By Jordan Deschenes
Openly gay, British journalist Milo Yiannopoulos has been a notable contributor to the development of the American ultra-conservative, “alt-right” ideology. For the past few years, he has emphasized a message that challenges what he sees as an increasing suppression of controversial free speech by far-left, “politically correct” politics.
This message, which he recently described as “mainstream,” has been interpreted in many different ways by both conservatives and liberals. One of the points that is widely agreed upon is that controversial free speech is increasingly being met with hostility of a politically extreme nature.
As of today, it seems that Milo has taken on much more support - and hate than he can handle. While his core message has resonated with thousands of concerned Americans, many of Milo’s statements have been misconstrued as a result of their “triggering” effect on liberal crowds.
As a result its misinterpretation, Milo’s message has figuratively - and literally- pulled a trigger among political extremists.
Days after the presidential inauguration, a 29 year-old Trump supporter shot a 32 year-old protester outside of an event hosted by Yiannopoulos on the University of Washington campus.
Prior to the shooting, the 29-year old shooter and former student posted messages to Milo’s Facebook page expressing his disgust with the protestors, some of whom were throwing bricks and other objects at police. The shooter was noticeably angry when someone stole his red M.A.G.A. hat; he posted another message to Yiannopoulos, “Anyway for me to get a replacement signed by you?”
Milo did not respond to either message, although he did issue a statement of support for the victim. The shooter, found to be a member of the NRA, was released after telling authorities that his actions were in self-defense.
On February 1, a speech that Milo was scheduled to give at UC Berkeley was cancelled due to increasingly rowdy protesting on campus against the event. Before they were ordered to disperse by police, protesters had broken windows at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Center, set off fireworks, and started a large bonfire - with damage costs estimated to be over $100,000.
As he was evacuated from the event in a bulletproof vest, Yiannopoulos posted on Facebook that he saw protesters kicking a man who was wearing a M.A.G.A. hat while he was on the ground. Among other posts, Milo also shared a Tweet showing a bloodied man who was being tended to and shielded by riot police.
In a Facebook live video following his evacuation, Milo further emphasized his initial message regarding violence and free speech saying that he “expected” these types of protests would happen after Trump’s election.
“They (liberals) do it to conflate the line between ideas and action. Why? To legitimize their own violent responses,” Yiannopoulos said. “The left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down,” he later wrote in a post[b].
Violent protests such as these are both strong examples of the loosening in grip that alt- right representatives have had on their most extreme supporters since Trump’s election and more notably, their left-wing opponents. Although Trump never directly supported the alt-right during his campaign, the appointment of former Breitbart editor Stephen Bannon as his Chief Strategist and Advisor has been widely interpreted as an unspoken endorsement.
Before his ideas were embraced by the alt-right American community, Milo’s past journalistic career was already marked by a similar ideology that often put himself at odds with others - financially, professionally, and even personally.
After dropping out of the University of Manchester and Wolfson College, Yiannopoulos began a career as a technology reporter for The Daily Telegraph in 2007. During his tenure, Milo was noticed by some readers for his vocal opposition to protests calling for the Catholic Church to accept homosexuals.
In 2011 Yiannopoulos started his own technology magazine, The Kernel. With Milo as editor-in-chief for almost two years, employees at the publication began to realize that it was bankrupt by 2013. After failing to secure enough paid subscriptions, which resulted in numerous complaints from contributors, one former employee sued Yiannopoulos and the Kernel’s parent company for over 17,000 British pounds in unpaid wages which he later paid.
Milo cut any future ties with his employees by blackmailing several of them who had pay complaints over email. Former associate editor Margot Huysman revealed emails between herself and Yiannopoulos, where the latter accused her of “behaving like a common prostitute” on Twitter while she was employed. He also threatened to blackmail her with a compromising photograph.
Although Yiannopoulos simply meant to criticize Huysman’s unprofessional behavior while writing for the publication, his profane approach overshadowed what his actual intentions were. Explicit comments that he made in response to a user’s question on a Reddit question and answer forum only detracted further from his main point.
In 2015, Yiannopoulos made the most of a short stint criticizing what he saw as a feminist takeover of video game development in the Gamergate debate. Milo was quickly forced to keep a low profile as he faced piling online criticism for his views, as well as death threats that included a bomb threat in August of 2015 at a Society of Professional Journalism Event.
Soon after, Yiannopoulos was able to find steady work in the United States that would tolerate his politics and infamous reputation. Milo was hired at Breitbart News the same year as editor of the site’s new technology section. While he publishes technology-related pieces on a daily basis, Milo writes about more than technology in his op-eds, often criticizing other journalists and the integrity of their work, among other subjects.
With the help of fundraising by respective college Republican groups, Milo has been able to host forums around the country to spread his message about the suppression of free speech. His most popular series, the “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” helped him gain a reputation on Youtube and among conservative-minded college students for exposing contradictory arguments presented by their liberal counterparts.
Using profane and comedic language as his aides, Milo challenged liberal audience members to make factual arguments instead of dismissing certain information as immoral, taboo, or even right-wing. Some left-wing audience members resorted to protest and finger-pointing as a response.
For example, when Yiannopoulos himself is challenged by audience members for anti-Islamic comments, he makes the argument that certain Islamic countries are dictated by Sharia law, which inherently opposes homosexuality and the granting of certain rights to women. Often, he uses the latter reason to criticize what he calls third-wave “campus” feminism and the movement’s pro-Islam, pro-refugee stance.
While effective at exposing fresh ears to left-wing hypocrisy, Yiannopoulos has exposed the hypocrisy of his own private forums through his inability to tolerate criticism geared towards himself in the form of protest or censorship.
In the eyes of those who are unfamiliar with his style, Milo’s message has been de-legitimized when audience members resort to shouting down liberal arguments with a ‘heckler’s veto’. Despite being held at public universities, Milo’s forums are essentially private functions where audience members must pay to enter and must obey a set of rules.
The subject of rules is not unfamiliar territory for Yiannopoulos; he was banned from Twitter in 2016 after posting critical tweets about the on-screen performance and appearance of Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. According to the website’s policy, Milo was found to be “inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others”.
The loss of his official Twitter “check mark” and ensuing death threats from opponents certainly legitimized Yiannopoulos’s case for free speech, but also highlighted his own inability to respect the site’s rules and terms.
In spite of his convincing case that Americans are forcibly being threatened for exercising the freedom to state their honest opinions, Milo’s private forums are a real-life example of his own Twitter ban - except he and his supporters are the ones deciding who gets banned.
This sends a mixed message to not only his more extreme supporters, but also to those who oppose him. While Milo is able to express “dangerous” free speech at his events, rules and terms do not apply to all situations in life, especially those where such expressions are answered with more than just words.