schakowsky, his future opponent, in a previous election. He says he also voted for Al Gore and John Kerry for president in 2000 and 2004 respectively, and he voted for Barack Obama for the U.S. Senate.
Pollak told Chicago Mag that he started to move to the right when he was at Harvard Law School, feeling that Democrats in Congress had no agenda other than bashing President Bush.
Pollak recently published a book called How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, in which he discusses many reasons for Trump’s win but especially pointing to the fact that Trump defied the media.
“Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election for many reasons,” Pollak wrote on Breitbart. “He had a celebrity profile, the ability to self-fund, and a gift for piercing his rivals with a single put-down. He held skeptical positions on immigration and trade that millions of Americans also support, but which both parties had previously shut out of the debate. He also worked harder than Hillary Clinton, campaigning in blue states experts said he had no hope of winning. But one reason stands above them all: Donald Trump won his party’s nomination and the general election itself because he, alone among Republican candidates, dared to defy the media and to speak directly to the American people.”
3. His Wife, Julia, Is From Cape Town, South Africa
Joel Pollak’s wife is Julia Pollak, who was born in Cape Town, South Africa.
According to a profile of Julia on Breitbart, she was born in 1987 in a racially-segregated hospital, and when she was a child was denied admission to public schools because of her race. She eventually went to Catholic and Anglican schools, although she is now Jewish, as is her husband Joel.
Joel and Julia met while Julia was working as an intern in the South African Parliament and Joel was working as a speechwriter for South African Politician Tony Leon. Julia eventually graduated from Harvard with a degree in economics and went to work for The Heritage Foundation.
Julia currently works as an adjunct instructor at Pepperdine University, where she teaches microeconomics, according to her LinkedIn page. She is also a six-year veteran of the U.S. Navy Reserve.
4. He Says Breitbart Is Not a White Nationalist Website
Steve Bannon has called Breitbart News the platform of the alt-right, the fringe movement that grew online and is characterized in part by white supremacism; the term “alt-right” itself was coined by Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who advocates for ethnic cleansing.
Pollak, however, has said that Breitbart is not a white nationalist website, frequently defending the news organization in interviews. In an interview with CNN last month, Pollak said that it is defamatory to label Breitbart as a white nationalist publication.
He also told NPR that Breitbart offers a variety of viewpoints and that he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything published on it.
“…I don’t agree with everything on Breitbart, and you don’t have to agree to work there or to enjoy the content on the website,” he said in an interview with NPR.
In that same interview, Pollak accused NPR itself of racism, citing an NPR piece which called the election results a “nostalgia for a whiter America.”
Some of Breitbart’s most controversial articles include “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?” “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage,” and “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew.”
The alt-right movement is also characterized by anti-Semitism, but Pollak himself is from an Orthodox Jewish family and he majored in Jewish Studies.
5. He Instructed Breitbart Employees Not to Defend Michelle Fields, the Journalist Who Said She Was Grabbed by Corey Lewandowski
In 2016, Breitbart journalist Michelle Fields accused Corey Lewandowski of tightly grabbing her arm at a Trump event; she subsequently filed a police report and alleged simple battery.
In internal Slack chats released by BuzzFeed, Joel Pollak told Breitbart employees to stop defending Fields.
“You may wish to defend your colleague, and that is commendable — but keep in mind that when you do so, you are also putting other colleagues under direct public pressure, so you are actually hurting some to help another,” Pollak said. “That is why we have to be patient, and coordinate our responses.”
Michelle Fields subsequently resigned from Breitbart, saying, “I do not believe Breitbart News has adequately stood by me during the events of the past week and because of that I believe it is now best for us to part ways.”
Ben Shapiro, another journalist for Breitbart, resigned alongside Fields, saying that “Breitbart News not only stood by and did nothing outside of tepidly asking for an apology, they then attempted to abandon Michelle by silencing staff from tweeting or talking about the issue.”
After Shapiro resigned, an article mocking him appeared on Breitbart but was soon deleted, and it was later revealed that this piece was written by Joel Pollak, who said he wrote the piece “as part of an effort to make light of a significant company event,” adding that it was published to the site “as a result of a misunderstanding without going through the normal editorial channels.”