Milo Yiannopoulos finally went too far.
Less than three days after this lightning rod Breitbart News editor made a triumphant appearance on Bill Maher, he was dumped by the Conservative Political Action Conference and Simon & Schuster. Then he was forced out to resign from Breitbart. And this was all because a tape surfaced in which Yiannapoulos seemed to condone pedophilia. This was awful stuff, but it was hardly the first —and hardly the worst thing that Yiannopoulous has ever done.
That it took these pedophilia comments for conservatives to finally turn on Yiannopoulos speaks volumes about how low their movement has fallen. Yiannopoulos was a hate-peddling provocateur long before this. By inviting him to speak at universities around the country, many college Republicans apparently thought they were taking a brave stance against the forces of political correctness, and scoring one for free speech. In fact, they were discrediting their own movement by allying themselves with a vicious troll — demonstrating that they hate their enemies more than they love their alleged principles.
Republican students have a right to invite whomever they want to say whatever they want (short of a targeted call for violence) unmolested and without censorship. So if University of California, Berkeley, where Yiannopoulous’ appearance triggered riots by armed leftist hoodlums, stick to their vow to have him back (along with right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones) then so be it. Berkley is a public university and is required not just by the First Amendment but its own mission to be a broad purveyor of ideas to create a “safe space” for Yiannopoulos. And CPAC is a private gathering that can put whomever it wants on its roster — and also remove those same people.
But if Republicans have a right to invite Yiannaopoulos, others have the right to judge them for the company they keep. And Yiannopoulos is very, very bad company.
For starters, he writes – or wrote — for Breitbart, a go-to site for the alt-right movement, a loose conglomeration of long-standing nativist outfits such as VDare and FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), and white supremacists. They all hate the left’s political correctness and multiculturalism not because it offends America’s commitment to individual rights and universalistic notions of justice, but because it comes in the way of their ethno-nationalistic project — which the site aids by peddling a constant stream of the vilest xenophobia (as I wrote here).
But Yiannopoulos is a devilishly cunning man who is not easily categorized. He has devised an elaborate straddle, serving the alt-right while hiding behind his complex identity as a gay, Catholic, partly Jewish immigrant to make fun of the left’s growing regime of intolerance.
To be sure, this regime needs attacking. It has become impossible to challenge leftist orthodoxy on race, gender, sexuality, and other issues without being dubbed a racist, sexist, and bigot. The left has made discussion of too many issues taboo and vastly narrowed the terms of discussion on those that are allowed. But if “nothing goes” in the leftist moral universe, “anything goes” in Milo’s and his fellow alt-right trolls’. And that, too, is a big problem.
Yiannopoulos wants to replace the left’s protective authoritarianism with the alt-right’s nihilistic anarchism. If the left wants to empower the state to mollycoddle minorities, Yiannopoulos and his social media warriors want free rein to viciously bait and bully minorities — and mock them if they refuse to grin and bear it. It is a profoundly degraded and dehumanized spectacle. It’s political sado-masochism.
Now, in Yiannopoulos’ appearances on campuses and elsewhere, there is often nothing particularly objectionable about him. To the contrary, he is funny, charming, knowledgeable, edgy, entertaining, and sometimes even insightful. Even his profanity-laden attacks aren’t out of line compared to what you hear from contemporary stand-up comics.
If that was all there was to Milo, you could simply shake your head at his over-the-top taunts, laugh a little, and move on. But it isn’t.
Yiannopoulos agrees with the alt-right that certain pop cultural products remain firmly the purview of white men and yield not another inch to diversity or feminizing. The first big battle on this front was the GamerGate blowup two years ago, when video-game-playing (mostly white) men unleashed a torrent of invective and abuse against female game developers who they felt were hell-bent on feminizing their products. Yiannopoulos tweeted and wrote constantly in support of the gamers, joining them in their attacks and depicting them as the real victims — a political jujitsu that he has now perfected to an art.
Yiannopoulos was later banned from Twitter over his attacks last summer on Leslie Jones, a black woman starring in the new Ghostbusters. Yiannopoulos instigated and mobilized his massive alt-right Twitter brigade — already worked up about the movie’s all-female cast — against Jones. They called her an “ape” and other terrible things. Then they created a fake Twitter account in her name and sent a series of tweets with anti-Semitic, homophobic slurs. When a distraught and bewildered Jones protested, Yiannopoulos simply berated her for playing the victim.
Yiannopoulos and his fellow alt-righters don’t just abuse leftists and their symbols. They also go after fellow right-wingers who disagree with them, especially on Trump. Milo’s former Breitbart colleague, Ben Shapiro, who quit when the site became, as he put it, “Trump’s Pravda,” recounts that when his child was born, Yiannopoulos tweeted a picture of a black baby to taunt him for being a “cuckservative.” (This is alt-right slang for a cuckolded conservative who enjoys watching his wife have sex with a black man, a metaphor for having been seduced by the left’s multiethnic vision.) Now, Shapiro is no slouch himself when it comes to fighting the PC culture. He has written books like Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth. But because he is anti-Trump and Jewish, alt-righters flood him with anti-Semitic tweets replete with references to gas chambers.
Yiannopoulos dismisses all of this with a flick of his thick artificial-blonde shock, glibly insisting that speech is not violence and most of his followers don’t actually believe what they say. They are simply doing it for kicks and to shatter taboos. That’s debatable. But what’s not is that speech affects culture and culture affects politics. Otherwise, what would be the point of zealously defending free speech? Indeed, as Andrew Breitbart, the late founder of Breitbart, used to say, “politics is downstream from culture.” And a culture where threatening minorities and dissenters with imagery from the Holocaust is tolerated will, at minimum, expand the outside limits of the inhumanity that is politically possible.
So why are conservatives cozying up to such hideousness? The best explanation they offer is that inviting someone so beyond the pale will shatter the tight boundaries drawn by political correctness and open the space for a wider airing of ideas. But the problem is that by using a stink bomb like Yiannopoulos they’ll make their own ideas malodorous. Who will take conservative praise of civility, tradition, family values, manners, honor, moderation, and dignity seriously if a 31-year-old, out-of-control adolescent is their champion?
Milo Yiannopoulos is like the Joker in Batman. He has turned chaos and nihilism into a business model for notoriety and wealth. Conservatives won’t defeat their liberal enemies by making a deal with this devil. Rather, they will validate the liberal critique of the right as a front for bigotry and prejudice, discrediting everything they claim to defend and declaring their own moral bankruptcy.