After all the riots and battles he caused on campuses in the name of free speech, alt-right activist and former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ career has completely imploded — ironically because of something “unacceptable” he said.
Yiannopoulos — a gay, Catholic British alt-right firebrand — raided and pillaged across U.S. liberal college campuses as part of his “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” essentially a hate-filled series of live trolling events.
There were riots at UC Berkeley when he was scheduled to attend, and because of the huge car fires and mayhem that violent anti-Milo protesters had created, campus police decided it was too dangerous for him to appear.
The tour’s goal was to stir up nationwide controversy in an attempt to hype his new book, “Dangerous.” Publisher Simon & Schuster was completely onboard with his tour, and Milo had even been invited to appear as a keynote speaker at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference — which President Donald Trump would be headlining.
But all this success and inertia came to a grinding halt on Feb. 20, when, after a controversial appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” video started circulating around social media of Yiannopoulos apparently defending sex between underage boys and men.
The quote came from an appearance he made on “The Drunken Peasants” podcast over a year ago. In the video, which has been on YouTube for a year, he thanks a Catholic priest who apparently sexually abused him as a minor.
Soon after the clip exploded over the internet, Yiannopoulos lost his book deal, was let go from his editor position at Breitbart, and was un-cordially uninvited from the keynote appearance at CPAC.
The irony is powerful. A flamboyant guy from the U.K. was embraced by the far-right wing in the U.S., to some extent because he was a rare thing — an openly gay Catholic who was opposed to same-sex marriage and lesbian and transgender rights.
His sexuality, along with his willingness to say and stand behind outrageous, stereotypical statements about Mexicans, Muslims, transgender people and women, made him a star in the growing alt-right movement. He was the right wing’s great champion of free speech, challenging the liberal university culture on its own turf.
But ironically, the thing that got him thrown out of the conservative club was his willingness to say outrageous things that are very unpopular. His right wing champions were eager to defend him early on — people like Bill O’Reilly and even Trump, when he threatened via a tweet to defund California colleges in response to the rioting at Berkeley. Even people on the left like Bill Maher defended his right to free speech and rejected censorship.
But the moment that a quote surfaced of Yiannopoulos saying something that is just too far over the line even for conservatives, he was dropped like a heavy bag of bricks. The hateful and threatening rhetoric about minorities was just “controversial, but protected speech” — but as soon as he crosses that line, his speech is suddenly unacceptable and should be immediately shut down.
O’Reilly, Hannity and Rush have been strangely silent about the whole controversy, and although Yiannopoulos said the “decision was mine alone,” it appears to most that he was fired as tech editor of Breitbart.
So let me get this straight. His previous controversial, hateful, unacceptable rhetoric needed to be protected and celebrated, but as soon as he says something that even you find disgusting, it’s suddenly the right thing to do to uninvite him from speaking at the biggest conservative event of the year?
I guess CPAC needed a “safe space” from people who condone man-boy love. Imagine that.
In fact, Milo was never more than an internet troll come to life. He was legitimized by the alt-right partly due to his sexuality, and he quickly fashioned himself as a martyr for free speech. His real-life trolling succeeded in sparking a few riots and dozens of peaceful protests, and instantly elevated him into the national spotlight.
That glaring spotlight turned out to be his downfall. In the end, his penchant for speaking his mind no matter what was his undoing.
The recent actions of CPAC, Breitbart, and Simon and Schuster demonstrate that the conservative and alt-right world has its safe spaces too. They championed Milo as a hero who would fearlessly speak unpopular, detested opinions, and in the end they buried him for doing just that.
For liberals, the moral of the story is simple: Don’t feed the troll. For conservatives — I don’t know, something about glass houses.
Jonathan Baca is managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JonGabrielB. The opinions expressed in this column are his own.