An upcoming conference in Missoula identifies Stephen Bannon as a keynote speaker, although the organizer has not responded as to whether the former chief strategist for the White House will appear in person.
Called ACE 2018, the 15th International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology notes it will take place at the University of Montana.
UM spokesperson Paula Short confirmed Monday the group has reserved space in the University Center for its events Dec. 10 to Dec. 14 but said UM is not a sponsor and neither are faculty or departments. She also said UM is setting up a call with the conference organizer this week and will determine whether Bannon will make a live appearance.
"I think it's something we are going to find out in the next day or two," Short said.
ACE reserved the space roughly 10 months ago and only recently did the conference website announce Bannon as a keynote speaker. Short said she believes the group reserved space for 60 to 80 participants.
Bannon pushed a nationalist agenda that helped President Donald Trump get elected as chief executive of the campaign in its last few months. The incendiary political figure served as Trump's chief strategist until he was forced out in August 2017, and he returned to Breitbart News, which he earlier described as a "platform for the alt-right."
He stepped down from Breitbart in January.
ACE describes itself as a "leading scientific forum for dissemination of cutting-edge research results in the area of entertainment computing," according to its website. Adrian David Cheok, identified as lab director for the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia, is the main contact for the conference.
In an email to the Missoulian, he offered the subject of the keynote address. However, Cheok did not reply to an email about whether Bannon would appear in person or via videoconference, nor did his assistant, who offered to set up a call with Cheok.
"Yes the talk topic (which will be announced probably on Monday) is Steve Bannon will talk about how economic nationalism will help minorities (blacks, hispanics, etc.) to obtain more high tech jobs such as in computer entertainment industry," Cheok said in the email.
This week, another speaker confirmed he backed out of a keynote address at the conference after learning that Bannon would participate. Peter Gray, a research professor in psychology at Boston College, provided the Missoulian text from an email he sent to the conference organizer.
"With much regret, I have chosen to withdraw from participation in the ACE 2018 conference," Gray said in the email. "I just learned yesterday that Steve Bannon has been selected to be a keynote speaker.
"I have taken pains to keep my drive for children's freedom and play separate from political ideology and my participation as a co-keynoter with Bannon would severely impair my credibility with the many diverse groups with which I am involved.
"I have appeared, happily, on the same stage with libertarians and others with whom I disagree on many issues, but Bannon's alt-right brand is personally odious to me and, more importantly, by association, would work against my credibility and that of the causes to which I am passionately devoted."
In an email to the Missoulian, Gray said he himself had planned to present at the conference in person. In the note to the conference organizer, he said he had been looking forward to the conference and apologized for his withdrawal.
"Please remove my photo from underneath Bannon's on your Facebook page and anywhere else where it may appear."
The conference website notes it is celebrating "pioneering women computer scientists." However, the only keynote speaker currently listed is Bannon, charged in 1996 with domestic violence against his wife, according to the New York Times. Citing police and court records, the story said the case was dropped after Bannon threatened his then-spouse against testifying.
The conference notes participants may attend a "co-located conference" called the International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots. "The past few years have witnessed a strong upsurge of interest and academic discussion on the personal aspects of human relationships with artificial partners."
In a statement, Short said the ACE conference falls within the guidelines of UM for reservations of facilities. She also said the campus has security measures in place to ensure policies are followed and people can express their views "productively and safely."
"The University of Montana, like all public universities, is a place that values free speech and expression," UM said. "In this spirit, we permit events on campus representing a diverse array of speakers and topics. Mr. Bannon is a recently announced addition to the conference, for which space on campus was reserved many months ago.
"It is not uncommon for outside groups with no formal affiliation to the university to reserve our facilities for events."